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Close up of a woman in an office resting her head on her hands staring at a computer screen with an expressin of overwhelm
Email overload?

Working in Norway

All or nothing?: Managing your e-mail inbox

Written by Karin Lee Published: May 22 2020

Not all that long ago, I was teaching a business e-mail writing course, and asked the people there a question about dealing with unread mails in their inbox.

“What”, I wondered aloud, “do you do when loads of them have piled up there, say, while you've been away for awhile? How do you handle the situation?”

Thinking most people would answer something along the lines of looking through them carefully, opening the ones that looked important and deleting the ones that didn’t.

A time-consuming process to be sure, but one that we follow because we want to be good employees that act responsibly on the job.

After a second, I took a breath in preparation to give them a few tips on how to separate the digital wheat from the chaff, as it were. “Well, one way of –”


A guy in the back quickly raised his hand, cutting me off and asking, “Want to know what I do when that happens? Like when I got back to work after being off for a few weeks on summer vacation?”

“Sure”, I replied, expecting some version of what I was about to say.

But he told us something different: “I just mark them all and hit the delete button.”

A moment or two of silence while we others took that in.

He continued, “I figure that if something’s that important, that person will write back. That’s all. You guys should try it sometime.”

A silent moment more, then the room came alive again as people started to talk about what they’d heard.

There were three general lines of thought:

An easy and effective way to reduce work-related e-mail stress?

An easy and effective way to irritate work-related people?

Or both?

While we never did solve these questions that evening, my students sure had a lively time talking about them. Nothing like a bit of controversy to get the discussion rolling and opinions flowing.

Because there’s no right or wrong here, is there?

And if that’s the case, is this something you could/should try, too?

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