Email Bankruptcy Counseling is Now in Session.

You’ve probably heard the term email bankruptcy, or can at least infer what I’m talking about here if you’re opening up Outlook and greeted by a glaring “Inbox (24,576)”. If you’re feeling consumed by email, bankruptcy counseling is in session. Hopefully this post is a no-nonsense quick and dirty guide to managing the unmanageable at work. These are strategies I’m starting to adopt to keep the inbox svelte and keep myself productive at work, and as such the following tips are mostly work email related. You’ll note the focus on prevention, since the old “an ounce of prevention” is horribly cliche, but still pretty dead on.

Cut the acknowledgements. Alot of occupational spam involves replies people send to be polite or acknowledge messages. If you’re getting replies with “Great!” or “Received your email, thanks!”, cut that off at the source. Simply drop in a little footer in your emails stating “No need to respond unless there’s an issue with this. Extend the same courtesy to your busy colleagues.

Don’t dump into your inbox. Spammers usually mine domains and blast out emails to the “info@” address. If you must monitor a general inbox, use something less common like

Don’t use email! Use Wikis. At Socialtext, our email traffic blasted out to groups is light mostly because most of the conversations are on our wiki. If you’re looking to roll one out in your business and want to get informed on the how-tos, email me (oh the irony!). (Update: another dopey cliche: a picture is worth 1,000. Here’s a visual from the wikinomics blog:)

Read up on “Inbox Zero“. The basic idea here is that each email you receive should trigger an immediate action – either you respond to it, you act on it, you delete it and forget it, or you forward it to the appropriate person. There’s no reason to leave things lingering around. The emphasis here is on dealing with an email immediately once you take the time to read it, rather than flagging it for follow up later and allowing the emails to stack up.

Read email only twice a dayTim Ferris suggests communicating expectations that emails will be read and responded to twice a day, and answered immediately once you do sit down to read them. He also suggests setting an auto-responder to set expections, and provides the following sample message:

Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!


I’m with Tim on this for the most part, although I think a footer on your emails stating the above is preferable to auto email-bombing your unsuspecting colleagues.

This is just a sampling of solutions to leveraging your time more effectively. If you have other email hacks you’d like to share, please share ’em below!

This entry was published on March 27, 2008 at 12:18 AM. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “Email Bankruptcy Counseling is Now in Session.

  1. Pingback: Email Consumes Us

  2. I’m going to repeat what I’ve said at @jowyang and @chrisbrogan’s blogs — Aggressive use of filters and tagging for the win.

    Plus, get a real email client. People who try to run everything through Gmail and then can’t manage their in-box need to be kicked in the butt and presented with a copy of a real IMAP application like Thunderbird.

  3. I couldn’t agree more Rachel. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  4. Great post with great ideas! I just read a german magazine with lots of articles about time management und they suggest much of the stuff you listed (do mails just once or twice a day etc.). I find the shift to the social tools and wikis a great way out of the mess 🙂
    It’s also way better for information and knowledge management.

  5. Pingback: Taking Back Your Inbox - the E-mail Dilemma

  6. Great post! Another thought is to think twice before even SENDING an email. Sometimes the best way to handle something is with a quick conversation or evenn a voice mail.

    Too many people confuse emailing with dialoguing. Email is NOT dialogue – it’s a dump of information that can and will be misread or misinterpreted.

    I think the more email you send, the more you’ll get…

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