Conquer Your Inbox in 3 Simple Steps

What's one of the best ways to reduce email overload? Send fewer emails, according to a new study. 

Illustration by Gavin Potenza

Plagued by an overstuffed inbox? If you want to reduce all those incoming messages, look first at your own emailing habits. Because one of the best ways to receive fewer emails is to send fewer.

A research team from the University of Glasgow and Modeuro Consulting recently asked executives at the utility company London Power to think twice before hitting send. As a result, email around the office was reduced by half—not to mention that it freed up 11,000 hours of work time annually.

Researcher Karen Renaud offers three suggestions:

1. Break the chain. When people email you, consider who really needs a response. “Only send to people who have to see the message and act on it,” says Renaud. “If you keep blasting stuff into people’s inboxes, they will just ignore you—like the boy who cried wolf.”

2. Resist speed. “Email begets email,” says Renaud. If people realize you respond quickly, you’ll get more emails. Carve out intentional times to respond. Four to 12 hours is an acceptable response time.

3. Think outcome, not convenience. If someone is in the office, meet face-to-face or call them. While you might think it’s more productive to send a quick message and move on, an email chain inevitably follows. “The task comes back and in the long run takes much longer,” says Renaud. Connecting personally saves time.

For more emailing tips and to learn more about this study, see Mindful‘s Q&A with Karen Renaud.

This article also appeared in the April 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.