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Ask Professor Feiner: Too Much Email

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Maya Raichura
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Ask Professor Feiner: Too Much Email - August 19th, 2012

Dear Professor Feiner: As my career has progressed, the number of emails I get has increased exponentially, and I’m having trouble getting to all of them. Any tips on how to manage this?

There’s no question that email offers great efficiency in passing on information and in asking for information, and this efficiency leads to productivity — a good thing.

But the sheer amount of email exchanged at companies is an overwhelming problem. Emails have come to replace voice-to-voice and face-to-face transactions and are making the workforce feel anonymous and impersonal. Bosses complain that they get too many emails, and their people, ironically, complain that these same bosses send too many emails.

There is no good solution. What I tell leaders in my consulting job is that if you’re trying to make decisions around something or if you’re trying to coach people or if you’re trying to motivate, inspire or galvanize people through email, you’re wasting your time.

Until leaders recognize how counterproductive and demotivating the email experience can be at times, this isn’t going to get fixed.

There are some tricks that can help:

1. Set some ground rules to help employees decide which conversations should be handled via email and which should be handled face-to-face or phone-to-phone.

2. Restrict your email to a certain number per day per person.

3. Don’t use email for those occasions when you’re trying to motivate, inspire, galvanize or energize.

4. Ask an admin to vet emails and try to handle the less important ones themselves, passing on the most important ones to you.

5. If the matter being discussed is urgent, put “urgent” on it — and if this is a crisis, and you really need an answer immediately, put that in the subject line. Sometimes people cheat with this, but even if people are playing it straight 70 percent of the time, this will very often get you to the most critical emails during the day, and the others you can defer.

Professor Feiner is frequently called upon by alums for advice. If you have a suggestion for a question, please drop us an email at [email address].


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