Surviving the Daily Email Onslaught

As a disclaimer, I am not an email expert or aficionado. I am someone who constantly battles the daily onslaught of managing three email accounts, which includes my work and professional life. I have learned some tips from trial and error and in talking to others, and I have found that by following these steps, I am able to better work email into my life instead of the other way around. Depending on your email program and work style, try a few out and see if this helps to ease the email pain!

1. Be deliberate when checking email. It is very easy to allow email to become the background noise to our lives. Instead of looking at email between meetings and patients, schedule time to read and respond to email. I build in 30 minutes during the day and 30 to 45 minutes at the end of the day to focus on the task of reading and responding to email. At other times, I am scanning messages to look for any urgent messages (patient calls, meeting changes, urgent requests from those I report to).

2. Take action when managing email. Scanning email and not doing anything with the email will create more stress. Take one of the following actions with each message — respond, delete, file or mark to read later.

3. Create folders. Folders and subfolders will help you to keep organized. I have folders for each of my major responsibilities and then subfolders within each. For example, I have a folder for third-year medical student teaching and within that, one for the clerkship, one for a course I co-direct and another for the GI elective.

4. Use delayed delivery. Email programs will allow you to write an email and then specify a future date and time to send the email. This feature is great to use when you know that a reminder is needed to go out for a deadline. Instead of writing this email in a week, write the email today and have the program send it in a week. I have used this feature to send emails to remind colleagues to submit schedule or call requests. You can use this feature to send yourself an email reminder as well for large tasks that require planning. Most calendar programs will have a reminder pop up, however, if you work better through an email reminder, send your self an email with delayed delivery.

5. Keep recurrent emails for future use. If you have email messages that go out periodically, for example instructions for holiday coverage or fellowship orientation, send a copy of the email to yourself. File this email in a folder and then when you have the same event come around next year, pull the email up, briefly update it and it is ready to send. This tactic works well for items that fall on a yearly or academic year calendar.

Take one of the following actions with each message — respond, delete, file or mark to read later.

6. Flags. Email programs allow you to customize a color-coded flag system. The messages can then be sorted by flag color. This tool can help to mark items you need to handle later. For example, a message may contain a report or article you need more time to read. Create a color category “To read later”, mark the message and then set aside time later to read it. You need to build in time to go back and read these that week.

7. Don’t play email ping pong. Part of managing email is knowing when not to use email as the way to communicate. Email does not convey tone and lacks the context clues to make meaning of the message. If there is an email exchange that goes on beyond three to four messages, I suggest a brief call to discuss the issues. I also let my patients know that email and message portals are good for short, quick questions and issues. However, for more extended discussion an office discussion or phone call is more effective or appropriate.

8. Don’t be the person who group replies or replies simply to show you are checking your email. Sometimes, it is important to send a quick, short reply to acknowledge a request; however, part of managing your own email is to not be a burden on others. Keep in mind that the receiver of your email may feel obliged to reply back to you or to a group, which can further burden your inbox.

9. Let your recipient know if you expect a response or not, and let that person know if the response should be via email or by other means. Sometimes the best way to manage your own life is to give guidance to those in your life. When sending out an informative email, add a note that says there is no need to reply. If you expect an in-person response at a meeting or via a phone call, let the recipient know that in your email. If you need an email response, provide a timeline for when you hope to hear back from the person. Doing so offers a courteous way to help the other person manage his or her email, while also communicating with you more effectively.

10. Start fresh. If you have emails that are unread from months or years back, it is unlikely that they have any relevance today or in the future. Mark them as read, but leave them available for future searches. The reduction in the overall number of unread emails can be a huge mental relief, and it can help you to better manage your current emails.

11. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe. How many times has a purchase resulted in you being on some company’s mailing list? Sure, deleting that email feels productive, but not getting it and not seeing it hovering as an unread email is even better. Minimize the notifications for news, advertising, local events and other information sources to the bare minimum of what you really, truly need. Alternatively, if you want those emails available to you, consider creating a secondary email account just for non-essential emails that you can read at your leisure, without having them clutter up your work or personal emails.

Email is critical to how we live today, and the many ways in which it functions evolves in ways we cannot individually control. However, by critically reviewing how you need and use email in your daily life, you will be able to stay on top of it and prevent it from taking over every moment of your life.

Dr. Shah has no conflicts to disclose. Dr. Shah is a member of the AGA Education and Training Committee.

1. Redbooth. 15 Clever Tips for Managing Email Overload at Work. Available from: Accessed July 6, 2017.
2. PC Magazine. Get Organized: 11 Tips for Managing Email. Available from:,2817,2401081,00.asp. Accessed July 6, 2017.
3. Leadership Thoughts. How to Manage Email Overload — Get Organised in 21 Days. Available from: Accessed July 6, 2017.

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