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Taming the Email Monster

Dr Monica Seeley

What would you do with an extra hour a day every working day? Most CEOs, MDs and business leaders are information-rich but time poor. Board papers, minutes of meetings, proposals and research reports are often piled high either on the PC or desk. Add an average of 70 emails a day and a clear picture of information overload quickly takes shape. Email is now recognised as one of the top ten stressors, up there with divorce, moving house and a take-over bid. Moreover, it is also one of the major drains on individual and business productivity.

Taming the email monsterHow much time do you waste each day dealing with unnecessary email? On average, business people waste up to one hour per day, every day. The more senior you are, the more time you tend to waste because the volume of email traffic tends to increase in proportional to seniority (and thanks to all those cc’d messages). You check out just how much time you are wasting through email misuse and how much this is costing your business with our free on-line Cost of Email Misuse Calculator.

The way you use email is a DNA finger print of your management and your business culture. So consequently, the time wasted reflects three principle aspects of your organisation.

Management style. Micro-managers tend to send and receive far more email than someone with a more empowering management style. A micro-manager’s inbox is often 75% Cc’d email where as the empowering style manager is only about 25% Cc’d.

Over-dependency on email to the exclusion of alternatives. Often businesses are reluctant to implement alternative communications technologies. For example, Instant Message which is very useful for short messages which do not need to be kept (eg testing the fire alarm) and collaborative technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint are well suited to discussions (rather than email threads).

No email standards which define what is a reasonable response time and what is an acceptable style of writing. Interestingly, there is always a gap between an executive’s expectation about what is a proper response time and what his team feels is right. Usually the team feel that all emails from the boss must be answered immediately. Yet the boss (CEO) rarely has such an expectation. However, no one has ever communicated this.

Amazingly, fewer than a quarter of business people have ever received any training in email best practice. What is good for social communications is often not appropriate in business. Moreover poor email etiquette can cost your business dearly in terms of lost customers and damaged reputations.

Here are my top seven tips to reduce the email and hence information overload and stress.

At a business level

  1. Review your use of alternative communications platforms and wean people off constantly using email when an alternative is often more effective.
  2. Implement a basic and sound set of email best practice guidelines and train all employees to adopt them.

At a personal level

  1. Prioritise which emails you really need to see and read.  80% of the information you need will come from 20% of the emails you receive.  Identify the 20%: use your email software to filter the rest and remove yourself from all unnecessary circulation lists.
  2. Reduce the number of emails you send by 10 – 20%.
  3. As the CEO you may well work different hours to the rest of the business.  Avoid sending non-urgent internal emails first thing in the morning (or late at night) because these are the ones which employees will answer first regardless of urgency.
  4. Switch off all new email notifications and deal with your emails in batches (and at most seven times a day) rather than the instant they arrive.
  5. Always use good email etiquette both to set the standards and communicate the right message right first time.  This reduces unnecessary rounds of email ping pong and misunderstanding.  Benchmark your email protocol using our free email etiquette on-line tool.

Implementing these last five tips will reduce your email traffic and hence information overload and create more time in the day for more productive activities. However, it is vital that once you define best practice for you and your business, you communicate it to the rest of the organisation as in tips 1 and 2.


Monica Seeley

Monica Seeley

Dr Monica Seeley is founder of Mesmo Consultancy and one of the world’s leading experts on email best practice to improve performance. She is the author of Brilliant Email. For more information see

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