Of course, email provides convenience. We can communicate across the globe instantly. When email becomes an overload of unnecessary communication, however, the burden outweighs the benefit.
Check Yourself First
Start by making sure you're part of the solution, not the problem.
If you like to communicate by email about everything...
If you like to use group emails to discuss projects, tasks, clients, and the company holiday party...
If you keep multiple email threads going with multiple employees every day...
If you expect immediate replies to your emails...
...then you might be part of the problem.
If you have trained your employees that they must be immediately responsive to every email you send, guess what? You've trained them that they have to be immediately responsive to every email that everyone sends.
That sort of email obsessiveness will keep your people from doing the real work.
Start by changing your own email usage. Lim it the emails you send. Do email in batches instead of in a continual stream all day long. And include a timeline for responses: "Please respond by end of day," or "Please let me know by next week," or "Please respond within the hour."
Your attitude toward email will help your people to feel free to use their own time wisely as well, instead of hopping and twitching every time their email notification dings.
Try Email-Free Times
Let your team members know that they are free to ignore email most of the time.
Our digital inboxes reduce productivity by dinging us with distractions. We get focused, head-down, on a project, and the beep or buzz or ding rips us away from it.
No matter how unimportant the email itself is, the energy and focus lost to dealing with that incoming buzz can totally derail productivity.
Encourage your employees to have email-free times to work: they can turn off notifications, shut down the email tab, and focus without any worries about what is appearing in their inboxes.
Instead of responding to email whenever that ding happens, they can focus fully on the task at hand, knowing that they are free to respond to email in their own time.
Batch Process for Email
Batch processing is the simple practice of doing a batch of similar tasks together, and it allows us to do those tasks in a more streamlined method and with more efficient results.
Email works really well in a batch processing method. Encourage everyone to choose a couple of times each day - perhaps once in the morning and once later in the afternoon - to read, answer, and otherwise process emails. This practice enables them to tackle an inbox with a batch processing approach, and work through a stack of emails in an efficient way.
Back Your Team Up
Let your team know that you will back them up with demanding clients.
If your team is working with clients who expect instant responses to email, let your people know that you stand with them in a saner approach to the inbox.
Remind them that they can stick to their productive email practices, such as email-free times and batch processing. Take a proactive approach: many times demanding clients will be much more understanding if they know what to expect and why.
Use targeted subject lines, especially for in-house communication, so that no one has to dig through a paragraph of email body to figure out what's going on.
Encourage the people on your team to be brief and clear in their emails. They should ask for specific responses and name timelines when appropriate (*Please respond by tomorrow, I need this information by next Monday)*.
Using email productively is a matter of establishing good team habits. The more you educate and encourage productive email use, the better you and your team will be at it.