Focus Friday: Trying to stop the flood of e-mail

by Karen Arena, Xerox PR

Prior to joining Xerox as a full time employee, I didn’t think much of my boss’ warning about  e-mail volume.  In my former role as a consultant to more than one client, I knew about e-mail volume.  So after her warning, I thought , “piece of cake.”  Yeah, right.  

Every day I receive about 200+ e-mails,  three phone calls, and no real mail.*

I’m thinking you’re pacing at about the same clip.

So, when you’re not doing mission critical work, are you constantly managing your e-mail? 

I hate every minute I have to.  Considering the many alternatives and organizing software available, why are we still wrestling with it?  IMHO, behavior and corporate culture are hard to change, and software only organizes the volume, not get rid of it.  A colleague wisely informed me that the less I use e-mail myself, the less I’ll get. 


So, I started a behavioral experiment:

  • I substitute e-mail with collaboration tools:  Instant Messaging, SharePoint, Twitter, Yammer and WebEx.
  • I stopped answering notes with “thank you” or one word replies.  Easy, because it annoys me  when people send them to me.
  • I respond to non-critical messages slower, or not at all if they don’t require a response.
  • I do not “cc” a bunch of folks or “reply-all” or forward messages if not really necessary.
  • I even pick up the phone to do in three minutes what would otherwise take a string of multiple messages.
  • I meet with people face-to-face.  How novel!

Was my colleague right? 

The results:  My e-mails are down about 10%  With what’s left in the inbox, I’m using @Dpereda’s “file, delete, work-on” tips.

I changed behavior and therefore spend  more time on priorities,  like promoting Xerox.

*BTW, If you really want my attention, call me, send a handwritten note, a letter or personalized direct mail.

Karen can be spotted on I-95 traveling between her home in New Jersey and her office in Norwalk, CT. Appropo, since steering the Xerox narrative is a significant part of her work, and colleagues might add that she drives them crazy too!  You can follow Karen at @arenak on Twitter.

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  1. Andy Hill June 8, 2012 - Reply

    Nice article Karen,

    And welcome to our world! 🙂 (I am a Xerox employee)

    I’ve even heard stories of people ignoring emails that started with – “Hi insertname,”. This is a bit extreme in my opinion but it did reduce a significant amount of volume for them.

    It would be great to see which habits you keep up, and which you ditch – in say, six months time.


  2. Erin Isselmann June 8, 2012 - Reply


    As a Xerox employee, your post is so true, the less email you send the less you receive (except for spam). I am a fan of the old fashioned phone call. You accomplish so much more in 10 minutes and you have a better shot at not misreading the tone of the communication.

  3. margo valens June 8, 2012 - Reply

    I prefer email contact over phone because more often than not you get into voicemial tag. maybe it’s just me…

  4. Diego Pereda June 8, 2012 - Reply

    Karen, great suggestions for minimizing the flood of email. As a Xerox employee I feel your pain!

    The one thing I do different than you is how I respond to critical messages. I go through non-critical ones first as I know very quickly I can respond to more of them in less time, then I take my time to respond to critical messages as they get my full attention. I know it is not intuitive but it works for me. Cheers! (I am a Xerox employee)

  5. Karen Arena June 8, 2012 - Reply

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions, I truly appreciate them. I think this conversation will continue to evolve as social tools to negate email use become the norm. I’ve tried so many ways to “get to zero” etc, and I won’t quit until I have it nailed. I’ll check back in six months and tell you what sticks!
    Margo, you’re right, sometimes phone tag ensues, but more often than not these days, people are actually at the other end of their smart phone. After all, they need to keep on top of their email when away from their desk!

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