email overload

How To Reduce Email Overload & Boost Email Productivity

Email consumes a big part of the life of most modern day people.

We receive work, business and personal emails, notifications from social media sites, notifications about our bank accounts, package location alerts, order confirmations and the list goes on and on.

Most of us also write a lot of emails (hopefully not as many as we receive). The list of devices and locations that we can send and receive emails from is also close to endless nowadays. Most people have a work station at work, at least one personal computer at home (in most cases two), a tablet and to make matters worse, carry a smartphone all the time to make sure they can check email in the most ridiculous situations and places (e.g. the bathroom).

Taming the email beast and getting all emails under control has become an essential, if not the most essential, part in being productive. So how can you do it? How can you reduce email overload? The first step is eliminating all the unnecessary emails. A good percentage of the emails you get shouldn’t be getting to you in the first place. Opting out, unsubscribing and changing the notifications settings on a couple of sites will help you dramatically reduce the emails you get on a daily basis and the time needed to process them.

Here is a list of the most common “offenders” that can inflate your inbox a lot of if not handled properly:

Social Media

With more than a billion Facebook users out there, chances are you are on of them. But what about Twitter, YouTube, Quora, LinkedIn and the other social media sites? The average American has accounts on at least 3 social media websites.

If you have a lot of friends on Facebook (the average FB user has 130), Twitter, or on any other social media website, you can be getting an email every minute, easily.

The good news is that all these websites offer an easy way to opt out of all emails. Start with Facebook and Twitter and work your way through all social media websites and change your notifications settings. Some will make it easy on you and will have an unsubscribe link on the bottom of their emails, but not all, so you might have to visit the actual websites to make the change.

You will come across different types of notifications to opt-out from, especially on Facebook. Some are more important than others, but I personally unsubscribe from all of them. To Facebook, a change in their privacy policy might be important enough to send me an email, but I wouldn’t take the time to read 10 pages of legal jargon so I would rather not get an email at all. If I decide for some crazy reason that I want to check out their latest policy of the month, I can find it on their website.

Promotional Emails

This is a typical scenario: you go to large online retailer (think Amazon, or Target.com) and buy something. Large, or small, cheap, or expensive, it doesn’t matter, the site now has your email and will start sending you offers. Some retailers like Amazon will do this once a week, but others might send you one, or more per day.

How to stop promotional emails in 3 steps:

  • During the check-out process there is usually a box that is conveniently checked for you that lets you opt in to get promo emails (it is required by law to have such a box, at least in the U.S.). The next time you buy something from a place where you have not shopped before look for that box and uncheck it. This won’t eliminate your current flow of emails, but it will prevent it from getting bigger.
  • The next time you receive an email from a retailer, scroll down to the bottom and look for an “unsubscribe” link (some call it “opt out” or “change notifications”). In 9 out of 10 cases, just clicking the link once will stop all future emails, but you might have to confirm your intentions by clicking an extra button.
  • If an email does not contain a link to opt out, visit the retailer’s website and sign in to your account (if you have one). There should be a notifications setting where you can control what gets sent to you. If that fails, contact their support and ask to be removed from their list. In the extreme case that even the above fails, create a filter in your inbox to send all emails from that website directly to the trash folder. Little caveat here, if you ever order from the same website again, your confirmation email will also be send to trash. Not a big deal, as long as you are aware of it.

Some sites will ask you to share your email in order to access some part of their content. Once they get your email, they start blasting you with offers which creates mountains of unwanted emails. How can you avoid getting those emails and still get access to the content? I’m glad you asked. Use BugMeNot. This is a free service that allows people to share login credentials and throw-away emails in order to access some sites. When you come across a site that requires you to enter an email, or to register in order to continue, go to BugMeNot and see if you can get what you need from there. This free and easy to use service can save you a lot of unwanted mail and time too.

“Funny” Forwards

In everyone’s life there is that one person (at least) who sends you regular emails with the latest funny picture, or quote, or video of something “cool”. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how many funny cat pictures, or inspirational powerpoint presentations you can see before they become a nuisance. That limit for me is 1. I know it sounds harsh, but if I want to look at funny pictures, I can find them on my own time, I don’t need them in my inbox.

If you are getting a lot of funny and inspirational forwards from friends and family contact the people who send them to you and ask not to be included the next time. Some might get offended as they think what they send out is really “cool”, but they will eventually get over it, trust me.

If you keep getting emails from the same person after you have asked them not to, you are left with no choice, but to filter their emails to trash directly. If they send you an important email, which almost never happens, and they call you in a few days asking why you haven’t replied, you can politely tell them that their email is most likely in the spam folder.

Important But Not That Important Emails

Some emails, such a notifications from your bank, or a reminder to pay the electricity bill are important to be received, but not important enough to interrupt your day. The way to handle such emails is to create a folder in your inbox (mine is called “Notifications”) and filter all these emails there. Make sure your filter marks them as “read” as well.

This way you can get, and keep, all of these important emails, but you can read and process them on your own schedule. Make it a point, and even add a reminder, to check that folder regularly. I check it twice a week which is more than enough for me. If you feel like this is too rare, aim for once a day at most, more than that defeats the purpose.

Over to you now

Taming the email beast starts even before the emails hit your inbox. By eliminating useless notifications from social media sites, promotional messages and chain mails with funny cat pictures you can reduce what you need to process by a lot, sometimes as much as 60 – 70%.

What are some of the ways that you use to reduce email overload? Share in the comment section below.