5 Email Abuses That Will Crash Your Productivity

When used correctly, email can be a productivity tool – it can allow you to manage the flow of information that comes at you more efficiently, field requests at the times most convenient for you, and store records of important details and decisions. But email is also ripe for the kind of abuses that can harm your productivity instead of helping it.

Here are five big ways email can slow you down and make you less productive. Are you guilty of any of these five?

1. Reading every news article someone sends you. Just because a news article shows up in your in-box, it doesn’t have a higher claim on your time than your other priorities. Too often, people spend time reading everything friends and colleagues suggest for them, without considering whether it’s the best use of their time, relative to everything else on their plates.

2. Not deleting anything. Does your in-box contain thousands of messages, including junk email, invitations to meetings from three months ago, funny memes your sister forwarded you, and your manager’s out-of-office reply from her vacation last summer? If so, you’re highly likely to lose track of emails you need to act on. Start deleting, or at least taking advantage of the fact that email offers you folders to organize messages in. And speaking of folders….

3. Not organizing things by folders. If your in-box is just one vast bucket, with no sub-folders to organize your messages, chances are good that you’re losing track of important messages and struggling to find older emails when you need to reference them later. Folders organized by topic or by the needed action (like “to read,” “to act on,” “to follow up on,” and “as time allows” can bring order to a chaotic in-box.

4. Checking email every time you have a new message. The new message indicator can set off a Pavlovian response, where you automatically stop what you’re doing and check to see what new email has arrived. Rather than being a slave to these interruptions, consider turning off the message indicator, so that you’re checking email only at set intervals, and not every time a message arrives.

5. Emailing and then calling or coming by in person to make sure your message was received. Part of the point of sending email is that it allows the other person to respond when it’s convenient for them – and/or to read over your messages and think about it before responding. If you follow up email with an in-person visit, you’re negating that benefit and spending your time delivering a message twice (as well as probably annoying your coworkers). If it’s essential that your message be received immediately, then email isn’t the right medium to use; you should call or talk in person.

You may also like: Kyle’s Updated Near Zero Inbox Recipe for Getting Things Done














Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • The Other Dawn

    I had a former manager that did this all.the.time. So annoying. He would also print out an email I sent to him. He’d bring it to me and tell me, “I got your email and here’s the answer…” No, email your answer. I want it in writing so i can have it for my records.

    [Reply]

    Vicki Brown Reply:

    Yes yes a thousand times yes!

    “I want it in writing so i can have it for my records.”

    It’s not just managers. I’ve had co-workers do this and the worst were the ones who would call and say “The answer is long and complicated so I’ll just tell you.”

    Noooooooooooooo. If it’s complicated, write it down so there are no transcription errors!

    [Reply]

  • Courtney Baron

    I absolutely agree with deleting irrelevant/unimportant email messages and organizing others into folders. This is what I do for my personal mail, so that I rarely have anything in my inbox.

    However, I can’t say the same for my work email. I inherited an email address with 6,000 messages in the inbox (some from years ago) and it was just impossible to find the time to archive. I’ve found it’s just easier to keep everything in the inbox and use the search function. Does anyone have any tips for maintaining a crazy work inbox?

    [Reply]

    Intuit QuickBase Reply:

    Hi Courtney, based on your comment, I’ve updated the article at the end to suggest another article that may help you and others better manage your inboxes. Hope it helps, and if so, please let us know in the comments on Kyle’s article. Best, Alex – EIC

    [Reply]

    Vicki Brown Reply:

    This is where you take all of that stuff and put it into one folder called “My Predecessor”. You can still use search but at least get it out of _your_ inbox!

    [Reply]

  • bob

    Don’t forget replying on top instead of on the bottom ( where your supposed to reply)

    [Reply]

    Vicki Brown Reply:

    Actually, there are excellent reasons for both ways of doing this, reasons provided by the people who believe they are doing it the right way. There is no One True Way to reply, which is why most email programs give people a choice.

    Me? I intersperse my reply in with the text I;m replying to. It’s the third choice of how you’re “Supposed to” do it. :-)

    [Reply]

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