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How to cope with email overload

BBC Technology 10 Jun 2019 11:24
Stressed lady at computerImage copyright Getty Images

Andrew Crosby has 7,000 emails in his inbox. To some that might not sound like many, but he's only been at Relax Gaming for a year, so there's not been much time for the inbox to get out of control.

As a senior executive at the software company, which has eight offices around Europe, he fields around 140 emails a day.

"You have to pick and choose what you think is going to be relevant to yourself... you can get cc'ed into so many emails that are nothing to do with yourself whatsoever," he says.

And there's the key problem with email. The message that might contain the single most important thing you need to know all year, could well disappear into the landfill that is your inbox.

Email malaise

It's not just inefficient, it's also bad for your health.

His research has found that higher email load is associated with higher workload stress.

"There's no point in sending someone an email on a Friday night saying you don't have to deal with this until Monday, because people will then worry about it and do it that weekend."

"It's a great way to keep in touch with people, particularly who are remote. It's a great way to send data, to send information. By itself it's fine - it's the way people are using it is the problem," says Prof Cooper.

France has tried to improve the situation. In 2017, a law was introduced that obliged firms to come up with a plan to ensure staff get a break from office emails. In August 2018, the French arm of Britain's Rentokil Initial was ruled to have broken that law and was ordered to pay an employee €60,000 (£53,000).

Platypus Digital is a marketing agency which runs fundraising campaigns for charities. From the very start, in 2014, its founders banned internal emails and any staff who forget have to donate £5 to charity.

"We'd all worked in charities and companies that had been around a lot longer and experienced that internal email overload, where the majority of your day is trawling through internal updates that you don't need to be a part of," says managing director Matt Collins.

"We decided to use tools that were much more effective and much more fun," Mr Collins adds.

But what if you work in a much larger organisation, where you have to use email to get anything done?

Image copyright Clare Godson

"It's completely revolutionised the way I feel about my email," she says. "I never have that feeling any more that there's something lurking in there that I've forgotten to deal with.

She accepts that for many people it's a big hurdle.

People also think she can't be that busy, which she also rejects: "The busier you are, the more you need to be rigorous and organised."

Let's face it, for most office workers, inbox zero is never going to happen.

Image copyright Getty Images

On Slack, communications are based on groups of users rather than individual inboxes. Despite losing $420m in three years, it plans to list on the stock market later this month.

Other firms are also trying to exploit frustration with emails, including Microsoft, which Slack identifies as its biggest rival. Microsoft Teams was launched in 2017 and the company says that more than 500,000 firms use the service.

The secret?

The trick, according to Mr Collins, is to be strict about how you use it. He attaches a document to all his emails explaining his personal policy, which warns correspondents that his emails will be brief and, unless they are a current client, they should not expect a quick reply.

The idea is to let the emails pile up, embrace the chaos and thus liberate yourself from the guilt and anxiety. Just make sure you don't miss the message from the boss about your pay rise.

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SlackAndrew CrosbyMr CollinsEuropeUK
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