Merge's Blog

Empty Your Email Inbox and Fill Your Team – Part I

DeriLatimer1Deri Latimer is a business colleague, a good friend, AND an expert in positive possibilities for people! So I am thrilled that she has agreed to be our guest blogger for both posts this week. Almost every leader I’ve met recognizes the importance of making investments in their people, but also struggles with balancing operational needs at the same time. Which is why Deri’s posts are so timely. Today, she offers you ten tips to manage the one activity that seems to take up an inordinate amount of time – email! And later this week, she’ll give you ideas to fill up all that free time you’ll generate 🙂 – eleven things that you can do to invest in your team.

“I’m not an email expert”, I told my client. I was sensing that email management was a concern for the managers in this organization, and I wanted to make sure that I understood their expectations for my keynote at the conference. “What I do is help people learn about how their brain works relative to their performance, so they can develop new habits to achieve the results they want and need to achieve as a manager. My message is much more around moving toward what you want (in this case, filling your team) than avoiding what you don’t want (an overwhelming inbox).” “Yes, that is what we want” was the response. “And maybe you could add in some email management tips just to help us get a handle on it all.” I knew I could do that, so I set off to design the keynote.

There are several online sources for email management tips and as I perused what was available, some key tips kept reappearing:

  1. Recognize the Iceberg. Amy Gallo from Harvard Business Review blog comments that “email overload is only a symptom of a larger issue: a lack of clear and effective protocols. If your organization has ambiguous decision-making processes and people don’t get what they need from their colleagues, they’ll flood the system with email and meeting requests. People then get mired down in their backlog, which leads to even more email and meeting requests from frustrated co-workers trying to follow up.” Consider what’s under the tip of your email iceberg. Is it lack of clarity about expectations? Lack of effective communication? Lack of trust?
  2. Be the Leader. As the leader, you need to be the model that others will follow, and that goes for email management too. Clearly identify the kind of message you are sending (FYI Only, Action Required, etc.), only copy those who need to be copied on your messages, and talk about effective email practices at staff meetings to get others involved in sharing ideas about maintaining good practices. Respond to high priority email immediately, which will cut down on the amount of email you get in the long run.
  3. Keep it Simple. If your email message is over a paragraph long, it is best to walk down the hall or pick up the phone and have a telephone conversation with the person(s) involved. Use the simplest, most basic language possible.
  4. Actually Talk to People. Before you choose email over a more personal approach, ask yourself: Is there a potential for conflict here? Is the issue a complex one? Do I need buy-in from others to make this work? Are strong emotions present? Am I going to pay more later (with my time, energy, emotion) by sending email now rather than choosing a more interpersonal approach? If you answer any of these in the affirmative, choose face to face or telephone as your communication vehicle.
  5. Slow the Flow. Scan your emails and unsubscribe to newsletters (not this blog, of course!!) you don’t read and notifications you do not care about. Ask others who are copying you to remove you from unwanted or unnecessary messages.
  6. Practice Reciprocity. Remember that you get what you give. Be cautious using the ‘reply all’ option. Do you really need to flood everyone else’s inbox? Do you want yours flooded by mindless ‘reply all’ selections? If an email upsets you, take a time out before you respond. No good things generally come from communication crafted and delivered while in a negative state.
  7. Empty it Now. I know it sounds scary, but go right now and empty your inbox. If you see an unnecessary email, don’t even open it, just hit ‘delete’. Create folders or use labels for your other messages. Feel free to set up an ‘I don’t know’ folder, for those messages that are unclear (you might be surprised at the number of messages that require no action what so ever).
  8. Sort Immediately. With every email entering your inbox, either Delete it, Respond to it, or File it. I remember taking a time management course over 20 years ago, and a key take away I remember to this day is ‘touch each piece of paper (inboxes had paper in those days) only once. This is a good practice for email too.
  9. Set Checkpoints. Establish a practice of checking email just a few times a day. Leave an auto-responder message indicating the times you check email (and a phone number for emergencies, if necessary). This will also help you the ‘lead the way’ with your team around setting boundaries around email.
  10. Break Away. Take time away from technology – on vacations, while out shopping, and even while on break at work (you do take those, don’t you??!). A break away can help you be more mindful about managing your email and making choices that work for you rather than against you.

Now that your inbox is less full, and you are less imprisoned a deluge of email, set forth to instill practices to fill your team. In my next post later this week, I’ll give you eleven specific ideas to do just that.

Deri will be back later this week, but in the meantime, what ideas do you have around better email management? What are some of the specific things you do to be more productive when managing your inbox? Do share.

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! She combines a business degree in human resources management with 20 years of experience engaging audiences across every business sector. Deri provides inspiration and information to create psychologically healthy organizations for increased positivity, productivity, and profitability! Reach her at

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