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For many, the pandemic has blurred the lines between home and work life. Home working and hybrid working has seen many employees struggling to cope with finding a balance between greater workloads, home schooling and caring responsibilities, leading to stress, anxiety and mental burnout. One reason for the pressure is email overload, a by-product of the remote workforce that now relies more heavily on email communication rather than face-to-face interaction.
Here we explore a few ways to reduce email overload, so that interruptions can be managed, stress reduced and productivity given a boost.
Setting filters on your inbox allows you to priorities which of your messages need a response immediately, which ones can wait for now, and those that are information-based and don’t require you to take action.
When thinking about how to deal with too many emails, try creating rules within your email software so that selected emails divert straight into certain folders. It’s a great way to take control of your inbox and cut the time you spend reading non-priority mail. You could for example create folders for individual clients, a folder for internal emails and one for information-based communications.
You can also automatically mark messages that contain certain words as high priority.
Most email programs allow you to set rules and filtering. Alternatively, you could manually divert emails into a triage of folders, such as ‘high priority – reply today’; ‘priority – reply this week’ and ‘info only’ for mail that doesn’t need any action at all. This method will help you manage your emails around your other tasks, as set deadlines for responding.
Research has revealed that the more time we spend dealing with email, the less productive we feel and the higher our stress levels. Limiting email time is therefore an effective strategy.
Studies show that when workers switch their focus to another task, such as checking email, it takes over 20 minutes to refocus back onto the original task. So, if you are constantly checking email throughout the day, this refocusing time is going to quickly add up, and could significantly affect your productivity and have a negative effect on your well-being.
So, rather than dealing with emails as and when they arise, set yourself an email checking and response window, so that you are not constantly interrupted throughout the day and can stay focused on the task in hand. Be sure to switch off email notifications outside of your window, so that you are not tempted to take a ‘quick look’ at what’s just come in.
Working from home seems to have set an expectation that regardless of the time of day or day of the week, emails will be answered immediately. But when considering how to deal with email overload, it is important to try and set boundaries.
With email set up on most workers’ smartphones, many find themselves checking and replying to emails out of hours, at weekends, on days off and during annual leave. This sets an expectation that whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, you’ll respond.
It is therefore important to set clear boundaries and expectations. In 2017, a new law was introduced in France forcing companies to give their workers the right to ignore their emails outside of working hours. The overuse of smartphones had been blamed by many for the rise in burnout and fatigue amongst employees.
Further, car manufacturers such as Porsche, Daimler and Volkswagen banned out of hours emails for employees a few years back. Porsche wanted its employees to be protected from work-related emails in their free time, and so set a rule that any correspondence sent between 7pm and 6am should be returned to sender.
Out of office responders can be used to signal that you are not responding to messages outside of office hours. They are also useful for letting people know who they can contact if their contact is urgent, and to advise when you’ll be likely to respond.
Switching off notifications so that your phone doesn’t ‘ping’ every time a new email lands in your inbox is a good way to prevent feeling continuously overloaded.
It’s important to set rules, and stick to them. If you start to make exceptions, and begin to reply when you’re not supposed to be working, then the out of hours emails will start to creep back.
Newsletters and promotions can engulf a mailbox, sometimes to the point where important emails are buried. They are a major cause of email overload.
So, next time you receive a newsletter or promotional email, think about whether it’s really of any value to you. If it isn’t, unsubscribe. You’ll be surprised how this helps reduce the volume of email you receive daily, and how much time you save by not stopping to read and disregard the message.
There are other ways to communicate other than email!
If internal emails are bogging you down, and you’re working in the office, try face-to-face chat instead. As well as being far quicker, talking can provide greater clarity than an email exchange. Plus it gets you up from your desk for a short time, which is never a bad thing. If you’re working from home, pick up the phone. Talking to someone will also help ease feelings of isolation.
For quick, informal messages and queries, try a messaging app like Slack, Google Chat or Facebook Workplace. Because these are considered more social, they’re ideal for internal communications and team talk. Yammer is also good for internal chats. For collaborative tasks, give the likes of Trello or Microsoft Teams a go.
If you’re looking to reduce email overload, PC Docs can help you set up a range of solutions, including out of office auto responders, email filters and rules, and alternative internal messaging systems. Whatever we do will be fully tailored to your needs and your business.