I’m not really one for excess of protocol, but there are a couple of things I am particular about. One of these is that I like a clean and tidy inbox. Given how email traffic has grown in the last few years, keeping the inbox in trim is pretty much essential to maintaining sanity.
One thing we recently set up here at FreshBooks to help reduce inbox overload is a new email list purely for social updates. We now have one all-staff list for “do-your-job” information, and a separate one (the “Watercooler” list) for all the fun stuff. People can filter what they choose to read when.
This reminded me of a system I used for filtering my own inbox a bunch of years ago, back when I worked for a huge tech company riddled with people who had really bad email habits. With thousands of employees and millions of customers in 17 time zones, I’d often get more than 600 new emails a day. So I came up with a simple system to manage the overload, and get past the guilt of having >1,000 unread messages.
I haven’t had to implement anything like this old system now I’m at FreshBooks (folk here generally give good email), but if you find you’re really getting buried, I think this is still a good approach and worth sharing.
Note: successful use of this system pretty much means you have to become a total inbox hardass, at least until you’ve ruthlessly re-trained the worst email etiquette offenders in your contact list.
So here’s the system: publish these rules to your team, explain the process, implement rigorously, take no prisoners.
Five Rules to Slim Down Your Inbox
- Think. If you really want to get my attention and discuss something, should this even be an email at all? I’m right here. Come and chat.
- If you send email directly to me, where I’m the ONLY name on the To: line, I’ll definitely read it. I’ll also treat your message as something requiring action or, at the very least, a timely response – and I will respond. Mostly. (Yeah, I know sometimes you’ll still send me FYI stuff this way. That’s cool too, I suppose. Thanks for the info.)
- If you put a whole bunch of names in the To: line – mine and others – what’s that about? Ah, OK – so you wanted all the people in the To: line to feel equally important. I understand. Problem = if there’s an action required, how are we supposed to know who owns it? Here’s the deal: I’ll probably read your message. You may or may not get a response. Depends.
- If you include me in the CC: line, thanks for the heads up. If/when I get to your message, I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it. If I ever find the time, I might even respond. Don’t count on it.
- If you BCC: me, your message will be filed as probable garbage, guilty until proven otherwise. I know there are legitimate reasons for using the sordid little BCC feature, but in my experience, the way blind copying is most commonly used is for snarky, passive-aggressive CYA tactics. Don’t do it.
And that’s it. As I said, it’s kinda hardass, but it’s your inbox and you need to protect it. If nothing else, this isn’t a bad way to get people thinking about how they’re using and abusing email.
Once you’ve got that problem under control, it’s time to start looking at the stupidity of most email subject lines… Don’t get me started.
Inbox photo by xJasonRogersx, licensed under CC.