Cubicle Warrior E-mail Tip: Reduce your Quantity

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 17

In 2006, I made a significant attempt to reduce the amount of e-mail coming into my inbox. At the time, I was getting between 150 and 175 e-mails a day.

Now, on a “bad” day, I get about 75 e-mails.

Now some of it is because I am now doing different work within the company and have a different manager. There are some things that are important to do when that situation happens to you as it relates to e-mail.

But I also did a few other things as well. As a Cubicle Warrior, managing e-mail (and meetings) are the two critical time management challenges you face in terms of getting good work out the door.

Here are a few tips to reduce the number of e-mails coming your way:

Don’t manage by e-mail (from yesterdays post; significant enough to have its own time in the blogosphere).

Don’t send e-mails. If you do, you will get responses back! A corollary to not managing by e-mail, but a bit different. If you are an individual contributor, simply ask yourself if it is necessary to send an e-mail or better to talk to the other person face-to-face or on the phone. This single tip dropped my incoming volume about 25%.

Ask to be dropped from distribution lists. Distribution lists add a ton of e-mail to your inbox. Here’s the way to tell if you should be on the distribution list: if you delete the e-mail message without taking some action with it (delegate, do it, defer it, or put it into a reference area), then it is time to take your name off that distribution list. As I write this, I’m on two distribution lists that I need to drop based upon this criteria. Yes, I get lazy too!

Move topical conversations you might be interested in to another folder. For example, my employees will often copy me on something that they are doing. They are doing their work in the right way and most of the time I don’t need to be involved. The e-mails go back and forth between who they are talking to and the people they are talking to adding in others to fix the problem. Often, because of the “reply-all” feature, I will get 10-20 e-mails in a day on a single subject that I care about — but not that much. My people are doing their job and there is no need to get me involved…unless things go South.

Those e-mails get moved to a “topic” folder until the conversation ends. But, this enables me to not read every e-mail unless my employee comes in and says they need some help. Then the whole thread is available to me in my folder.

ClearContext — a great help in the e-mail area — has a nifty feature called “unsubscribing” from this topic and will then handle this for you automatically. If you get a lot of e-mail, this is a killer feature.

Special situation: changing jobs within a company means you immediately need to drop all those distribution list e-mails that were important in your old job but are meaningless in your new position. You won’t be able to judge importance of e-mail topics or senders in your new position, so for a while you have to take on everything. That ups your quantity of e-mail being received by quite a bit. Getting out of the loop on your old position will pay immediate dividends from the e-mail perspective. And perhaps others!

These are few of the tips that helped me reduce my daily e-mail count by about half in 2006. What others do you have?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.