Some time ago, I had fifteen regional sales people from a well-known international software company attend a workshop that I was facilitating, all of whom complained about overfull inboxes and the amount of mail they received on a daily basis. I happened to ask how big their problem was and they replied unanimously: “Between 180 and 220 e-mails per day!” – clearly, a huge problem, as reading and answering so many e-mails would absorb all the hours of their working day. I then asked: “What is your role?” They responded by explaining their sales function – targets had been set for selling new software and ensuring that current licences are renewed annually. I then asked: “Honestly, what percentage of the daily e-mails you receive are directly related to your selling role?” They mentioned a figure of between 10% and 15% and I responded: “Delete the rest!”

The “delete” button on your computer is probably one of your biggest allies if performance and productivity is on your agenda. The skill of being able to sift through the e-mail deluge quickly and obliterate the unnecessary, irrelevant and junk that comes your way will free up precious minutes in your schedule and grant you options in terms of leveraging available time to focus on important activities related to your role. The following “rules” could potentially be of assistance to you:

  • Unless you are in an e-commerce position (where being on line and answering e-mails is your role), only go to your inbox two or three times per day when you can handle the e-mails that you receive in bundles – allocate time for this
  • Once your e-mails are all downloaded, delete those that you needn’t even bother opening – promotional, advertising and junk e-mails that are definitely not related to your role
  • Delete or file any others that are not related to your role or that require no action from you
  • Of the remainder, quickly answer those that will require less than two minutes of your time to respond
  • Prioritise those that are left and schedule time for the possible research that is needed to give a comprehensive response to what is required
  • Finally, file the responses appropriately in folders specifically created for this purpose

E-mail etiquette seems to be lacking in our ever-changing work environment, and we will need to be self-disciplined if we are to leverage our time to focus on what is truly important. Part of being a successfully productive individual lies in the ability to say “yes” and “no” appropriately. This is particularly true if we are to cope with the e-mail deluge that greets us daily.

2 comments on “The inbox deluge

  1. Martha on

    Seth Godin’s Email checklist
    Before you hit send on that next email, perhaps you should run down this list, just to be sure:
    1. Is it going to just one person? (If yes, jump to #10)
    2. Since it’s going to a group, have I thought about who is on my list?
    3. Are they blind copied?
    4. Did every person on the list really and truly opt in? Not like sort of, but really ask for it?
    5. So that means that if I didn’t send it to them, they’d complain about not getting it?
    6. See #5. If they wouldn’t complain, take them off!
    7. That means, for example, that sending bulk email to a list of bloggers just cause they have blogs is not okay.
    8. Aside: the definition of permission marketing: Anticipated, personal and relevant messages delivered to people who actually want to get them. Nowhere does it say anything about you and your needs as a sender. Probably none of my business, but I’m just letting you know how I feel. (And how your prospects feel).
    9. Is the email from a real person? If it is, will hitting reply get a note back to that person? (if not, change it please).
    10. Have I corresponded with this person before?
    11. Really? They’ve written back? (if no, reconsider email).
    12. If it is a cold-call email, and I’m sure it’s welcome, and I’m sure it’s not spam, then don’t apologize. If I need to apologize, then yes, it’s spam, and I’ll get the brand-hurt I deserve.
    13. Am I angry? (If so, save as draft and come back to the note in one hour).
    14. Could I do this note better with a phone call?
    15. Am I blind-ccing my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
    16. Is there anything in this email I don’t want the attorney general, the media or my boss seeing? (If so, hit delete).
    17. Is any portion of the email in all caps? (If so, consider changing it.)
    18. Is it in black type at a normal size?
    19. Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it).
    20. Have I included the line, “Please save the planet. Don’t print this email”? (If so, please delete the line and consider a job as a forest ranger or flight attendant).
    21. Could this email be shorter?
    22. Is there anyone copied on this email who could be left off the list?
    23. Have I attached any files that are very big? (If so, google something like ‘send big files’ and consider your options.)
    24. Have I attached any files that would work better in PDF format?
    25. Are there any 🙂 or other emoticons involved? (If so, reconsider).
    26. Am I forwarding someone else’s mail? (If so, will they be happy when they find out?)
    27. Am I forwarding something about religion (mine or someone else’s)? (If so, delete).
    28. Am I forwarding something about a virus or worldwide charity effort or other potential hoax? (If so, visit and check to see if it’s ‘actually true).
    29. Did I hit ‘reply all’? If so, am I glad I did? Does every person on the list need to see it?
    30. Am I quoting back the original text in a helpful way? (Sending an email that says, in its entirety, “yes,” is not helpful).
    31. If this email is to someone like Seth, did I check to make sure I know the difference between its and it’s? Just wondering.
    32. If this is a press release, am I really sure that the recipient is going to be delighted to get it? Or am I taking advantage of the asymmetrical nature of email–free to send, expensive investment of time to read or delete?
    33. Are there any little animated creatures in the footer of this email? Adorable kittens? Endangered species of any kind?
    34. Bonus: Is there a long legal disclaimer at the bottom of my email? Why?
    35. Bonus: Does the subject line make it easy to understand what’s to come and likely it will get filed properly?
    36. If I had to pay 42 cents to send this email, would I?
    – from

  2. Jonathan on

    Thanks Martha for passing on this “tongue in cheek” (but thought-provoking) article to us all. Let’s consider e-mail etiquette before compounding the inbox deluge problem.


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