Five ways to start an email weight loss campaign over Christmas

Slim down your inbox and avoid email bloat on your return to work...

With all the other overindulgences of the festive season, there's no reason why your email inbox also needs to be straining at the seams, says Monica Seeley.

The results of a recent poll on overstuffed inboxes should be giving IT and HR directors sleepless nights: nearly two-thirds of those quizzed said they receive more than 50 emails a day while 30 per cent receive more than 100. Those numbers imply many people are suffering from information overload.

The question is how much of this email is really necessary? Based on my own research, 47 per cent of business users feel they need 50 per cent or less of the emails they receive, excluding spam. The easy solution is simply to delete what you don't want, but there is still a high overhead associated with this action.

Dealing with the unwanted email costs most organisations up to 31 days' lost productivity, or half a day a week. Based on an average daily wage of £150 per person, that's £4,650 per person per year of wasted time just to delete all unwanted the emails. To check what it's costing you, you can use my online Cost of Email Misuse calculator.

Inbox image

A manageable email inbox improves efficiency and reduces stress
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There are also the hidden costs of too much email, which is one of the main causes of information overload. The costs include stress - bulging inboxes are now one of the top 10 stressors - lower productivity and systems outages. Email overload also causes unnecessary overheads, for example:

  • Are important business emails missed in the tidal wave?
  • Large mailboxes take longer to restore if there is a systems outage. How long could your business survive without email?
  • Is dealing with such a huge volume of email causing people to work even longer hours to keep up?
  • The higher the volume of emails the greater the carbon footprint as more server space, bandwidth and energy is needed to process them, not to mention toner and paper if they are printed.

Email overload thus carries some high and unnecessary costs that few businesses can afford to absorb in these austere times. Is it time to encourage people to put their inbox on a very strict diet?

Eighty per cent of the information we need generally comes from 20 per cent of what we receive. Here are five ways to start an email weight loss campaign and help people to reduce their bloated inboxes down to the 20 per cent of information they really need.

  1. Enable people to do an information audit and prioritise the emails they really need to receive to do their job.
  2. Help people find ways to reduce the volume of the low-priority emails - for example, unsubscribe from newsletters. Learn to say no to people who unnecessarily email you.
  3. Develop a push rather than pull information culture by using alternative media such as IM for the broadcast and ephemeral emails such as, "Who has my blue mug?" or "We are testing the fire alarm".
  4. Find mechanisms to reduce the number of emails people need to send: for example, use the calendar scheduler to arrange meetings.
  5. Create ways to reduce the number of pointless email chains, such as commenting for the sake of it or acknowledging receipt of an email: for example, use the acronym NRE in the subject line for 'No reply expected'.

Simply deleting unwanted emails will not provide a long-term cure for having a bloated email system, however - resolving the whole solution lies in addressing these underlying poor email behaviours.

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, and has just written her third book Brilliant Email, published by Pearson. You can follow Seeley's daily email tips and hints on Twitter.