How do I handle the avalanche of email?

Dear Ken Keller:

Like many owners and business leaders, I am overwhelmed with the amount of email that I receive each day. This has the unfortunate consequence of chaining me to my desk all day, and it seems that the only real work I get done is after the place closes and everyone goes home.
My employees are also suffering under the same burden of email volume. What do you suggest? – Bob A.


Dear Bob,

The key to getting on top of your email volume is a three-step process.

The first is to simply catch up with what is currently in your inbox. That may seem like a losing battle, but it isn’t. To start a new system for managing email, it is important to start with a clean slate.

Second, to have a clean inbox, apply a triage system. In the medical field, patients in an emergency room setting may be categorized according to this:

• Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
• Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
• Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

When it comes to email, as the leader, you can address each email in your inbox according to this system:

• Delete: emails that need to be shredded
• Do/Delegate: emails to be addressed directly by you right away or delegated
• Deferred: emails that can wait until such time as you can properly address them
Third, going forward, as each new email comes in, use this triage system.

Your team members will benefit by being more productive and efficient and having less stress, if you teach them the system once you have mastered it.


Dear Ken Keller:

We’ve had some miscommunications between our staff and clients, between staff members and the outside sales team and with vendors. We haven’t lost any business yet, but there is visible tension between those inside the office and those outside. What do you recommend? —Jon H.


Dear Jon,

Everyone has a preferred method of receiving communication. It would appear that you are allowing the sender to determine the best way to communicate according to their needs and ignoring the preferred method of how the recipient wants to receive messages.

Why don’t you reach out to the top 10 most important clients you have and ask them personally how they would like to receive messages from your company? I think you will learn something very important and they will be flattered that you asked.

Keep at this until you have the information you need from all clients, team members and other business partners. Client lists are protected trade secrets, so you don’t want to distribute this information to everyone in your company. But on a need to know basis, this is a must know to enhance your relationships inside and outside.


Dear Ken Keller:

One of my salespeople has asked me to start a library of books so he can start improving his skills. What books do you recommend? –Jim C.


Dear Jim,

Any book by Brian Tracy, Tom Hopkins, Neal Rachman and Zig Ziglar would be excellent as a starting point. But head down to the bookstore and see if there is anything you would like for your salespeople to specifically learn about. Make it a goal to add one new book a month to your new collection.