Working Smarter

‘You Own Your Email’

A business coach offers four tips for taking control of your inbox once and for all.

It’s certainly not like social media was an unknown quantity three years ago, when we last wrote about email management. But since then, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have become even more popular, spurred along by the rise of the smartphone – which has also made text-messaging ever more ubiquitous.

With all of these alternative modes of communication available, are people at least beginning to get some relief from the chronic problem of email overload? Not at all, according to Egan Group CEO Marsha Egan, one of whose coaching services is an email-management program called Inbox Detox.

“The use of email is increasing,” Egan said. “Five years ago, there weren’t [as many electronic] attachments. Things were still flying back and forth between faxes and the mail. … And people get [email] notifications through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – you name it. So instead of getting a handful of emails a day, they might be getting 150 because of the notifications that are happening.”

Egan calls her program Inbox Detox for a reason: People are addicted to email – checking it, answering it, checking it again, each time allowing their workflow to be interrupted. “The biggest challenge,” Egan said, “is keeping up with the volume and minimizing clutter and stress.” Here are four places to start:

1. “Decide you own your email and it doesn’t own you.” Think of the people who keep their BlackBerry or iPhone on the table next to them throughout a meeting, or look at their email while they’re driving. “That’s an inanimate thing that shows it owns you,” Egan said. “So, number one – turn off all the dings and the flashes. Minimize interruptions.”

2. “Check your email in the longest interval possible.” Egan suggests five times a day for most professionals. More often and you’re cutting into your productivity – and possibly making the problem worse. “There’s an interesting phenomenon about people who respond quickly to an email and people who respond slowly,” Egan said. “The recipients have a tendency to respond to the emailer at the same speed that they were responded to. … What happens is, people who are trying to be customer-service–focused and friendly are actually increasing their workload.”

3. “Start at the top, and don’t go to the next message until the top message is out of your inbox.” During her Inbox Detox seminars, Egan brings an actual postal mailbox with her, stuffed with mail, and asks someone in the audience to sort it – throwing away catalogues and junk mail, flagging bills for filing, and so on. “I ask them, now how many of you would take all of this and put it back in your U.S. Postal Service mailbox?” Egan said. “That’s the concept that the 12 steps [of Inbox Detox] promote – you’re going to the stuff that comes in and you’re triaging it, and you’re setting a date when you’re going to look at it again.”

4. “If the incoming email takes two minutes or less, handle it regardless of priority.”

You can reduce some of the clutter.

While You Were Meeting …

When you plan to be away from the office, “the first thing is, prep the people back at the office and the people you correspond with a lot,” Marsha Egan said, “and let them know you’re going to be away and who to contact if they can’t reach you. … And schedule time when you get back [to the office] to process your email. There are a lot of people who come back from a meeting who feel like they have to just start working. … While you’re there [at the meeting], you don’t want to be sitting in an audience while you’re supposed to be taking notes of the speech and you’re checking your email. Turn it off.”

More Resources
For more information about Marsha Egan and Inbox Detox – including tips and other email management resources – visit

Working Smarter is sponsored by PSAV Presentation Services.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.