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067 | How to get on top of email overwhelm when you’re in a busy HR role
Episode 6713th January 2023 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
00:00:00 00:23:06

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In this episode of HR Coffee Time, Career Coach Fay Wallis offers advice and tips on the best way to get on top of email overwhelm when you’re in a busy HR role.

Please note: All links to books within these show notes are affiliate links, which means Fay will receive a small commission from Amazon (at no cost to you) if you make a purchase through any of them.

Key Points From This Episode

[01:50] Fay takes a moment to say thank you for the reviews and for helping HR Coffee Time get to number 7 in the Apple Podcast Careers chart


[02:45] Fay shares her first tip – unsubscribing for those emails you never read


[04:39] Second tip – filtering your emails by sender or date


[06:43] Tip three – try not to use your inbox as a to-do list

  • Complete emails that will take 2 minutes to action straight away
  • Allow yourself to have 3 main folders only; ‘action’, ‘read’ and ‘waiting’


[09:04] Tip four – ensure you are setting up auto-replies with useful information


[13:02] Fay recommends reading The Future of Time: How ‘re-working’ time can help you boost productivity, diversity and well-being by Helen Beedham


[14:27] Tip number five – make the most of your email footer


[16:11] Tip number six – make sure your emails are only being sent during core work hours


[19:02] Tip number seven – only check your emails at certain points each day


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If you're kind enough to leave a review, please do let Fay know so she can say thank you. You can always reach her at: fay@brightskycareercoaching.co.uk.



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Transcripts

Fay Wallis:

Welcome to this episode of HR Coffee Time. It's wonderful to have you here. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career coach and the founder of Bright Sky Career Coaching, where our mission is to help HR and people professionals have successful and fulfilling careers without working themselves into the ground.

Fay Wallis:

Now I know how committed you are to your work, and that you have goals and plans you'd love to achieve this year. But that even though we're only in January, when I'm recording this episode, your workload might already be getting in the way of you focusing on them. While you start the day thinking, right, I'm going to crack on with this important project, time seems to slip by as you are just busy, busy, busy. And one of the biggest culprits for causing this problem is, you guessed it, emails.

Fay Wallis:

If I asked you the question, how do you feel about emails? What would you say? If just by me asking you that you're overcome by a feeling of dread picturing your overflowing inbox and emails sitting in it that you haven't replied to, you have my full empathy, and I promise, you are definitely not alone. Or if you're someone fully in control of their inbox, but you're working round the clock to get to that point. Again, I completely understand how you feel. And in either of these cases, there are things you can do about it. And I'm going to share some ideas with you next.

Fay Wallis:

In fact, no matter how you feel about emails, perhaps you're one of the lucky people who loves them and doesn't find handling their inbox remotely stressful. I hope you're going to enjoy listening to this episode, and that you can take at least one thing from it that you can put into action.

Fay Wallis:

But before I dive into the main part of today's episode, I just like to say thank you to everyone who has rated and reviewed this podcast recently. It shot up to number seven in the Apple podcast careers chart this week, which was so exciting to see. And that couldn't happen without you and the support that you give it. A big thank you, in particular to Haribolicious who left the latest review on Apple. I'm guessing that perhaps you're a Haribo lover, and also a belated thank you to Sara, who reviewed the show back in October for me and I only recently realised I hadn't said thank you publicly. Ratings and Reviews make a huge difference and encouraging the podcasting platforms like Apple and Spotify to suggest HR Coffee Time to other HR professionals who haven't discovered it yet. So I truly appreciate every single one.

Fay Wallis:

But now I think it's time for us to move on to the main part of the show.

Fay Wallis:

My first tip is a really simple one. And that is to unsubscribe from all the stuff you've signed up to but you never read. There's something weirdly satisfying to clicking on those unsubscribe links, and knowing that your inbox is going to thank you for it.

Fay Wallis:

And in the spirit of wanting to try out all of these things myself. This is actually a tip that I've followed for quite a long time. My older sister Wendy shared it with me when I was lamenting about my packed inbox one time years ago. I don't do it every week, definitely not. But occasionally, when I start to feel like my emails are getting a bit out of control, or my inbox is just overflowing. I remind myself to just take a moment, quickly scan through the emails, delete and unsubscribe from all of this stuff, I seem to have signed up to thinking oh, I will read that email that will be really interesting.

Fay Wallis:

But actually, I never get around to reading them or they're not that great, or actually someone's just added me to some spam list. So when I was getting ready for this episode yesterday, I thought I better try this for myself. And even though it wasn't that long ago that I unsubscribed from a load of stuff, I went through all my work emails, and I couldn't believe it I unsubscribed from nine different email newsletters or email updates that I had thought I was going to really enjoy receiving. But were just actually stressing me out because they're taking up space in my inbox. So they're taking up my time just opening them up or even knowing they're sitting there. And then I went through my personal email account as well and I unsubscribed from 10 things. So hopefully my inbox is going to be feeling a lot calmer over the next few weeks and months now that I know I've unsubscribed from all that stuff. But let's move along now to tip number two.

Fay Wallis:

This is a tip that I learned when I read Graham Allcott's book, which is called How to be a Productivity Ninja. In fact, I think he's written some other books now as well. I must give them a try too because this one was really good. He has loads of practical ideas on how to become more productive with your time. It's a particularly good tip for anyone who's inbox feels properly out of control. So if you know that you have loads and loads of unread emails, or there are people that you haven't replied to, then you're going to like this tip.

Fay Wallis:

All you have to do is make the most of the fact that you can filter and sort your emails by 'from' - so who each email is from or by 'subject' or by 'date', because what's going to happen is when you filter them using one of those choices, you can see everything in batches. And it's much easier to then bulk delete stuff, or bulk file stuff. So choose which one of those you'd like to start off with.

Fay Wallis:

I made sure I gave this a go yesterday, before I'd put tip one into action and unsubscribed from all of the stuff I mentioned earlier. What I decided to do was filter all my emails by 'from'. Of course, you could have done 'subject' or 'date', you pick whichever one you'd prefer to. When I did that, it quickly showed me that I had several emails from the same person or the same company, where they were either ones I'd subscribed to and had left them sitting in my inbox ready to read later. Or I'd kept several email chains from one person in my inbox where we were in the middle of exchanging emails about something. And I just hadn't filed or deleted any of the older emails. Being able to see the emails in chunks like this was really helpful.

Fay Wallis:

So after I did tip number one and unsubscribed from the ones I'd already talked about, I started deleting or filing older emails that had been dealt with and just didn't need any further action. It was a strangely satisfying feeling, seeing the number of emails sitting in my inbox shrinking right down. Let me know if you give this tip a try and get that lovely satisfying feeling when your inbox shrinks down as well.

Fay Wallis:

The next tip, tip three, is also one from Graham Walcott's book, How to be a Productivity Ninja. And in the book, he talks about the fact that we should all not be using our inboxes as our 'to do' lists. If I do that all the time. Even though I read the book years ago, this is a habit I seem to be finding a bit tricky to break. Instead, his recommendation is that you deal with any emails that come in, but will take less than two minutes to deal with - handle those straightaway. And then the ones that you think will take longer than just two minutes to deal with you move them into a folder. He recommends having three main folders to do this.

Fay Wallis:

One is an 'action' folder, one is a folder called 'read' and one is a folder called 'waiting'. So, any emails that require a response from you should be filed in the 'action' folder. And then any emails that don't require action from you, but that you'd like to keep for reference or to read later. So for example, there might be an interesting newsletter, or you may have one of my HR Coffee Time emails you want to pop in there - they should be filed in the 'read' folder. Then emails related to tasks or actions that other people need to act on and then come back to you about can be filed in the 'waiting' folder.

Fay Wallis:

I can definitely see how this could work for me, because all of the emails I tend to have sitting in my inbox are often ones that I would class as being 'waiting' emails. It's where I might have sent out some suggested dates or I'm just waiting for someone to come back to me, I end up leaving it in the inbox so that I don't forget about it really, and I'm keeping track if someone's come back to me or not. You might find that really resonates with you. Or, you may really like the sound of one of the other folders. And he promises that if you follow this process, you won't be using your inbox as an unofficial 'to do' list of things to read action or follow up on. And it will stop your inbox from feeling like it's getting out of control and getting into a mess.

Fay Wallis:

But of course, you need to make sure that you actually allocate yourself certain times to look at your three folders. So you're probably going to need to look at the action folder every day and work your way through it. But you may find that you only want to check your read folder occasionally. And the waiting fold out once or twice a week, it's going to be different for all of us.

Fay Wallis:

Tip number four isn't one that I've read in any sort of productivity book or time management book. Instead, it's one that I've gleaned from seeing other people do this really well. In fact, it was probably seeing Tom Cleary who was my guest back on episode 43 of the podcast doing this absolutely brilliantly that has made me think of it for this episode. And that is to just make sure that you're setting up auto replies with useful information.

Fay Wallis:

I don't know why. But I've tended to always feel a little bit reluctant about setting up my out of office messages - so, my auto replies. And I think that's because I'm often thinking well, although I don't want to be working in the evening, if a really important question came in or a coaching client was worried about something, I want them to know that they can email me and I might be checking and I might be able to reply. Or perhaps I'm going to an event and it means that I'm not going to be available for a couple of hours, I won't think, "oh, I should set up an auto reply to let people know I'm going to be out of the office for this time". Instead, I'll just think, "Oh, it's fine. I can check my emails as soon as the events finished". And if it's the weekend, I won't set up an out of office email for the weekend. Because again I think, well, most people know that people don't really tend to email at the weekend. So I'm sure it's fine. And what all of this causes is for me to feel not massively stressed.

Fay Wallis:

So I want to get much better at setting up an out of office for when I have finished my work for the day. So that people know that if they email me in the evening, they're probably not going to hear back from me until the next day during working hours. And if people email me at the weekend, I'm not going to be likely to be able to respond until the Monday because the first time I tried doing this, after being inspired by Tom and set it up for a weekend, I was really surprised at just what an effect it had. I just stop thinking about my emails, I didn't think oh, I'll just have a quick look on my phone at all. Instead, I could switch off properly and really enjoy my time off. I've always been okay about putting on my out of office auto replies for when I'm on holiday.

Fay Wallis:

It's really the evenings and weekends and if I'm going to an event that I've been less good about it. So I'm going to set myself an alert in my calendar to remind myself to do this. And I'd love to know if you decide to give this one a try. I think the reason I really like Tom's responses is because with some of them, he has clearly tied it in with his values and the principles for his business. So you may remember if you've listened to the episode, that he has a big focus on wellbeing and resilience. So I can't remember the exact wording - I did try and find the email last night actually when I was thinking about this episode, but I remember reading one of his ones when I emailed him at a weekend came back explaining that because he thinks that wellbeing and mental health I can't remember if he definitely said mental health, I think he did say mental health were important, he makes sure that he protects the time at the weekend, and that he will come back to whoever's emailing him in the future.

Fay Wallis:

But to feel that my inbox is on my mind. It's just that that mental niggling away, knowing that, I better just quickly check just in case, someone's emailed and then thinking, Oh, I've seen an email, but I haven't had time to reply, oh, no, when am I going to be able to get to it. So after seeing Tom's fabulous replies, he has all different ones crafted according to what he's doing. I'm not sure if he's got a document somewhere where he saves all of these different messages. Or if he just comes up with a different one, every time he needs to, because they're all really good. They're really well written. But I've been inspired by him. And actually, it's helpful making this episode because I can pledge this to you as well, that I'm going to be much better at this, I can see this is something that's going to make a big difference.

Fay Wallis:

I just thought that was a really nice touch because it shows that he really is living his values and his principles. So something for you to think about if you want to add in anything extra to your messaging, especially if you're at a senior level, of course, because you'll be setting the tone for the entire team and to other people who you interact with throughout the entire organisation that you work for. In fact, in one book that I'm reading at the moment, which is called the future of time by Helen Beedham. She has a really interesting idea, which is that the qualities or skills that leaders need to demonstrate to be successful aren't just things like emotional intelligence. In fact, a key component that she sees as being important is time intelligence, and being able to help model and teach and show everyone how they can be using their time effectively. Because without doing that, we're at real risk at putting people at burnouts, but also in having unproductive workplaces.

Fay Wallis:

So I found that book because it was recommended by Carla Miller when she came on the podcast, I think it was episode 65 she appeared on. So that's been interesting. I'm sure I'll probably end up talking about some of the other elements from the book soon as well. But other out of office email replies that I think can be helpful. Tie in very closely with the next tip that I'm going to share with you tip number five.

Fay Wallis:

So I will launch into tip number five now because you'll be able to see the crossover straightaway. Tip number five is to make the most of the footer of your email. So your email footer. I don't know where I have got this tip from again, I think it's just from noticing other people do this really, really well. So you can use the footer of your email for all sorts of information. You can let people know what your working hours are if maybe you're not full time or you work flexible hours or different hours to everybody else. You can also let them know things like any outcome indicates that you're not going to be in the office. So if you're taking a holiday or attending a training course, you can also add in things like where they can find information on the HR intranet, if you've got one or any other places, they might be able to source the answers to the questions they could potentially be emailing you about.

Fay Wallis:

So perhaps you could even have a frequently asked questions list of links on there. So that when you actually get back to your emails, or after someone's email to you, they may be able to come back to you and say, Oh, thanks so much, I was able to find the answer I was looking for. I don't need your reply anymore. Oh, wouldn't that be a dream? I've coached people in the past who have been really frustrated, when other people in the organisation don't come to them for the answers to questions or for support. Instead, they go straight to the boss. And when we've dug down into what the reason of that is, it's often because everyone else in the organisation isn't fully aware of what they're responsible for.

Fay Wallis:

So again, if you're in a leadership role, then you might want to also include in your email footer, who in the team does what and who people can get in touch with, for answers to particular questions.

Fay Wallis:

That brings us along to tip number six, which is to try to make sure your emails are only being sent during court work hours. This comes back to what I was saying earlier on about leadership and time intelligence, because I have seen firsthand how this can really not work at all, if you have someone emailing first thing in the morning or last thing at night, who was in a leadership position. The problem is some people will say, but I'm happy, I don't mind. I love working in the evening. So I don't mind doing it. But actually, it's not setting a great example for everybody else, even if that is how you feel about it, it does have an impact on the people around you. Even if you say I don't expect a reply, don't worry, although I'm working these hours, I don't want anyone else in my team to do it.

Fay Wallis:

If you are in a leadership position, you're setting the tone. And I've seen this happen when I worked for an organisation and the managing director who came in used to get up to do emails at 5am every morning. And suddenly, over time, we started to see the entire leadership team looking absolutely exhausted. And it's because they felt that they also should start getting up early so they could reply to the messages straightaway. Even if they were saying no, no, don't worry, you don't have to reply to these people worried it was going to look bad if they weren't doing it. And of course, now even if you are someone who loves getting up early to tackle your inbox, you can very easily make sure that your emails don't go out until 9am.

Fay Wallis:

Or whatever time it is that you know people will be ready to pick them up. Because not only can you set a delay on the Send for an email using your emails on your computer, even if you've now got an iPhone, because you didn't used to be able to do this on an iPhone, their mail app will let you delay when you send out an email. So it is the tiniest change to make. Do your emails when ever you want whenever is good for you. But please, please try and just send them during working hours.

Fay Wallis:

The one time when I know this might be difficult, of course, or I should say the two times if you are in a business where you have got extended hours or it's a 24 hour service. Or if you're working in a very international organisation across different time zones, that is going to be a little bit trickier. But for everyone else, if you are in an environment where people tend to work, set hours or set ish hours, then please do try and bear this one in mind, it's going to help you probably because it might help you to step away from the emails a little bit, but it will definitely have a positive impact on everyone around you.

Fay Wallis:

I really hope you enjoyed today's episode, and I would absolutely love to hear how you get on. If you decide to put any of the tips into action. You can always let me know by messaging me on LinkedIn or sending me an email. And if you have a friend or a colleague who you think would find the show helpful, it would be wonderful if you could share it with them. Thank you so much. That is all from me for now. Have a wonderful week, and I look forward to being back again next week with the next episode for you

Fay Wallis:

Then finally, tip number seven is one that I have tried out several times in the past. But I would love to give this another try. I'm currently now trying to think when the best time is going to be to do this. And that is to only check your emails at certain points each day. So the reason for doing that is to really give yourself the opportunity to do what Cal Newport calls deep work. To be truly successful in our careers. Often we need to make sure that we are giving ourselves enough uninterrupted time to work on bigger projects or important tasks that take focus dedicated time. And the problem with being in your inbox all the time is that you've you can be very easily distracted and pulled away from doing that.

Fay Wallis:

In fact, so many people at the end of the year look back on on the year that's happened and say, oh well it's all been good. But that was just this one project I would have loved to have done and perhaps if you're able to start carving out a little bit more time, by only checking your emails at certain points each day, you might find you're able to get on top of those really crucial tasks or really important projects that are going to have a fantastic impact. Of course, if you do decide to put this tip into action, it's really important that you communicate to everyone around you that you're doing that. So you can set up an auto reply to let everybody know, that's what's happening. Sit down with your team, explain it to them, check that that is going to work. But I know this is something that has been tested out a lot and tends to have a really high success rate when it's put into action.

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