Sucessful Nonprofits: 5 Techniques for Preventing Email Overload

Stop Feeling Overwhelmed By Your Email

by GoldenburgGroup

Stop Feeling Overwhelmed By Your Email

by GoldenburgGroup

by GoldenburgGroup

Last week, I received a surprisingly small number of emails – just 253. That’s an average of 50 emails per workday. But those 50 emails can easily hijack my day and prevent me from accomplishing my goals.

If I spend an average of five minutes responding to each email, I lose 250 minutes a day (or about 4 hours). Think about that – I could spend half an 8-hour workday responding to 50 emails!

Many of my coaching clients often can’t answer the question, “How much time do you spend on email every day?”  When I dig a bit further and ask for an estimate, they will guess about an hour per day – or about one minute per response. But that is a gross underestimation. 

Everyone falls victim to the Planning Fallacy of underestimating how long a task will take, and the Planning Falaciy is true even if we’ve done the job before. (Check out this Society for Personality and Social Change article on the Planning Fallacy.)

When estimating the amount of time spent on email, we focus on our fastest replies. We think about the time we accepted a calendar invitation in 30 seconds. Or the email newsletter we scanned in 45-seconds. But we forget about the email reply to a colleague or funder that we worked on for 50 minutes before clicking “send”. 

If you want to gauge a realistic estimate of the time you spend on email, here’s a simple task:

      • Schedule two or three periods each day when you read and respond to email
      • Track the actual time it takes you to review and reply to all your emails
      • Turn off your email notifications and don’t read or respond to email at any other time
      • At the end of the week, add up all your “email time” and divide by the number of days you work

Most people are surprised to find that they spend at least 3 hours a day on email. And they quickly realize the need to get the email demon under control. To help with this, I’m sharing some of the techniques I use to manage email (instead of it managing me):

  1. Batch Email:  Batch email so that you only respond two or three times per day. For me, I respond to email mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and again at the end of the day.
  2. Determine if I need to respond: During my scheduled email periods, I quickly determine whether to (a) delete the email after a quick acknowledgment; (b) delegate responding to someone else; or (c) respond myself. If a more detailed response isn’t needed, my goal is to review and delete an email in one minute or less.
  3. Time and schedule responses: I keep sand timers on my desk for gauging 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes. When checking email, my goal is to respond in 3 minutes or less. If I can’t respond in that period of time, then I schedule a time to draft a reply. Once scheduled, I let the sender know when they should expect a response before snoozing the email. Snoozing an email returns to my inbox at the scheduled time. (You can learn how to snooze and schedule emails in Office 365, Gmail, and Apple Mail at Mail Butler.
  4. Create email templates and signatures for common responses: I’ve created standard templates or email signatures to respond to common emails.

    As an example, PR consultants often pitch guests for the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. Since we carefully curate our guests, I’ve created a template explaining why we don’t accept pitched guests. While I use this email template response daily, I may also customize the template if I know the recipient.

  5. Promote good email hygiene: There are many ways to promote good email hygiene. The first is to communicate your good email boundaries. The second is to lead by example.
      • Let board members, coworkers and funders know that you batch email. This helps train them to expect a response in hours instead of minutes. 
      • Stop copying a dozen people on your next email. Only copy those people who really need to receive the message. Blind copy them to spare everyone from the “reply all” villain and list blind copied recipients in the body of the email.
      • Start lengthy emails with BLUF (bottom line up front) or TL;DR if your workplace is a bit more irreverent (To Long; Didn’t Read).
      • Share and use this list of abbreviations to make your email more user friendly:

Using these tips, you can cut the time spent on email in half. Imagine having an extra two hours every day. You’ll have more time for deep-think work. And you’ll spend less time on evenings and weekends staring at a screen trying to catch up on the week’s emails.

Next month, I will provide a free webinar to help nonprofit professionals “Stop Feeling Overwhelmed.” The webinar will help you take control of email, never overschedule yourself again, and manage your to-list based on your personality. The Stop Feeling Overwhelmed webinar is October 14 from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM ET, and you can register for it here.


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