How to Handle Email Overload by Deleting...Everything

Get-It-Done Guy helps you master your inbox by understanding how your brain works, and reveals a much better way to deal with email overload.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #325

If you follow Get-It-Done Guy on Twitter or Facebook, you've probably heard me talk about the productivity musical I co-wrote. One of the tips in the musical is all about mastering your email overload. You'll hear an excerpt later in this episode, but here's how the tip came about: I was pondering my inbox... (insert dreamy flashback music)

Oh, email. You are my salvation and my damnation. You enslave me, yet, I can't get enough of you.

It's bad for me, but Europa has it far worse. Her day job is running the register at Bernice's gardening shop, Green Growing Things II. But she's really the secret owner of the entire Eastern Bloc. through a maze of corporate shells. Unfortunately, that means that whenever a decision has to be made, someone sends her an email asking her opinion. She's looking so stressed out that even her faux-Ermine fur coat is beginning to look a tad ... peaked. And Europa doesn't like to look peaked. She gets testy.


Email Volume Depends on Them

The reason email can be stressful to handle is that there's just too much of it. In the 90s, Grandma Cuddles sent Europa cute little joke emails. Europa learned to delete the messages unread. Then marketers discovered spam. They sent ads for "natural female enhancement." She didn't need enhancing, so she deleted those unread, as well.

But now, the worst has happened. Customers, prospects, co-workers, and high-ranking officials in her economic empire now all use email. She has to read those, because there may actually be something important in there.

Europa receives an email from Underling #73. The subject line is: "Please supply critical information." Europa opens the message. Underling #73 asks, "Do you know Melvin's number?" Really? This is about Melvin's phone number? Regardless, now the ball's in Europa's court, and #73 feels justified in moving on to another project until Europa responds. She could have #73 executed, but she knows from bitter experience that #74 isn't likely to behave any better. She looks at me and mutters under her breath, "I'm in email hell. I'm in Total. Email. Hell."

Handling Email Depends on Your Brain

This new kind of useless-but-distracting email is especially pernicious (thank you, 8th grade vocabulary!)

You see, Europa must open each message to triage it. This is draining. The messages arrive in they order they were sent, and she triages in that order. She must hop from topic to topic, with no regard for her own priorities. She has to read low-priority, time-wasting items, like the request for Melvin's phone number, just as she reads super-important messages about her impending acquisition of China (the country, not the dishes.)

Each time, her brain has to jump to the new topic, and that takes energy. By the time she's finished browsing her incoming inbox, the last thing she wants to do is actually work on anything. The triage is draining.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.