Alert! You Have Too Many Unread E-mails


Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Melissa Russell/Released

E-mail has never been a priority for me.  My husband, on the other hand, is always very diligent about checking his e-mail daily for important information.  I go through phases when I’m very responsive and phases when I forget it exists.   However, since becoming a remote worker, electronic communication has become my very life’s blood, and I try my best to be more electronically communicative and responsible, but it can be overwhelming.  Recently, I checked out Julie Morgenstern’s book Never Check E-mail In The Morning and was inspired by her e-mail management advice.  It made me realize that very few of us are trained to use e-mail effectively.

Some Interesting E-mailing Statistics 

Fact #1 Whether you’re someone who sends out over 20 e-mails a day or 5 e-mails a day, it turns out that the time people spend on e-mail is between 30-90 minutes each day.*

Fact #2 In a 2003 study of a Fortune 500 company, it took a worker an average of 1 minute and 44 seconds to react to an e-mail alert–that is, to open the e-mail program and to interact with it (read, compose, reply, forward).

Fact #3 In that same study, it took an average of 64 seconds to recover from an e-mail interruption.

Fact #4 In a 2009 study of a globally distributed consulting company, out of the 8 most popular communication combinations, e-mail was a part of 5 of the combinations, with the “e-mail only” combo being the most popular form of all.

E-mail management tips

Whether or not you agree with occasional cries of “e-mail is dead,” I think it’s still good to be informed of helpful ways to deal with e-mail while it hasn’t quite passed from this world.

1. Check e-mail only at set times, oh, and turn off your e-mail alerts.

Duct Tape Marketing CEO John Janstch’s rule of thumb is to always first work on something for an hour in the morning before checking e-mail. His productivity routine includes checking e-mail at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.  If you’re afraid of missing something urgent, Morgenstern suggests letting the right people know your schedule so they can call instead.

2. “Touch once” policy

  • Resolve your e-mail the first time you read it by:responding if you can do so under 2 minutes
  • delegating it to someone else
  • deciding what you need to do first and schedule a specific time to do it

3. Stick to the subject

It’s better to write twelve separate e-mails on different issues than one long e-mail on twelve separate issues. It’s even better to just say it in the subject line if you can, “Meeting this Fri.-1 min. summaries” In some jobs, you may need to be careful when using the subject line because of privacy issues.

4. Make your point

If you’re sending a long e-mail or an FYI, make sure the first thing you do is clearly state what you want from that person (“Please check the numbers below”) or why they need to know something (“You might want to write a post on mirror-neurons”).

5.  Use mail filters

Google and other mail programs are doing an awful lot to help make your e-mail more manageable.  You can use filters to categorize your e-mails as they come in and put the important ones (like the ones from your immediate supervisor) on top.  I subscribe to several newsletters and Google alerts which I’ve set to skip my inbox and go directly into a “Readings” folder.

6. Choose your media

Morgenstern suggests using e-mail more for routine tasks or for communicating very specific information or items. I would add that they are also effective way to document and remind people of face-to-face, phone, or video call discussions.  Otherwise, she advises using the phone, meeting in person–and I would add–video calls for

  • showing warmth and personal caring
  • building stronger bonds
  • having long creative discussions
  • divvying up work for a project
  • discussing items requiring “delicacy” or persuasion
  • dealing with urgent issues

*Morgenstern sites the Pew Internet and American Life Research. Other studies may put the amount of time spent on e-mail higher.


What are some of your favorite e-mail management strategies?


Related Articles

Movable Ink:  A company trying to keeping e-mail relevant in the webbable world

Why E-mail Won’t Die: a GigaOm post

Scheduling “Do Not Disturb” Time: a Workshifting post


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