Email inundation is a particular issue for people who have made a leap forward in their careers and whose new roles expose them to vast new volumes of communications.
The wonderful new “flat” org structures lead to everyone wanting to know everything that is going on. This does have some merit, as every little piece of design, strategy, tactics, execution is so interwoven with so many other pieces and there is no time for reflection or regrouping. Much is happening on the fly in this automated, need-it-now world we have foisted on ourselves.
So as you rise up the food chain, you are still in direct minute-by-minute contact with the folks who are in the trenches of the nitty-gritty details. You still want to be copied on all the emails, be on all the calls, keep all those chat threads open and be fully aware of the smallest details.
As you rise up that flat org chart (“Wait a minute,” you say, “if it’s flat how can I rise?” Well let’s hold that for a post about cognitive dissonance!) you are now looking at the details of 10 times as many projects as before. This can’t be your life’s purpose. Surely there must be some reason you are being promoted other than to micro-manage yet more projects.
So what is the greater goal that draws you forward (other than just inbox zero)? What is it you’d really like to be doing? If micromanaging a whole slew of teams is your endgame then I’ll leave you be. If you have some other dream – something you want to build or create – some new strategies or ways of structuring things that you want to invent – then you need the bandwidth to be able to do this. This I encourage. Being excited by your positive forward plan and getting it under way is the pole star that should help you to clean up your email mess.
Start by looking at those interminable, super-detailed threads that are clogging up your attention arteries and challenge each one of them. What would happen if you asked someone else to alert you to anything significant? What would happen if you just had a once a week review instead of minute by minute? What would happen if you just delegated it to someone else altogether? What if you told them only to include you when they needed something important from you? Find ways to get off as many lists as you can.
Once you have culled the time-wasters, you can set aside say an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon to read the rest – let them wait till then and trust that your team will find you when you really are needed urgently. Maybe other people will feel the responsibility and rise to the occasion. This shift of yours will be a good thing for many of those around you.
You are going to have to figure this out for yourself on a case by case basis – but try it, make a start, be ruthless. Let go of the minutiae so you can concentrate on the bigger picture. Do it in the name of that thought-leadership/design-forward/super-brilliant new idea that you will now have time and brain space to make a reality. You’ll find this is more motivating, and more productive, than reading a thousand emails from people who should be able to take care of many of those issues themselves without you having to be told constantly that they are “breathing in…breathing out…breathing in…”