Many, business people receive 100 (or more) messages a day and spend 2 to 3 hours a day on email related activities, consuming 20 to 30% of their business day. Not surprisingly, many complain of suffering from email overload
Email, with its myriad of features, functions, and capabilities, combined with its high volumes and constant interruptions, has become one of the most frequently used yet continually challenging business applications for today’s workers to navigate.
So, what is the solution to managing email overload issues? My research has found that the key strategies to deal with email overload fall into three broad approaches: organizational, technical, and behavioral.
1) Organizational approaches
Organizational approaches to reducing email overload incorporate the use of acceptable use policies as a way to set organization-wide rules for the appropriate, and inappropriate, use of email. These approaches are also referred to as email etiquette or netiquette, and focus on teaching people to use email more appropriately.
These can be employed differently depending upon the organization, ranging from being enforced as formalized policies, communicated as strongly suggested guidelines, or expressed as cultural norms of expected behavior. They establish a common set of values, expectations, and behaviors around the use of email, and work at the macro level, reducing the email overload burden for everyone.
2) Technical approaches
Technical approaches to reducing email overload leverage specific features and functionality in the email system itself as ways to reduce email overload. This approach has traditionally been the primary focus area for most email training programs with the goal on improving an individual’s fluency in the email system and thereby allowing people to use email more efficiently.
Research has found that there is often little formalized training on the use of email, as most people are (incorrectly) presumed to already be email proficient. Even those who deem themselves email savvy are often only familiar with a small fraction of their email system’s features and capabilities. A technical approach can yield significant improvements in individual email skills, resulting in large reductions in email overload.
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3) Behavioral approaches
Behavioral approaches to reducing email overload focus on improving the knowledge, actions, and behavior of individuals. This approach incorporates the areas of media competencies and email processing (triage) techniques and focus on teaching people to use email more effectively.
Media competencies include topics such as when email is an appropriate (or inappropriate) form of communication, how to build high-quality email subject lines, and writing structured message bodies. email processing (triage) encompasses focuses on strategies on how to best scan, analyze, and organize your messages. Behavioral approaches, the way you interact with email, are critical to reducing email overload.
Research has found that you must focus on improving skills across all three of these areas (Organizational, Technical, and Behavioral) in order to make the greatest improvements in your email skills and the largest reduction in email overload.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Einstein is a full-time business technology professional for a large multi-national corporation.
His doctoral dissertation was on the intersection of email processing skills, email overload, and technology training. He is very active in email overload research. For more information see his recently launched website which contains a wealth of resources to help others learn to better manage their inboxes and reduce their information and email overload levels.