Magazine article Talent Development

Email Overload. (@Work)

Magazine article Talent Development

Email Overload. (@Work)

Article excerpt

Last week, I caught myself daydreaming about a benevolent network failure that would zap my Outlook inbox and free me of hundreds of emails that have been accumulating over the past year. What could it mean? If self-help Websites and pop psychology have taught me anything, it's that when you start dreaming of disasters you're likely facing an overwhelming situation. For me, it's email. So, considering that demographically I often find myself bellying up to the biggest piece of the pie chart, it's safe to assume that many of you are probably facing the same difficulty. Sisyphus had his rock; we each have an inbox that despite our best efforts never drops below half full. (What can I say? I'm an optimist.) Of course, I've tried to make a clean start before, which lasted for a week, or, at most, a month. But this time, I'm not fooling around. I'm not waiting until January to add it to my laundry list of resolutions, and neither should you.

Seeking professional help, I contacted Andy Kaufman (no, nor the late comedian), director of the Institute for Leadership Excellence and Development and author of the e-book How to Organize Your In box and Get Rid of E-Mail Clutter. Kaufman was on the road for speaking engagements, so despite attempts to conduct an interview by phone, we settled, naturally, on email.

I should note that in sending my questions to Kaufman, I had to delete several messages from my inbox just to have the email sent and avoid an all-too-familiar message that states I've exceeded my allotted capacity.

T+D When you're in bad shape to start, feeling overwhelmed, what's the first thing you should do?

Kaufman The first thing most people need to do is change how they think about email, or personal organization, or any of a dozen things that can cause you to be a victim of email overload.

Let's be clear: Email overload isn't an inevitable option. You can try to blame it on the relentless spammers in cyberspace or the culture of your organization, but bottom-line, email is a tool to help you, not enslave you. If your organization's culture is such that you're getting way too many emails than you can keep up with, there's a problem in the organization perhaps. And there could also be a problem with the people.

There's only one person on the face of this Earth who can, ultimately, reduce email overload and clutter in your life, and that's you. It's not your boss's responsibility. It's not your ISP's responsibility. It's yours and yours alone. Swallow that potentially bitter pill and you're ready to take the next steps.

T+D What are your suggestions for staying on top of email once your inbox is cleaned out and organized? Also, dealing with email is time-consuming, often cutting into time better spent on other tasks. How can users adjust their approach and attitude regarding email that will free them from being slaves to their inboxes?

Kaufman David Allen [a speaker and personal productivity expert] taught me the idea of the zero-based inbox. The idea is you're constantly draining your inbox to empty every 24 to 48 hours. That requires a process and some discipline, but it's incredibly powerful when implemented. More derail on that concept is in the e-book or for free at

We have to address the issue about email time better spent on other tasks. "Hey, I have real work to do!" is an implied mindset in that question. It's important to realize that keeping up with your email is...a very real part of your job now. I advise people to block our rime on their calendars. We willingly [allot] calendar rime for wasted meetings, yet we too rarely set up appointments with ourselves to commit the rime we need to do our jobs.

T+D I've tried flagging emails for follow-up and creating subfolders to route and store email, but it's not working for me. …

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