Endless Email Overload

There are over 300 Billion emails sent per day – that’s about 3 Million every second. However, around 90% of these are spam and viruses – though most email providers come with built-in spam detection to avoid slowing you down. Even without the spam, there is still a ton of email to process – around 2 Billion legitimate users actively emailing every day – which makes it very easy to get behind.

Through my email accounts for various purposes – ACCESS, Daniel Design, school and personal – I receive more emails than I can process in a day without focusing 100% of my time on this. (Though I’d rather have it this way than 0 emails).

Although you may get emails sent right to your phone and look at them right away as I do, there are many that need to be replied to on a computer directly (whether they need a file attached, have an image to be viewed on a larger screen, or include long text needing to be read thoroughly). So anytime I’m away from my computer, I already feel a bit behind.

Most of us also receive a lot of low priority emails – newsletters, sales/specials/shopping annoyances, or ones you have been copied on (CC:) just FYI – that also take time to filter, sort or delete. One tip is to unsubscribe from mailing lists you have not fully read emails from within the last 1-2 months, and delete/archive all of the previous ones (this really clears up your inbox). It’s not easy – you may still want that daily health update to push you, even though you know you’re not going to do the latest “Abs Exercise of the Day”.

It’s too easy to miss important emails – as it’s not always possible to reply right away. Personally I always mark an email as “Unread” after glancing at it, to ensure it’s not missed later when I have more time to read it, or am at my computer to follow-up. The only issue is that there are so many unread emails that I don’t want to miss (or do need to reply to), that even those get backlogged. A sign that you’re not managing this well is when someone re-emails you the same thing, or emails you another time to find out if you received their first email.

This is clearly a problem – one that Peter Bregman, strategic advisor to CEOs and leadership teams – summarizes as inefficiency:

“Email pours in, with no break to its flow. And like addicts, we check it incessantly, drawing ourselves away from meetings, conversations, personal time, or whatever is right in front of us. But it’s not just the abundance of email that’s our problem — it’s the inefficiency in how we deal with it. Each time we check our email on the fly, we lose time pulling out our phones, loading the email, reading new emails without taking action on them, and re-reading those to which we haven’t yet responded. Then, back at our computers, we re-read them again.”

Recently I’ve tried to work email around the schedules of those I’m communicating with. For example, if I have a client that is a morning person and often emails me very early in the day, I work on their design project very late at night, and email them right before bed (very early morning) so it is sitting in their inbox when they wake-up in the morning. This way, they can reply while I am catching up on sleep, and I don’t spend the day waiting for an email back on how to proceed further on the project.

There are some pretty intense ways on how to organize your email schedule – I’ve read articles that advise not to check your email throughout the day (only at 1-2 main checkpoints), which is next to impossible for some people –myself included. Another technique that start-up SoJo’s founder has tried is to have Email-Free Saturdays – I may consider this, but there always seems to be a project ongoing that I would not want to purposely interrupt.

If you’re going to be away from your email – especially for a long period of time – and are completely overwhelmed, an auto-reply message is key. However, this will only stop people from emailing you a second time, and not altogether.

A weekly or monthly catch-up day may be the key to keeping on-track and up-to-date with emails. Every few months, a solid delete of all old email newsletters and spam is necessary, along with maintaining the various email sorting systems (folders, labels) you have setup.

A goal this summer, having just graduated from university, is to spend an afternoon each week going through unread emails, addressing those that need replies and filtering out the no longer relevant. Good luck to us all!