Best practices for avoiding email overload

Employees need time to disconnect from work. Studies show that we all need mental recovery time to reduce stress, increase creativity, and avoid burnout. When employees feel overwhelmed with email, they can become stressed, lose focus, and miss important tasks.

Why it matters

Based on research presented in How to spend way less time on email every day:

  • "The average professional spends 28 percent of the work day reading and answering email, according to a McKinsey analysis. That amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day."
  • "On average, professionals check their email 15 times per day, or every 37 minutes. But only 11 percent of customers/clients and 8 percent of coworkers expect a response in less than an hour. The solution is simple: turn off notifications and schedule time (about five to eight minutes) every hour to check email."

Based on research presented in Protecting company culture means having rules for email:

  • “Dealing with after-hours emails produces anxiety that is damaging not only to the worker, but to their family."
  • "It’s not just the amount of time taken up by reading and answering emails after work that’s stressing out employees (and their partners)."
  • "In fact, what’s creating more anxiety is just the expectation that an employee will be available for work outside the office.”

Best practices

  • Share email expectations and set boundaries.
  • Designate a communication channel that is intended for urgent messages at any time.
  • Enable employees to disconnect from email after work. If something urgent comes up, they can be reached by the alternative channels.
  • Set clear expectations and urge management to set the right example for the rest of the organization.

Change strategies

Set an email practice and cadence

Outline clear parameters and expectations on when you will check and respond to emails. Ways to do this:

  • Choose how often you will check your email each day: 3 times per day

  • Use specific moments throughout the day as reminders: Right before lunch

  • Share your intentions and encourage your team members to do the same. For example:

    "Sometimes we can all get overwhelmed by email, and switching back and forth between email and other work can impact our personal productivity. For this reason, I plan to check my email three times a day. If you require an immediate response, you can reach me with a Teams chat or phone call. I encourage everyone to try this out and see if it helps you as well."

Demonstrate good Teams practices

Show your team the power of chat-based products, like Microsoft Teams, by using them yourself and by encouraging your team to collaborate with them.

Reduce the email recipient number

When replying to email, reduce the use of reply all and remove participants who do not need to participate in the conversation.