When I tell people the number of emails I have waiting unanswered in my inbox, I sometimes get reactions of consternation and horror. At one point, the number reached four digits. When the number tips high, I do sprees of deleting emails, but it’s still easy for me to let emails build up into an anxiety-producing pile of requests, pitches, promotions, and sales.
I am not alone in this email pileup. One recent survey found that the average U.S. employee has 199 unread emails. For us to be better emailers, we need to be better at combating the inertia we feel in responding to emails that do not require an immediate response.
Here’s how experts suggest tackling email overload in our inboxes.
Respond right away — and delegate the rest
One study suggests making responding to emails a daily habit. For employees in a workplace where email is critical, “actively engaging with our email across the working day” was found to reduce employees’ stressful sense of overload, according to the study.
The research recommended responding within an hour of an email being sent. For emails that require more thought, try creating a deadline for yourself, so that you can stop yourself from putting emails in inbox purgatory.
Sometimes, my emails are subscriptions to promotions and events I do not remember signing up for. For productivity expert Laura Stack, deterring unwanted emails is a key factor to stopping email stress. “I am a freak about unsubscribing right away. You want to cut back on the things that come into the inbox in the first place. There’s so much volume. Prevention is key,” she said.
Try answering emails like a CEO
Understand that timely is better than perfect
By being upfront about your commitments and current bandwidth, you communicate to the recipient that you are still a reliable colleague — even if your email response may disappoint them.
The bottom line
This upfront email style is a trait that many inbox zero achievers share: They recognize that to stop emails from overwhelming you, you need to make answering your inbox a part of your daily routine.