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7 Daring Tactics to Escape the Email Avalanche

20 October 2011


Help! I've been out of the office for just 4 days and I've got 500 emails!

Sound familiar? Maybe the actual number is more (maybe it's less) but the sick feeling is the same. You took a break. A long weekend with the family. A trip with a few friends. Or perhaps you just sat down with a good book. Whatever the reason, you didn't pick up your mail for a few days and now your inbox is fit to explode. What's more, you just know that about 99% of that mail isn't urgent, isn't important and is only going to waste your time and drain your energy.

Besides, you've got no time for the email, there are all those other post-absence demands on your time to deal with. Your team have a thousand questions that they've been saving up. There are orders to fill or customers to talk to. You need to catch up on all the meetings you missed. You just don't have time to read all these emails one by one.

We've all been in this situation. It's at this point that despair beckons. How many of you start giving yourself a hard time?

I should've told more people I was going away.

I should've tied up more loose ends before I left.

I should've delegated more to the team.

I should've stayed in the office and not gone away at all.


Should've. Could've. Would've. Thinking like isn't helping. It doesn't make you feel better and it doesn't get rid of any emails. You need to do something bold. Something definitive. 

First of all, here's what you don't do. You don't use MSOutlook (or whatever) to put them in their own separate folder with the intention of going through them bit-by-bit as and when you get the chance. All you're doing is creating an opportunity for procrastination and dressing it up as work that will steal your time for weeks to come.

No, you need something a lot more decisive than that. You need a daring, one-off tactic to get rid of them all in one fell swoop. Here are seven such tactics; the first five are for when you're faced with that huge list of mail and the last two might help you avoid it next time.

These are only for the brave…

1.Tell everybody that due to email overload, all mail received in the last four days will be deleted and if their mail required a response, they should resend. - You'll be surprised how many people when forced to reconsider like this, don't see their email as important enough to send a second time… you might want to ensure however your read the bosses!... and your clients. You can find these easily by sorting your inbox by ‘from’

2.Set up an out-of-office message asking people not to email you until a certain date. -This stops any more emails being added to the pile and buys you some time for you to sort through your inbox. Setting up a similar out-of-office message just prior to going on leave will also help reduce email build up while you are away. 

3.Delegate somebody to sort and prioritise the emails for you, getting rid of the rubbish and leaving you to deal with only the ones that really need your attention. - Done right, this could be good development for them and certainly frees up your time. 

4.Sort the emails alphabetically. Then keep all the emails from people you don't know and apply one of the other tactics to the rest (how about #3?). - There won't be that many from unknown senders and they'll mostly fall into one of two categories: Selling Something and Buying Something. By all means delete the 'sellers' but the 'buyers' are potential new customers.

5.Delete everything and tell people that you had an IT problem. - OK, this is naughty! And I don’t really recommend it because if you're caught out then people know you've been dishonest and there goes your reputation. However when it's a choice between this and a nervous breakdown it's tempting, very tempting! 

6.Unsubscribe from stuff that you don't read anyway. - You know, all those websites, newsletters, Facebook pages and so on that seemed so relevant to your business at the time but are actually just time-stealers.

7.Ask people to stop copying you in. - Nine times out of ten, you really don't need to read an email that is actually between two other people. Usually the sender is just covering their back in some way and taking up your time to do it.


Phew – they're gone! Whichever tactic you used (and maybe you were inspired by the list above to come up with your own 'Tactic #8' in which case, tell me, I want to know!) I'm betting that you learned at least one thing... that you don't ever want to be in that situation again.

Well, the good news is that you don't have to be. Sure, some time management is about fire-fighting but if you want some solid tips and tactics on avoiding the fire in the first place, then check out some of the other Generating Time newsletters or come along to the next Generating Time workshop.