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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

5 symptoms of e-mail addiction! Which ones are yours?

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, May 18, 2011 @ 05:55 AM

Internet Addiction SmallA while ago, I wrote about the 9 reasons why e-mail is seductive, addictive, rewarding, and anxiety-provoking all at the same time. If you didn't get a chance to identify your top 3, it is never late to do so!

If you are still not sure whether you have an e-mail addition, here are a few symptoms to look for:

  1. You catch yourself pressing the refresh button repeatedly, and for no reason! Hoping to get yet another new e-mail that satisfies your addiction.
  2. You get out of the door and immediately get out your iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, or whatever mobile device you have, and check e-mail right away. Even though you just checked e-mail before you left your desk.
  3. You're driving and you stop at the intersection or light (or even worse, while driving 70 miles per hour on the highway), you reach to your mobile device and check e-mail (even though you just checked it a few seconds ago).
  4. Your spouse, child, friend, or even boss is talking to you, and you lift your head (which was buried in your mobile device)  and look at them with this absent-minded look, as if you or they were from a different planet, and then ask them "what did you just say?" And this happens again shortly after.
  5. You send an e-mail to your colleague or manager or staff member, and then call and ask if they got it! You absolutely want to make sure your e-mail got there and didn’t' get hijacked along the way!

What are your e-mail addiction stories?

Topics: email management

Question & Answer: What do I do with the Sent Items in my Microsoft Outlook mailbox?

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, May 17, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

sent items in outlookCindy asked "I am trying to categorize and file the messages in my mailbox.  What do I do about the Sent Items folder?  I get a ton of emails and send out a lot; It would take a lot of time to organize these messages. Or should I  wait and do them in batches?" This is actually one of the common questions that we get at the workshops and I would like to tackle it from two different angles.

First: Remember the 80/20 rule

80% of our results come from 20% of our effort. This rule applies to e-mail just as well. It is likely that 80% of our "e-mail" results come from 20% of our emails. Therefore, it is important for us to give these 20% careful attention and organize them properly. The rest of the e-mail messages should be processed as quickly as possible if at all.

When it comes to the Sent Items folder (which is by the way the Microsoft Outlook terminology; so for those using other e-mail applications, please extrapolate; Google users, please check out the Google related resource below),  I would recommend organizing the top 20% and letting the rest stay in the Sent Items and then get archived periodically.

Second: Organize the top 20%

When it comes to the top 20%, after you compose your message and just before you send it, click on the Options tab:

Outlook Sent Items 1c

Then notice the Save Sent Item To button, and click on it, and then select the Other Folder menu option from the popup menu. The following window opens:

Outlook Sent Items 2

This allows you to decide which folder you want to save the sent item in. Please note that the exact steps and screens may be slightly different in your version of Microsoft Outlook (the above screens are taken from Microsoft Outlook 2010).

While this process takes a few extra steps, users tell us that they find it easy and convenient (more so than doing the organization later) because the information is still fresh in their mind, and if they do it now, they have one less thing to think about and do later.

Additional Resources


Topics: Microsoft Office 2007, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: Two strategies for helping you do the things you know you want to do!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Apr 07, 2011 @ 06:41 PM

While these two strategies apply to a broad range of situations, in this case, I would like to apply them to a specific situation first. Let me start by describing the situation, and then go through the two strategies.

The situation

Inbox FreedomLast week, Jenny Blake and I started the Inbox Freedom Webinar Series with a big goal in mind! The goal is to help our participants re-assess behaviors and attitudes toward their e-mail inbox through a series of tips, demonstrations, and interactive exercises, and therefore learn new practices to transform the way they look at email and manage e-mail. We want to transform e-mail from ad-hoc, inefficient, and anxiety-producing to structured, effective and anxiety-free.

This is a big goal indeed! Appreciating its magnitude and potential rewards, we structured the Inbox Freedom program in the form of four sessions spread over four weeks to allow the participants to practice in between sessions. Changing mindsets and behaviors doesn’t happen overnight! The Inbox Freedom webinar first session, which took place last week, was mostly geared towards creating awareness about our current perceptions and habits around our email inbox. After all, awareness is the first step in making meaningful improvements. At the end of the session, Jenny summarized the action items that our participants were to engage in before the next session in order to create this awareness and practice the techniques that we described.

Let us assume you are one of our webinar participants and ask you the question: “Have you implemented the steps that Jenny suggested at the end of the session, or not, or to what degree?” If you have, congratulations! And if you haven’t, or if you tried but then stopped too soon, it is likely that you have encountered an obstacle.

Putting aside the tactical and operational obstacles for now, I am mostly referring to and concerned about a different kind of obstacle. This obstacle is very subtle and yet very powerful; sometimes obvious but most of the time transparent. What I am referring to is YOUR OWN THOUGHTS such as:

  • This won’t work (or this won’t work for me—it may work for others but not me)
  • I started to work on it, but I didn’t get too far
  • This would take too much time and I don’t have the time
  • Etc.

The Strategies

Two strategies for helping you do the things you know you want to do:

1. Identify and dispute these thoughts

Dr. Albert Ellis uses the word “dispute” to refer to the act of questioning and challenging these thoughts which he calls “irrational beliefs.” In other words, we need to talk back at these thoughts to uncover the deceptions in them and replace them by “rational beliefs” that are more realistic and more productive. Dr. David Burns explains that there are several common distortions in such thoughts and that if we identify these distortions specifically, we are likely to be successful at dismantling these thoughts.

One of the popular distortions is “predicting the future” which Dr. Burns also refers to as “fortune telling.” It seems to be an art that we are all skilled at. “This won’t work” is exactly that: Predicting the future. “this won’t work” has nothing to do with reality. It is just a thought about the future mostly based on our own assumptions and interpretations and tinted by our biases and past experiences. If we replace this thought by something less distorted and more realistic such as “I can see that this is not easy, but I would like to know if this would work.”

Another popular distortion is the “all-or-nothing” distortion. All-or-nothing transforms the world into a binary world (made up of 0’s and 1’s) which may be true for the digital world but not for life as a whole. “I started to work on it, but I didn’t get too far” might fall into this category. How far did you get? Did you get some results or absolutely no results? How much time did you spend on it? What were you expecting? Did your expectations get in the way? These are just a few ways to dispute this distorted thought.

2. Bypass these thoughts

Bypass them and get into the doing. While identifying and disputing the thoughts is an important strategy, getting into action is another powerful strategy that can be done in addition or instead--preferably in addition. Sometimes it is difficult to get into action because of the paralyzing thoughts and therefore disputing them first and identifying the distortions is crucial. But disputing has its limits and it would be difficult to fully dispute and change our mindset without the factual and emotional learning that comes from experimenting.
Now taking this beyond the Inbox Freedom webinar, when you feel hesitant about taking actions and engaging in activities that you know are likely to lead to good outcomes, stop the indecision and hesitation, and identify the underlying thoughts. Then engage in these strategies to move you forward into action and let reality “tell” instead of allowing assumptions and interpretations “rule.”

Join us at the Inbox Freedom Webinar this week

You are invited to join the complimentary Inbox Freedom Webinar Series. Even if you missed session 1, you can still make up for it by viewing the recording on facebook, and register for session 2 now, and start applying and practicting these strategies!


Topics: tip-of-the-month, productivity, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: From 500 Hats to 5 Hats: How to focus, collaborate, play, do e-mail, and get accomplished!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Dec 02, 2010 @ 10:57 PM

focus collaborate playFor years, my friend and fellow entrepreneur Dave McClure used the expression "500 Hats" (which became his personal and professional brand) to refer to the many hats entrepreneurs wear as they get a new startup off the ground.  Dave did an outstanding job at wearing these hats and he recently went on to start a new seed fund & incubator program called 500 Startups in which Dave offers advising and investing.

While a few “super” entrepreneurs like Dave McClure and Mark Zuckerberg might enjoy, and even thrive, wearing the 500 Hats, the rest of us are likely to be happier and more effective with far fewer hats. Yet today's workplace, and our own self-inflicted work habits, seem to continuously gravitate us towards wearing too many hats and leaving us more often than not stranded in a world of utter chaos or at best with less-than-optimum performance, and not to mention stress and dissatisfaction.

So let me "simplify!" Are you ready to meet the 5 Hats?

The 5 Hats of Highly Accomplished People

If you have downloaded my free eBook titled the Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time, you already have a head start in putting these 5 Hats into practice. If not, I invite you to do so to get the full picture and the underlying concepts as well as the specific techniques that will help you stick to these new habits and turn them into natural behaviors.

Hat #1: The Focus Hat

Focus HatPut on your Focus Hat and dive deep into an important task that is going to make a difference. Meaningful accomplishments don't come from working a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Meaningful accomplishments require focused and purposeful effort. When you are working in few minutes increments, or even seconds nowadays, you may be getting things done and getting some immediate gratification, but hardly thinking strategically and creatively, and rarely solving important and complex problems. 

Depending on the task on hand, keep the Focus Hat on until you have made significant progress. For some tasks, this may be 10 or 15 minutes, while for others, it may be 30 or 45 minutes, or even longer. The Results Curve suggests 40 minutes as the limit and then switching hats for at least a bit before coming back to the Focus Hat.

Hat #2: The Collaboration Hat

After your focused session, take off your Focus Hat and put on your Collaboration Hat. This means check e-mail, voice mail, talk to people, ask for what you need, give others what they need, and be fully collaborative. This is fast paced, total multi-tasking, and utter engagement. With the Collaboration Hat on, go as fast as you want and can, un-limit yourself, and multi-task to your heart’s desire. After all, we live in a highly interdependent and fast-paced work environment. Oh, and don’t forget to check the social networks.

Collaboration is key and therefore the Collaboration Hat is absolutely necessary. And while we hear so many messages about multi-tasking being a problem, Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, confirmed at our lunch and learn webinars a couple of week ago that multi-tasking is not in and by itself the problem. It is only a problem when we “only” multi-task. In other words when instead of wearing the Collaboration Hat, we get stuck with a Collaboration Shirt at all times.

Hat #3: The Play Hat

Take off your Collaboration Hat and go wild (with a little obvious disclaimer here about staying professionally and socially responsible). The concept of play in the workplace continues to be worrisome for some. However research is proving time after time that environments that tolerate or even encourage play are thriving with engagement, innovation, and productivity.  Chuck Hamilton, Manager at the IBM Center for Advanced Learning, talked about the IBM@PLAY program at our lunch & learn webinars last year. Chuck discussed how playful tools and projects are spreading across their workplace including the use of Virtual Worlds to help connect people globally across the organization.

Play means different things to different people. I would like to define it as being whatever activity gets you refreshed, energized, and fully engaged. It is intended to help you avoid heading downhill on the Results Curve into the darkness of boredom and inefficiency. Play can mean getting physically active and engaging in a play activity on one end of the spectrum, to having a few minutes of silence and letting the mind wander on the other end of the spectrum. Stay tuned for more discussions of play activities and for the “playtime challenge” that is coming soon!

Hat #4: The E-mail Hat

Take off the e-mail “shirt” that you are wearing all the time (you know what happens when you wear the same thing all the time) and put on the E-mail Hat. This means don’t treat e-mail like an on-going activity that you do all day long. Last time I checked, e-mail was not part of your job description and you are not being paid to just do e-mail. So I suggest a mind shift: “E-mail is a task, and like any other task, it needs to have a clear beginning and a clear end.” So put the E-mail Hat on and work on this e-mail task—fearlessly and fiercely processing the new messages in your inbox. Then you take your E-mail Hat off and now stay off e-mail until after you gave focus, collaboration, and play the time their deserve. 

Similar to what Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., said about multi-tasking, I extrapolate this to e-mail: E-mail is not the problem, the problem is that we do e-mail all the time. For more details and to view a demo of how to simplify the e-mail task, visit my previous article “Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 2 of many.

Jared Goralnick (Founder of Awayfind.com) and I share a vision in which we want to enable business professionals completely change the way they do e-mail and break free from the e-mail jail. Stay tuned for more information about how to setup automatic notifications based on smart filters so that important messages are relayed to you instead of you having to watch for them on e-mail.

Hat #5: The Light-Focus Hat

While the Focus Hat is critical for the important and strategic tasks that require in-depth thinking, a myriad of other tasks can be handled while still being able to keep an eye and respond to incoming inquiries. The Light-Focus Hat is exactly that--working on our own tasks while still being open to handling incoming inquiries. Put this hat on when you are able and willing to stop the task on hand, handle a request, and then resume your original task. 

The Results Curve Hats

If you have seen the Results Curve, you may enjoy its new look with the key hats I described above:

Results Curve Hats

By the way Dave McClure actually wore a variety of "chapeau" while playing ultimate frisbee around the SF bay area. So don't by shy. Get real hats and make use of them to make a point to yourself first and to your community second! I got my Focus Hat (the one displayed above) and now shopping for my E-mail Hat!

Download the Results Curve for a more thorough examination of our work habits today and how to better manage focused and collaborative time!

Get The Accomplishing More With Less Workbook to get the full picture! See reviews at Amazon.com

Topics: tip-of-the-month, interruptions, email management

Do you find the e-mail overload "suffocating"? An e-mail "party" can help and the 5 ingredients to get you there!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Sep 26, 2010 @ 01:37 PM

email overloadJulie & Jenny, both very active and in leadership roles at their company and both having to deal with loads of e-mail messages constantly pouring into their inboxes, get together regularly not just to have friendly chats, but for something more drastic which they refer to as an e-mail "party"! Basically it is a get-together that is focused on processing their e-mail messages, however after creating the right atmosphere to make this a fun activity. "Fun?" You might ask. Well, keep on reading.

"The party usually starts with venting" said Julie, and sometimes it might involve some wine but it certainly has to involve chocolate, she indicated later.  "E-mail is a suffocating activity " she added, so doing it alone may not exactly be motivating or even possible, however doing this with a friend while enjoying some treats and nice exchanges seems to turn this activity into one that is digestible or even enjoyable!

The e-mail party seems to involve these main ingredients

  1. Companionship: Having someone with you. Creating the feeling of togetherness.  You are not alone in this!
  2. Conversation: It is not just about being together, but also sharing observations, insights, and even "venting" as Julie put it.
  3. Immediate gratification: Well, let us admit it, the wine and chocolate seem to help, or whatever makes you comfortable and willing to undertake the challenge.
  4. Focus: It sounds contradictory to be having conversations and rewards and yet be mentioning focus. However, the e-mail party does have one core purpose, and that is going through and processing e-mail. The rest is designed to help us stay focused on this purpose.
  5. Clear destination: The goal is to have an empty inbox and feel good about it. Not to mention stay on top of things, give our team the answers they need, and help move important issues forward.

What an innovative way to turn a task that can be challenging or mundane into something to look forward to and enjoy!  Maybe it is time you try it. Stop looking at these hundreds of messages in your inbox and dwelling about them and have a party!

Join us at the next group e-mail party: Join the "Accomplishing More With Less" group on Facebook and stay tuned to receive the announcement!

Topics: getting organized, email management

Are you an e-mail "airhead"? The 360-degree feedback!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 @ 06:24 AM

Last week, I wrote about 5 specific behaviors that e-mail users
tend to display, and that can drive their team's productivity down.

These behaviors were

  • Not responding to legitimate e-mails and leave others in the dark
  • Abandoning e-mail conversations in the middle and leave them hanging
  • Responding to e-mail only partially leaving important issues unanswered
  • Responding to e-mail vaguely delaying dealing with the real issues
  • Copying everyone and their brother unnecessarily

I also included a brief self-assessment (the 3-minute e-mail "airhead" test) that can help us reflect on the above behaviors and recognize how much we engage in them.

From Self to Others

While a self-assessment can be useful, the real assessment needs to include "others"; the people who send us e-mail or are on the receiving end of our e-mails, and who may have differing opinions about whether we engage in these e-mail "airhead" behaviors and to what degree.

I am inviting you to involve others in helping you assess your e-mail behaviors by sending them this 360-degree feedback form (see below), so they can give you their input on your e-mail behaviors. Forward to them the form and ask them for their feedback (anonymously if preferable). Ideally you would include people from all angles, like your colleagues, your direct reports,  your manager, and potentially people from other groups.

Download the e-mail 360-degree feedback (PDF, Microsoft Word, Web Form)

Once you gather the feedback, compare it to your own self-assessment, and see what you learn, and what adjustments you might want to make to how you manage e-mail.

Score interpretation

As a recap from last week, here is the interpretation of the score:

  • Total e-mail airhead: Total score of 15 or above
  • Semi e-mail airhead:  Total score of 10 to 14
  • Human e-mail user: Total score of 7 to 9
  • Accomplished e-mail user: Total score of 4 to 6
  • Total e-mail geek: Total score of 0 to 3

Stay tuned for more tips and techniques relating to e-mail management!

Additional resources

The Managing and Organizing Your E-mail Inbox

The Accomplishing More With Less Workbook

Topics: email etiquette, email management

5 things e-mail "airheads" do! Are you an e-mail airhead? Take the test!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 @ 08:58 AM

We all do some of this at least some of the time, but when we do most of this and most of the time, this can drive our productivity and our team's productivity down drastically. 

5 things that e-mail airheads do

  1. Don't respond to legitimate e-mails and leave others in the dark
  2. Abandon e-mail conversations in the middle and leave them hanging
  3. Respond to e-mail only partially leaving important issues unanswered
  4. Respond to e-mail vaguely delaying dealing with the real issues
  5. Copy everyone and their brother unnecessarily

Take the 3-minute e-mail airhead test now!

Interpreting the score

After you take the test and add your scores, please review the following:

  • Total e-mail airhead: Total score of 15 or above
  • Semi e-mail airhead:  Total score of 10 to 14
  • Human e-mail user: Total score of 7 to 9
  • Accomplished e-mail user: Total score of 4 to 6
  • Total e-mail geek: Total score of 0 to 3

Stay tuned for more tips and techniques relating to how to deal with e-mail "airheads" and how not to be one, more often than not!

Topics: email etiquette, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 4 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 @ 01:13 PM

Fearlessly facing the issues

e-mail tips tutorialsE-mail messages, especially the not-so-easy ones, seem to sit in our inbox for a while before we finally take actions on them. We may agonize about them for days and looking at them dozens of times before we finally take the necessary action. By that time, it may be too late and we may find ourselves missing important windows of opportunities or critical deadlines and therefore needing to do some damage repair. Or even if it is not late, we still feel exhausted and guilty, having spent valuable mental and emotional energy without making much progress. 

You know these messages that I am referring to. Scan your inbox right now and identify 5 to 10 of these messages and let’s get to work:

  1. If you need more information before you can handle the message (like more clarification on certain issues, or access to a report that has some relevant data), then initiate the request to get the necessary information. Put a reminder so that if you don’t get the information within the necessary timeframe, you can follow-up in a timely manner. Then move to the next message.
  2. If you need time to think through the content of the message and/or preform the related task, then set time on your calendar to do so, and then move to the next message (most important treat this time like a serious appointment that is not easily subject to change. So when the time comes, just do it!).
  3. If you need to consult with others before you can handle the message, then initiate the request to consult with the relevant people. Also, put that reminder so you can follow-up. Then move to the next message.
  4. If you have the information you need, and don’t need more time to think it through or perform a related task, and don’t need advice from others, then prompt yourself to take the action now! If you have been postponing such a message, it is likely that what is stopping you is an underlying fear of facing the issues (making a decision, saying no to people, giving information or opinions that may rock the boat, etc.). So the solution is to fearlessly face the issues and learn in the process. Below is the 5 step process that can help you do so.

Fearlessly Facing The Issues: A Five Step Approach

  • Step 1: Draft your “fearless” response (but don’t send it yet). In other words, how would you respond if you had no fear and if you were to face the issues to the best of your knowledge.
  • Step 2: Write down what you are afraid of (specific thoughts that are causing your fear), and what are the likelihood that these unfortunate events will come true (jot this down, don’t just think it), and how you would manage them if they would come true.
  • Step 3: Review your “fearless” response again and potentially refine it to minimize any associated risks. At this point you may already feel ready to face the issues and send your response. If not, go to step 4.
  • Step 4: Get feedback about your response from someone else, and preferably someone objective who is not a stakeholder in the issues. Get some objective feedback on your analysis in step 2 above.
  • Step 5: Refine your response and send it and stay tuned for more learning.

If you start fearlessly facing the e-mail issues on a daily basis (every time you go to your inbox), you are likely to dismantle these fears quickly and accelerate your e-mail process! 

Additional Resources

Topics: tip-of-the-month, time management tips, email management

Yes you can empty your e-mail inbox! And we proved it (next session coming up on August 5)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Jul 09, 2010 @ 11:57 AM

empty your e-mail inbox
It does seem out of reach for many business professionals, but it is not, as we provided in the special webinar that we conducted last week. In this webinar, and after we explained the process and demonstrated the techniques, and answers participants questions, we gave everyone 20 minutes to work on their e-mail inbox and try to process as many e-mails as possible.  
The results were plausible. Before we started the session, we asked the participants to tell us how many e-mails they had in their inbox. The poll consisted of the following answers:
  • Less than 25
  • Between 25 and 50
  • Between 51 and 100
  • Between 101 and 500
  • More than 500

Here were the answers before and after the session

   Before   After 
 Less than 25   0%  20%
 Between 25 and 50  0%  0%
 Between 51 and 100   18%  30% 
 Between 101 and 500   27%   30%
 More than 500  55%  20%
PS: Please note that the percentages don't add up to 100% because not all participants participated in the poll
What made this possible is not just the process but also the focused time we took to work on it. The face that we were doing it as a group provided an additional motivation and make this goal of emptying the inbox a shared goal--we were all in it together. 
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your e-mail inbox, consider transforming e-mail from being an ad-hoc activity to being a structured activity, and instead of being on e-mail all day long, spend focused time on e-mail, and then leave it alone and focus on the more important activities. Check out the resources below to get this started.

Additional Resources

Hope you will be able to join us at the next session on August 5, 2010.

Topics: getting organized, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 3 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, May 17, 2010 @ 08:16 PM

manage e-mail overload
So far, I wrote about 2 strategies (Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at, and Simplifying and optimizing the process) and today, I will continue with the 3rd strategy which is “Significantly reducing the output and the input.”  As you know if you have been following this series of articles which I started in March, my goal is to tackle the issue of e-mail management from several angles. The ultimate goal is to formulate effective and sustainable strategies, as opposed to quick and short lived fixes, for getting the e-mail overload well under control and leading more accomplished and happier work lives. 

I need your involvement

e-mail survey
The e-mail (and Social Media) challenges are not going away anytime soon. In addition, the benefits and opportunities that these technologies bring are humungous. I need your involvement in helping address these challenges and maximize these benefits. Here is how you can help.

  • Set 30 minutes of uninterrupted time on your calendar this week to:
  • Review the 3 articles that I already published on this topic (#1#2, as well as this article which is strategy #3)
  • Share your feedback about these topics by adding your comments to above articles as you see fit (see comment section at the bottom of each article page)
  • Start to implement these strategies and report on your experiences and the results you are getting and any additional feedback you might have.
  • Take the 5 minute e-mail and Social Media survey which will help you reflect on relevant issues and become part of this effort.
  • Encourage your team to do the same. E-mail after all impacts all of us!
And now back to Strategy #3: Significantly reducing the output and the input

Significantly reducing the output

manage e-mail overload
“Why worry about the output?” you might ask! Isn’t our main goal to manage our “in”box? Which is basically the input that comes our way?

You are probably familiar with the saying: “What goes around comes around.” And this is so true for e-mail. The more output we create, the more input will be generated. This is not just about quantity but also about quality. Sending e-mails that are not clear and not relevant to the core business issues at hand is likely to generate more questions, more distractions, and endless back and forth e-mails conversations that contribute little or no value. Copying people unnecessarily is sure to turn these conversations into an avalanche. So output is one of the root causes of input. That is why we will start with the output first.

By the way, strategy #1 (Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at) already paved the road and started the journey of reducing the output. Actually we can argue that strategy #1 is all about reducing the output when we apply it individually and it is about reducing the input when we apply it as a group. This brings an interesting question: “Is the e-mail overload primarily an individual problem or a group problem?” Of course it is both, but if you had to choose, which would you choose as the primary? 

I believe it is primarily an individual problem and secondarily (but a close second) a group problem. Why? Because when we sit at that computer, or iPad, or whatever device we use, and create that e-mail, this is an individual effort. Whatever I start in that e-mail is the beginning of a chain reaction that is likely to impact the group and pick up momentum; hence the extra care required in creating each and every message.

In addition to strategy #1, and assuming you have mastered that strategy and encouraged your team to do so, here are the next steps in reducing the output:

  1. Answer/send an e-mail only when it is related to your top priorities and your team’s top priorities, and only when you are adding significant value; difficult to do, but you will save a lot of time and people will start paying more attention to your e-mails when they get them.
  2. If you wish to share your knowledge and expertise or socialize with people and groups outside your team and your top priorities, find other ways to do so. E-mail is not the best tool for sharing knowledge and for socializing. 
  3. Another variation to step #1 above is to wait on, or not answer, the non-urgent and not so important e-mails. It is likely that the issue will go away or someone else will address it. People will also learn not to send you the not so important stuff.
  4. Answer/send 140 characters; if there is more to say, put it in bullet points or a numbered list. Make it clear and succinct. Elevate the standards for e-mail composition instead of adopting or accepting the lowest common denominator. 
  5. Address the core issues and not dance around them. Stop and check-in again if e-mail is the best way to do so. But if it is, get to these issues sooner than later. Save yourself and your team significant time and demonstrate and model direct and open communication.
  6. Delegate issues and decisions and don’t ask to be copied on them. Instead ask to be consulted only on as-needed basis, and to be updated when critical points are reached. Invest your time in developing the people instead of reading and writing e-mails.
  7. Keep checking with yourself as to whether you should move this issue to a medium other than e-mail. 

Significantly reducing the input

manage e-mail overload
As you put the steps suggested above into practice, the input will be significantly less. In addition, here are some additional steps you can take the further reduce the input:

  1. Unsubscribe from e-mail lists that are not related to your top priorities. Unfortunately most of us don’t have the luxury to go through secondary topics and issues. While this information may be helpful, it can also be very distracting. If you haven’t looked at these e-mails for a while, this is a sufficient indication that you need to unsubscribe.
  2. Add rules and filters to file selected e-mails into designated folders which can then be visited on an as-needed basis. Be creative with these rules, using sender’s names or e-mail addresses for instance, or keywords in the subject line or body, or whatever else can help you identify them.
  3. Add rules and filter to categorize (or color) and sort the important messages based on the sender such as your and your customers. While this does not reduce the input per se, it does guide you to the most important input first.
  4. Create an auto-reply that provides people with helpful resources and asks them to resend their inquiry if they still need help; This can work well if you happen to receive many generic requests that your senders can get answers for from self-service resources that are easily available.
  5. Delegate the first pass of e-mail processing to your assistant if that is an option; If you have someone assisting you with your office work, consider training them to go through your e-mails, categorize the ones that require your attention, and process or file the rest. 
Stay tuned for the next Tip-Of-The-Month article where I will discuss the next strategy: "Fearlessly facing the issues."

Also, stay tuned for the upcoming book on how to manage the e-mail overload and Social Media (these articles and the latest findings from our ongoing research and development effort will be part of the book)!

Topics: email etiquette, tip-of-the-month, email management