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6 Ways to Conquer Email Overload

Is email overload driving you over the edge? You’re not alone. The average white-collar employee spends 4.1 hours a day checking email, according to a recent survey by Adobe. That's more than half the workday. Excessive email not only makes you less efficient, it can also make you sick. One study found that people with access to email experienced more stress, had faster heart rates and had higher levels of cortisol (a hormone that can lead to heart problems) than people who weren't using email.

How can you get a grip on your email before it destroys your productivity, or your health? Try these six tactics.

  1. Avoid checking email constantly. Responding to every email as it comes in fragments your attention and keeps you from focusing on more important tasks. Try checking your email in “batches” three or four times a day — say, at 9 AM, 11:30 AM, 2 PM and 5 PM. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes at these times to read, delete and respond. (If you can’t force yourself to do this, BatchedInbox is an app that does it for you.)
  2. Filter your incoming emails. All email apps have options to sort your emails into different folders based on filters you set, such as sender, keywords or subject line. Take advantage of these features to sift through the deluge of incoming messages and focus on the emails that really matter. (Don’t want to bother setting up filters? SaneBox uses AI to “learn” what emails matter most to you and filter everything else.)
  3. Reduce email use at your business. If your employees communicate with you and each other through email, it's hard to cut back on using it. Explain that you want to reduce email use, discuss the benefits you expect, and ask employees to pick up the phone or chat in person when possible. Set an example by sending shorter and fewer emails — your employees will soon start to follow suit. Some companies even institute "no email" Fridays to help employees focus without distractions.
  4. Manage expectations. If you've always answered your customers' emails within seconds of receiving them, you may need to explain that you're trying something different from now on. Most customers will understand as long as you emphasize that you'll still answer their emails as soon as possible and always within 24 hours. Manage customer expectations by not answering emails late at night or on weekends. (It's fine to compose your emails then, but save them as drafts and send them during business hours. The Boomerang app for Gmail lets you write emails, schedule them to send later, and get automatic reminders to follow up if the recipient doesn’t reply within a certain time.)
  5. Stay on top of junk email. Once a month, unsubscribe from newsletters and other subscription emails you no longer read. Or try, which combines all your subscription emails into one daily digest, or lets you unsubscribe from everything with one click.  
  6. Be ruthless. Time is money — how much is it really worth to you to read every email that comes through your inbox? Simply scan the subject line and sender, and nine times out of 10, you won't even need to open the email before deleting it.