Stemming the Flow of Emails

Tackling Emails at Source

We all receive far too many emails to manage comfortably without impinging on the time needed to do our main job. There are ways to smooth out the daily grind of the overflowing inbox, but that doesn't deal with the primary cause, which is being sent too many emails. Even if only a small number need you to act on them, it takes time and energy to triage every email to filter them down to the essentials.

Corpotate Mailshots and Newsletters

So what can be done? The first thing is to unsubscribe from external automated emails. The newsletters, sales material, promotions, surveys, and so on might have seened a good idea at the time, but they are a drain on your time. Click the unsubscribe link at the bottom or mark them as spam to have your email service deal with them instead.

For those emails that you can't yet completely abandon, set up a rule in your email client to automatically move them into a 'mailshot' folder to keep them from polluting your inbox.

Application Notifications

If your company uses services like Teams or Slack then you may suffer emails telling you that thete are messages, or that a meeting has been set up, or changed, or you've been added to a channel or group. It may be possible to turn these notifications off in the settings of each group, but for the workforce as a whole it should be turned off at administrator level for everyone. If you are remotely engaed with the service, then these email are superfluous.

These mesures may be enough for you to manage the inbox if you have discipline and perseverence, but the quantity of internal emails may still be overwhelming. And there is little you can do without some effort to change the culture of the workplace – this needs managers to both see the problem and have the motivation to do something about it.

Alternatives to Email

The best way to reduce the flow of emails is to transfer as much communication as you can onto other channels, so that the only emails that get sent are those from external organisations and those for which there is no better route.

Daily or Weekly Notices Email

All those messages that are simply there to remind everyone of a deadline or schedule change are better off being bundled together to make a single update email. When you need to find the details it is easier to search a single source than trying to remember who exactly did the reminding and when, across multiple communications.

Intranet Front Page

Even better than a single email is to put all these general notices onto a highly visible intranet page, on or linked to from the landing page. It can be updated without impinging on email inboxes, yet everyone will know where to go for the latest information. Instead of each manager with an update to communicate sending out reminders they instead email an administrator who collates them all in to one place.

Teams or other Slack-a-likes

Email is not particularly suited to group discussions. Even with a good threading feature in your client the sheer number of messages fills up the inbox view and maakes it hard to keep track of conversations. One solution is to only read the last email in the discussion, as the issue may already be resolved, but shifting the whole team communication onto face to face meetings can smooth the whole process considerably.

Of course, it can be very difficult to arrange the schedules of a lot of people to find a common time for a synchronous meeting, but asynchronous can work too. Slack and Teams have a lot of features to enable team cooperation and split discussions into different forums. This does run the risk of replacing email overload with even more messages to keep on top of, but these forums have the advantage of allowing you to organise properly so you can at least find past discussions. It can be very hard to find half-remembered comments in your email client unless you sort or tag emails assiduously.


How about putting up posters in social areas (and not sending a copy via email!). Key dates, common task deadlines and policy changes are ripe for this: taking them wholly out of the electronic maelstrom can make them more visible than just another email.


Management is often the greatest problem to overcome in your quest to wrestle the email giant to the ground. They are often responsible for many of the emails that demand replies that do not further your work and really just get in your way. They set the tone for the email culture, and it may be difficult to persuade them of the need to work to lighten everyone's load. Indeed, senior managers' email loads may be far greater than yours, so they might see your problems as small fry.

So a first step may be to slowly introduce some best practices into your own email sending and replying habits in the hope that thay may spread organically as more colleagues see the advantages. More on this in the next post.

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