In today’s workplace, email is an inevitable fact of life. Gone are the days of predictable phone calls or regular in person chats to check in. The bulk of communication is expected through email. Often, one message may contain ten more or recipients, who reply-all with the smallest of details. It can leave your inbox jam packed, with many unread and unanswered messages.
At some point, this backlog of emails can become embarrassing. The good news is, there’s hope! In 2015, the Reply All podcast declared April 30th to be “Email Debt Forgiveness Day.” Email Debt Forgiveness Day is a time when you can respond to all the emails you’ve been too nervous to respond to, regardless of how much time has passed. An email that qualifies includes one that creates anxiety at both the thought of responding, and the thought of the length of time that’s passed since you received it.
You can now put that worry of your mind, and respond without the fear of a negative reaction. Simply explain the situation in your answer. And, you may want to include a link to an online article about this special day, just in case your recipient hasn’t heard about it.
If your inbox has grown to the point of no return however, Email Debt Forgiveness Day may not be enough to fix your problem. In this case, you might want to consider “email bankruptcy.” You can declare email bankruptcy by deleting all emails older than a certain date. Once the emails are deleted, you send a message to everyone who has emailed you. Explain the situation, and that you’re officially declaring email bankruptcy. Ask that if they still need a response to their message, they should resend their original email.
Both of these tactics can help you start over with a clean slate. Once you do, there are a few guidelines to follow to keep your inbox manageable going forward. First, cut back on email altogether by not hitting the “reply-all” button. This is such an enticing thing to do. It keeps everyone on the email string informed and gives you credit for your contribution. But, in reality, reply-all is very rarely helpful and usually creates many more messages than what are needed.
Come up with a set time of day that will be devoted to email, and develop a policy to respond to all emails within twenty four hours. This sounds hard, right? Very often, you don’t know the answer to every email within one day. If that happens, simply respond to the sender to say that you’ve received their message and are working to find an answer.
Last, use the features and tools within your email program to help keep things in order. Flags, categories, tabs, and automated out of office replies can all help keep you organized and ahead of the email game. To be competitive in today’s workforce, you must not only be great at your job, but good at managing your online communication.
Angela Copeland is CEO and career coach at Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.