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How to deal with email overload

Is your email a dormant land of junk mail, drafts and unimportant updates? Molly Raycraft reveals how you can prevent unread emails from festering

Ping! A notification appears on your screen, it’s Lorraine chasing you up on an email she allegedly sent the other day that you’ve not replied to. What email? You glance further into your inbox to realise Lorraine’s email has been swamped by sales and general staff messages.

Every marketer is guilty of accidentally letting a few emails slip through the junk mail net. With communication being a key element of the marketing industry, it can be difficult to cut down on the number of emails you receive. Here’s how to take an organised grip on your mailbox:

Establish what your email marketing is actually for

Email is obviously a communication tool, but has it become more than that without you realising? Pete Jakob, MD and founder of marketing consultancy Purple Salix, explains regularly checking your emails shouldn’t really be high on your list of daily priorities.

“As with any of these sources, the trick is to clarify what, if anything, is the actual action you intend to take and to capture that somewhere else,” he explains. “This may be handwritten on a piece of paper, on a spreadsheet or on one of the many task manager apps available.”

Many of us are slaves to our email, viewing the tool as a bit of a drag and spending unnecessary time trawling through our inbox in a vain attempt to locate the resource a colleague sent over last week.

To this end, Pete also encourages marketers to re-establish their relationship with their email. “Make sure you’re the boss of your email rather than the other way around. Most of your inbox is to do with someone else’s agenda, so you need an approach that allows you to make choices based on your own priorities as well as helping others get through theirs.

“Turn off your email notifications and limit the amount of time you spend within your inbox – try to visit it only three times a day for relatively short bursts.”

Use templates

Marketers often have the same conversations with different people multiple times. A good way to use this to your advantage is by creating template emails for when only a basic reply is required. If a more personal response is required, you can simply add and alter the template where necessary.

“In my work, I found myself dealing with a lot of similar enquiries which meant I was typing similar responses over and over again,” explains Aisha Kellaway, digital content and communications consultant at Scarlet Roo. “Gmail has a function that enables you to write, save and insert email templates as and when you need to.”

She adds: “You can still personalise the emails, but you’re working from a base, which means you’re saving yourself hours of repetitive typing time.”

Inbox zero

There are two types of people: those who religiously keep up with their emails, and those unhinged folk who let them build up into their thousands.

“Processing my email regularly and capturing clear actions onto a master list is the bedrock of my system,” reveals Pete – but he warns marketers not to misunderstand the concept of inbox zero. “It doesn’t mean that everything contained within your email has been completed. It means that you’ve clarified what you need to do with each item and have captured that someplace else, and hence don’t need it in your inbox any longer.

“Processing my mailbox means I no longer need to fear what might be lurking in there – and that alone reduces my stress considerably.”

Pete admits, like with any habit, his email still spins out of control when things are frantic. But he insists the cure to such a stress lies in taming email, with his first step being the creation of the classic ‘to-do’ list.

Aisha adds: “When you’ve finished with an email – do something with it. Triage emails into follow-ups, hold or archive folders so you’ve prioritised what you’re dealing with. And when emails have been dealt with, file them in client or job specific folders for easy reference.”

Organise your emails

It seems obvious, but for many a marketer, leaving unread emails languishing dormant in your inbox is a common downfall.

SEO consultant Zack Neary-Hayes says: “Make sure you’re using filtering and sorting options within your email efficiently. Using labels to keep all related emails nicely organised is a huge time saver, as is getting into the habit of snoozing or completely dismissing and archiving unimportant messages.”

Pete agrees with using a search/filtering system, but actually advises against using folders: “I’m not a fan of folders. I used to use complex hierarchies of folders, but always found it unsatisfactory when trying to retrieve emails and a hassle when attempting to file things in the first place.

“Most email clients have a pretty good search function, so I tend to simply archive notes I wish to store and use search to retrieve them if I ever need to refer to them again. If you’re going to use folders I would suggest you use as few as possible.”

Use internal chat software

Although important, internal emails can clog up your mailbox with social invites and single line questions. Using internal chat software such as Slack and Teamwork Chat can separate internal and external communications.

Teana McDonald, president of 3E communications, explains: “Email overload has become something manageable for our team. Ever since we started using Slack to manage emails, projects, and client needs, our productivity has increased. The functionality of the app is great and being able to still collaborate and stay in the loop is a plus.”

Chat software is also less formal than email. Employees are often much happier to communicate via a quick message on Slack, rather than bother with the banal formalities of the classic ‘yours sincerely’ and ‘best wishes’ email sign-offs.

Unsubscribe from junk mail

If you’re blind to the junk mail that pours through your inbox, you’re not alone. Junk mail is cast off as an annoyance and regularly ignored, but the easiest solution is simply to unsubscribe. If you want to go one step further, take care what you sign up for in the first place.

“I try to minimise the amount of superfluous incoming emails,” explains Pete. “I unsubscribe from any newsletters that I don’t regularly look at and then use the Unroll.Me service to consolidate any newsletters that remain into a single email every day. I also use mail rules to automatically file or forward specific emails – for example, sending my RingGo parking receipts direct to my expenses system.”

Deleting and archiving should be your two favourite functions

Believe it or not, it’s perfectly acceptable to delete emails. However, if you’re a ‘just in case person’, and the thought of deleting an email fills you with dread, the alternative option is to archive.

Although Pete admits that cloud systems and infinite storage doesn’t make deleting a necessity, he says good organisational practice dictates he deletes emails he knows he’ll never want to see again. “But I do archive a lot,” he adds. “Just in case I ever need to refer to them in the future. The key thing is to get them out of the inbox and put them somewhere else.

“On a daily basis, I look at each email in my inbox and decide whether I can simply delete, archive or whether there is an action associated with it.” Pete says if an action is required, he usually saves the task to a digital task manager. “Once an action is saved in my task manager – alongside any captured tasks from other activities and meetings – I no longer have any need for it in my inbox so can delete or archive it.”


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