How to control emails: cultural aspects
By: Moria Levy (Publication Date: 01/04/2016)

Most of us, as residents of a business-oriented workplace, are most probably dissatisfied with the great amounts of time and effort we are required to invest in handling emails. In simpler words, we have too many emails; they demandingly consume our time, time which could and should have been spent performing activities we wished/planned on accomplishing.  As in other areas, we look to developing technologies for assistance primarily in the area of email filtering yet there are cultural aspects worth discussing (which is exactly what the purpose of this post).


Although I can suggest a hand full of tips and recommendations, I feel that most of us fail in the most trivial aspects. It is therefore preferable to discuss precisely these seemingly unimportant matters. I will address three aspects, offering three focused and practical recommendations regarding each aspect.

Writing emails

  1. Writing fewer emails: have you ever considered the simple fact that the fewer you write, the fewer responses you will receive? Review every email- is it indeed necessary? Does it really add any value?
  2. Writing to less recipients: if an email is deemed relevant and worth sending- consider the most relevant recipients and send the email to them, and to them only. This is contrary to the approach practiced by many organizations which states that the more people receive the email the better (thus ensuring that all relevant people receive the message. While this is true, most recipients do not wish to receive the email since it leads to the aforementioned inflation). For example, if I decide to send a certain worker an email regarding his/her shortcomings- there is no reason to include his/her manager (or even higher management). In all cases, refrain from using 'reply all'.
  3. Mail title: keep the title concise. Sometimes, all relevant content can be presented in the title itself, saving the time of the reader and reminding him/her to what should be completed, without the need to re-open the mail time after time.  

Receiving emails

  1. Time slots: define a regular time and frequency allotted for handling emails. Defining this time slot and frequency as "every time an email is received" is a mistake.
  2. Mailing lists: keep the number of mailing lists you are subscribed to at a minimum. If you are subscribed to a professional/commercial list to which you do not remember subscribing, now's the time to unsubscribe. If you initiated the subscription, ask yourself: when was the last time you actually read any of the emails received via this list. You might want to consider clicking on the "unsubscribe" button in this case as well.
  3. Software: use your mailing software or designated software in order to filter the content and move certain content to subsidiary folders.

Handling emails

  1. Saving the emails: decide, together with your teammates/associates, which individual, saves/keeps the emails, especially attached files. If this unnecessary, it is preferable to discard of them. If these emails are indeed worth saving, the identity of said individual is irrelevant (first recipient, secretary of the department, project manager, etc.) as long as the logic who is responsible for the saving is simple. Choosing one person explicitly prevents a situation in which everyone are in charge of saving the document- a situation usually resulting in the file going unsaved (due to everyone relying on others).
  2. Channel of treatment: the fact that someone sent us a message via email doesn't necessary mean that this is the most appropriate channel of communication. Consider when the situation calls for handling/addressing/forwarding/responding to an email and when it is preferable to use a more appropriate channel. This alternative method of communication can be a verbal conversation using a telephone or a WhatsApp or social network chat. Do not needlessly perpetuate the current situation.
  3. Discarding of the email: following its handling, discard of the email. Try to attain a nearly empty inbox which includes only mails that are really being handled. 10 emails in an inbox is a reasonable amount, 25 is OK. In other words, hundreds or thousands of emails in an inbox is an unacceptable situation.