Email management and deflecting the unavoidable

Fight email overload: space, time, action and reflection (Credits -

Fight email overload: space, time, action and reflection (Credits –

Somehow, emails are not really part of what I would consider a KM infostructure, even though in practice they are essential, with apparently 62 billions of emails shared every day.

So, some word of advice about email management might help. But there’s plenty out there. Hey, wait! A knowledge management professional should be able to give you some good advice on email management, right? So here we go for your (well, my) agile KM worker’s tips to overcome the unavoidable email glut, baked in many years of sifting through emails and reflecting about it by myself and along better-informed people before me…

Create email time: Not all your time should go to managing emails

  • Focus on your work rather than on emails and other distractions. Otherwise you’ll be interrupted too often – and it seemingly takes 7 minutes to reconnect to what you were doing (though the link above mentions this takes up to 23 minutes… either way you might lose focus easy but gain it back only slowly)…
  • Turn off email notification pop-ups and other apps that drive your attention to your inbox at all times.
  • Take specific moments to look at your emails. I do it early morning when I start, after lunch break and at the end of the day. 30 to 45 minutes at a stretch. And that helps. I occasionally still don’t resist the temptation of checking emails more regularly but these three slots are really all I need and the rest is more like distraction tickling my bored brain.

Tame your  email space – Prioritise and deflect: Not all your communication should be email-based, so it’s a matter of prioritising your emails and deflecting what is not meant for you or for your email inbox

  • Do, delegate or dump. Another great brain spark of my dear ex-colleague Jaap Pels, and a variation to the theme: fight, flee or freeze. Either you can take care of the email yourself, or you should pass it on or you should just delete it because – seriously – it doesn’t matter!
  • Use Yammer and other means of communication. Some people like Leo Babauta and Luis Suarez have been living the past 2+ years without email and without withdrawal syndromes… For me, Yammer helps catch up with a lot of information that would normally end up in my inbox. Granted, this presupposes that my colleagues also use it. That means you can also create a group routine to collectively reduce email overload. 1+1=3
  • Do not put emails in a ‘to check’ folder – you will just never get to it. One related system that actually works in my case (on Outlook) is to categorize emails (e.g. websites to check, messages to check, friends’ messages etc.) but to keep them all in my main inbox so I think about them regularly and every so often act upon them.

Act (or not)!

Once you’ve set up your routines, act upon it – or sometimes not (as it might be an even more effective approach…)

  • Answer within three minutes: If an email takes you less than 3 minutes to react, then just deal with it. On. The. Spot. Seriously, it will help.
  • Do not react if it comes from someone that is quicker than their shadow to react. Emailing to one another is like dancing (except much much less pleasant): you need to find your common pace and style. There’s good chances you will always be overwhelmed if the person you’re receiving an email from is electronic mail’s Lucky Luke.
  • And my secret tip (which might not work if you’re a CEO or top manager): Ignore emails for long enough that people will have found alternative solutions. Similarly, don’t reply too quickly or it boomerangs back…

Learn to learn how to manage your emails

Sharpen the saw, Stephen Covey would have said: find ways to remain dynamically in control over your emails.

  • Explain to others, whenever you can, what your personal preferences/policy are regarding email. This way, they know that you react quickly or not, that you prefer to be called or visited face-to-face, or yammered to etc. It creates that dancing motion I mentioned above…
  • And as for pretty much anything else, just try different approaches and reflect upon what works for you or not. It’s been my best weapon to disarm the email nuclear threat…

And here is a selection of a few very recent articles or posts about this topic:

What are your tips to resist email overflow?

Related blog posts:


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