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Top 5 Tips for Dealing With Email Overload

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Solutions for Dealing With a Perpetually Full Inbox

If you’re feeling constantly underwater dealing with email, then I feel your pain, that’s for sure. In the past year I have more and more found myself saying, “I feel like I do email for a living,” and I don’t say it in a good way.

Death by email is not a pleasant experience.

Now I am not here to say email is evil or even bad. It’s great. Really, it is, I swear. I mean that! Well, mostly, I guess.

But I recall the time when I was about 10 years old and taking a walk with my sweet grandfather. He always used to counsel me, “Moderation in all things Stevie. Too much of anything is bad for you.” Thinking I had him that day, I said, “But you can’t have too much milk, right Pop?” “Yes,” he said, “even too much milk is bad for you.”

I am not alone when I say that for many of us, we are full to the brim with the milk that is e-mail. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Five Handy Solutions for Dealing With Too Much Email

So what do you do? How do you handle the never-ending avalanche of email?

1. Declare e-mail bankruptcy.
This is a fairly recent phenomenon, and certainly an understandable one, albeit pretty bold as well. The idea here is that when your inbox gets so full that you either are looking at emails that have been sitting there for, say, a year, or there are so many unopened and unanswered emails that you just can’t see a way out, you simply delete them all and start over.

If you choose this fairly radical solution, it is good form to at least send out a mass email, letting people know what you are doing and asking them to re-send their email if it is truly important.

2. Schedule it.
An alternate solution is to mostly leave your inbox off – a wild thought, I know – and then treat email like regular mail. How often do you get regular mail? Once a day, right? Well, that’s the idea here. Once a day, open up your email and have at it. Then turn it off again.

3. Use a 4-hour workweek method.
In Timothy Ferris’ great book, The 4 Hour Workweek, he offers two ways to deal with email overload:

  • Use an autoresponder. Set up your email to respond to every incoming message with an answer like, “Thanks for writing. I am busy with work right now and will get back to you as soon as I am able. If this is urgent or pressing, please call me. Thanks.” People who know you well enough to call might, and everyone else will have to wait – just like in the good ‘ol days before email!
  • Outsource it. One of the main ways Ferris was able to stay productive yet substantially reduce his workload was by outsourcing any task he personally didn’t have to handle, like email. Yes, it will take a while to train someone to know what you need to see and what you don’t, but it may just be worth it.

4. Use the phone. Personally, one of the things I like best about e-mail, being a writer and all, is that it allows me to craft exactly the message I want to send. That said, there is plenty of value, and time to be saved, by doing more business by phone and asking people to do the same with you.

How many times have you gotten into an extended email exchange that could have been handled much more effectively with a 2 minute phone call?

That’s the point.

5. Hire an assistant.
As opposed to outsourcing, a real assistant can easily be trained to handle much of your email, thereby freeing you up to spend your time making money, or growing your freelance business, or golfing, or whatever.

The whole idea is to not work for your email but make your email work for you.

About Steve Strauss

Senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible, Steve is your host here at TheSelfEmployed.com.