Hi everyone

As per the title I would love some advice on dealing with the emails I regard as unimportant.  Is it courtesy to respond to all emails and voicemails?  Does one take priority over the other?

Like most managers I receive stacks of emails and voicemails throughout the day and when I have a jam-packed diary I find it difficult to respond to all of them in a timely manner even after applying the usual filters to my inbox.  As an example this week I was in a workshop for the day which included a working lunch (great fun!) therefore when the workshop had finished I had over 30 missed calls, 13 voicemails and over 100 emails in addition to the ones accumulated earlier in the week.

My priority to date has been to always action voicemails first as I treat these as important (but not necessarily urgent), recording tasks in my diary if follow ups are required.  Then I start to tackle the emails based on filtering I have applied.  A quick skim over the rest of the inbox to clear off any 'easy' emails clears down a few more but even after spending a good few hours after the workshop I still had hundreds of emails to tackle.  Having a holiday is even worse!

What's left is an ever increasing number of emails which I don't regard as important but they must be important to the sender otherwise they wouldn't send them. (Yeah, yeah some people just send emails without thinking but that's another topic.)  Because I feel that, out of courtesy, I should reply to all emails I sometimes work late into the evening or take a day out of the weekend to 'get on top' them.  I don't like this approach and would appreciate your views.

Should I be more ruthless with my emails and simply delete or 'archive' those I regard as unimportant therefore never respond?  Should I also start applying the same rule to my voicemails.  Other people appear to do it to me so why not?

Thanks for any guidance


PS Please don't suggest inbox rules and filters I have already applied all the usual rules, move CC'd, boss', directs, peers, project, mi, global comms, etc. to different folders.  Unless the rule is auto delete after x days, weeks even if they have not been read.

dresouza's picture
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I have two minds on this subject.  First, I have had seemingly unimportant voicemails turn into the next big thing (and occasionally the next big blow-up).  As a result, yes it seems prudent and considerate to answer everything.   Connections are everything. 

On the other hand my time is valuable and so is yours.  Delegating much of your email can get it off your plate and down to a level where it may be manageable.  I remember a cast MT did on delegating email to admins. You might find it helpful.  I didn't spend much time with it because I don't have a personal assistant.  However, pushing email down to staff is a good policy.  They need the connections and often appreciate the opportunity to interact with the people at your level.  Also, they often are the ones that are going to have to do the work in the end. 

Personally, I use David Allen's system from 'Getting things done' of pushing all email to one of three folders 'Actionable', 'Pending', and Outbox (to staff).  The pending is waiting for additional information and the actionable folder I deal with every 24 to 48 hours in one sitting.  It tends to make the job more efficient.  The added benefit is that I don't have anxiety at the overstuffed inbox of Outlook.

I am curious.  What you have found that is helpful?

Best regards,

Edward Souza


SteveAnderson's picture
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I highly recommend you listen to the "Attention Management - Distractions" cast before you do anything else.

After that, you'll have to find your own method.  I use the aforementioned GTD method and it keeps my inbox at zero. 

To answer your specific question: no, I don't reply to all of them.  I've sent plenty of FYI emails or have cc'd someone because I thought they might have an interest.  You aren't obligated to send a reply to everything.

I think once you listen to the attention management cast, you'll probably feel the same way.


jrumple's picture
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I agree with Andy and found that applying the recommendations in the Attention Management - Distractions cast made short work of my inbox.

One of the ideas I had combining that episode with your situation is that when you have more opportunities for all-day workshops or multiple day conferences, add a longer appointment to your calendar knowing that you'll have more than the usual amount of e-mail to work through. Make it for some time after you return. Add this appointment to your calendar at the same time you add the workshop to your calendar. And the same goes for vacation.

In regards to the difference between voicemail and e-mail, I don't feel that you need to treat them with different importance. I think there is an older episode that discusses how to leave voicemail and in there they discuss that voicemail is mail in the same way that e-mail is mail. It is probably good to go all the way through one inbox before moving to the other inbox, but I don't feel that one is any more important than the other. I could make an argument that High-Ds or High-Is may be more likely to leave a voicemail, while High-Cs or High-Ss may be more likely to leave an e-mail. It isn't a difference in importance as much as a difference in how individuals communicate.


lazerus's picture

Check out Michael Linenberger's "Total Workday Control". Turn emails and voicemails into actionable tasks. 

jhack's picture

Why do you have so much email?  If you're not a celebrity or a highly visible executive, your email should not require taking a day out of your weekend to deal with it.  

I've found that high email volumes are related to two behaviors:  being nice, and not letting go.  

Being nice means treating each email as an action item, which requires more than a few seconds of my time.  Someone says, "hey, what about that Friztenheimer contract?" and you spend 12 minutes typing up everything you know about that contract.  Only 10 of those emails and you've lost 2 hours.  Unless you own the account, and your boss is asking, you don't owe a detailed reply.  And once people find out you'll do their work, you'll get a lot of those emails. 

Instead, try answering in only a few seconds.  "Going well."   Done.  

Letting go means, well, not replying.  Replies cascade.  If I reply, the originator re-replies.  The thread doesn't end until someone stops.  That someone can be you.  That starts with only replying to emails directed at you personally, requesting an action on your part.  

So yes, it's OK not to reply - just make sure that you reply to the right ones.  

John Hack

benralph's picture

Hi All

Thanks for the advice it's been really useful.  I can now go home with pretty much an empty inbox after following the advice in the "Attention Management - Distractions" cast.  I wasn't previously a subscriber to the Career Tools podcasts...big mistake and I'm now catching up on about three years of podcasts.  Quite simply I was allowing email to distract me.  I now action ALL my emails in three thrity minute slots during the day.  Some days I have some emails left to action but they just get swept up the next day.

Like a lot of Mark and Mike's advice.. it's obvious what you need to do when they highlight the behaviours requiring adjustment.