In today’s workplace, email is a fact of life. Gone are the days of predictable phone calls and regular in-person chats to check in. The bulk of communication now happens through email.
Often, one message may contain 10 more or recipients – all of whom seem to “reply all” to share the smallest of details. This can leave your inbox jam-packed with unread and unanswered messages.
Email Debt Forgiveness Day
At some point, this backlog of emails can become downright embarrassing. The good news is, there’s hope! In 2015, the Reply All podcast declared April 30 to be “Email Debt Forgiveness Day.” (Ed. Note – We’re a little late this year, but Angela’s got some good points, doesn’t she?)
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. Emails that qualify include ones that produce 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 out of your mind and respond without the fear of a negative reaction. Simply explain the situation when you fire off that email.
(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.)
Declaring Email Bankruptcy
If your inbox has grown to the point of no return, however, then 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 the emails in your inbox that are 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. Let them know that if they still need a response to their message, they should resend their original email.
Making the Most of Your Clean Slate
Both of these tactics can help you start over with a clean slate. Once you have that slate, there are a few guidelines you need to follow if you want 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 little button. It keeps everyone on the email string informed, and it gives you credit for your contribution.
But in reality, “reply all” is very rarely helpful. Usually, it just creates many more unnecessary and unread messages.
Next, schedule a set time of each day that you will devote to email and put a 24-hour response time policy into place. This sound hard, I know. And often, you don’t have all the information you need to respond to an email within one day!
If that happens, you can still stick to your policy by letting the send know that you received their message and are working to find an answer.
See? That wasn’t as hard as you may have thought.
Last, it’s a good idea to learn to use the features and tools your email program offers to help keep things in order. Flags, categories, tabs, and automated out-of-office replies can all be invaluable in keeping 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 also great at managing your online communications. Don’t let email get the best of you – and if it already has, then it’s time to forgive those debts or declare bankruptcy.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching (www.CopelandCoaching.com).