Unread work emails can quickly get out of control. There are countless hacks and advice on how to do email inbox management right. Barbara Corcoran got so overwhelmed by receiving 800 emails a day that she now outsources the entire operation.
The deluge of email gotten so bad that one popular piece of advice as of late is to just ignore your inbox. "Email is just other people's to-do list for you!" time management experts posit. You should control your own day, not let it be controlled by others (or by your inbox.)
Ignoring emails signals that you're bad at your job.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant thinks ignoring emails is a terrible idea. Plus, when has ignoring a problem ever made it go away? In a column for the New York Times, Grant explains why you definitely should not let your email inbox get out of control.
Grant sites a research study that analyzed the digital habits of teams at Microsoft. Researchers determined that ignoring email was a telltale sign of ineffective managers. It showed that they weren't organized or considerate of other people's time -- not great qualities for any work, managers or not.
Stop looking at your inbox as a to-do list.
"Your inbox isn't just a list of other people's tasks," Grant explains. "It's where other people help you do your job." It's a communication tool that is central to how much work gets done today.
If you don't respond to emails, you aren't doing your job. It's the same as not answer the phone in the '90s or not replying to letters in the '50s. You can't just check out of email completely because you're overwhelmed or don't like it. Instead, you may need to work on some organizational tactics, setting boundaries, or improving your replies.
Learn the art of short-and-sweet replies.
It's worth practicing brevity. It can save you and your email recipients time.
Mark Cuban is a master of this. Brian Riley, whose company Cuban invested in, says most of his email replies are just a few words or a sentence. Cuban's longer emails are three or four sentences long. But he gets his point across.
"Remember that a short reply is kinder and more professional than none at all," Grant says. He encourages you to be honest. If you're too busy to take on a new project or don't have the right information to share back with the recipient, say so.
Leadership consultant Rory Vaden advises you ask these four questions when new requests come through to help prioritize your time:
- Is this task even worth doing? Learn to just say no.
- Can this task be automated? Canned responses are a beautiful thing.
- Can this task be delegated? Is there someone else who can more efficiently tackle this task? Loop them in.
- Can this wait until later? Reply and let the sender know that you will circle back. (And then actually do it.)
But, it's O.K. to ignore some emails.
Grant makes clear that he's not recommending you reply to every single email that hits your inbox. Colleagues, friends, and family should get a reply, even if it takes awhile to get back.
Here are a few instances when it's O.K. to delete someone's email without responding:
Cold emails that aren't at all relevant to you
People outside your organization who request to "pick your brain"
Strangers emailing for favors, like to make introductions or advise them for free
Someone you don't know asking to hop on a call today or tomorrow to discuss their idea
These people aren't being considerate of your time, so you're not obligated to be considerate of theirs. You can ignore those emails without guilt.