Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid sets email rules

There was a time when I was on top of my emails. I get stressed when there is no white space showing at the bottom of my inbox, so I am in a bad state when my inbox runs to several pages.

Confessions of a benefits manager

Mind you, I am not as bad as some. My colleague Lazy Susan has hundreds of unread emails at any time. I can see the little badge count clicking up every day and I get doubly stressed by proxy.

Big Bad Boss is just as bad. He says that email is just a tool, and that we should use it and not let it use us. Certainly, he only reads emails from his own boss or other Higher Beings, and he relies on his team handling anything more trivial. No, let me rephrase that: he relies on me to handle anything trivial. 

Lazy Susan is unlikely to pick anything up, as she is far too busy keeping up with Facebook and Twitter herself. I can also see, even from my desk if I lean over, that she gets a whole load of personal stuff sent to her work email account: horoscopes, relationship advice and shopping catalogues. It is a wonder she can find a work-related email among all the junk, let alone action one.

Sometimes I feel I am the only one taking responsibility for the department mail. I don’t want to become one of those pitiful control freaks sleeping with a BlackBerry on their chest just to stay in touch.

Several of my US colleagues are like that: saddos who respond to emails at 2am their time, and who ping off a load of requests before leaving their house in the morning. Still, I would like to be a bit more on top of things just now.

Email deluge

My inbox is kept as a kind of action list by filing everything else as I go. But lately, since taking a few days off, I have been overwhelmed with a mail deluge. It is time to have a digital cleanse and get my email down to manageable levels again.

Sorting my enormous inbox by sender, it seems there are three main types of email pirates in operation.

First of all, there are the ‘cc’ selfies. It is good to be kept in the loop when it is relevant, but one or two of my dear HR colleagues like to copy in everyone in the department every time they sneeze.

It is a kind of narcissism; these copy-the-world types like everyone to look at what they are doing. I could ask the ring leaders such as Creepy Caroline (note her initials) to stop, but I feel sure if I did that she would leave me off something important out of spite.

No, the only way to deal with this is with a ‘rule’. I set up a rule in my mail account to file all their standard reports in a folder on receipt. They are still there to be read should I ever be bored enough to want to, but they won’t fill up my box. I call the folder ‘blah blah blah’, which also makes me feel a lot better.

Supplier newsletters and technical updates

A few more rules will take care of the next inbox bandit: supplier updates. Firms such as Smarmy Consulting constantly send me newsletters and technical updates.

The secret truth is I don’t have time to read such things. In any case, consultants don’t give you enough information to take any useful action; only enough to get you worried enough to call them in to advise. Nine times out of 10, the content has no relevance for our company and I get all worked up over nothing. By filing them automatically in a folder called ‘rather dull research’, I can still search on a topic if I need to.

Like Big Bad Boss with his team, I will trust Smarmy Consulting to get in touch directly if there is something really important (fee chargeable) for us to do.

The last main group of inbox bandits are the conversationalists. They will email with a short question, and then ask another one on reply, carrying on for a good 10 emails, often with everyone on copy. It becomes like some kind of pyramid scheme, with everyone chipping in on the chain letter until we are all sick of the subject.

Company messenger service

We do have a company messenger service and, although I can see that would be good for these little chats, I am rather glad that messaging hasn’t really caught on here. I have worked in places where my screen positively hummed with the ping of constant interruptions. It was like working in a very noisy bell factory.

I can’t get rid of these conversationalists altogether but I can set my emails to group conversations into one email. That alone clears a lot of space.

Now I am down to a mere two pages of proper email. Most of them I have now read, but I need to action them to be able to file them away.

Another way to cut down is to use ‘bcc’ for any mass emails. If you use ‘cc’, you can be sure a whole group will copy everyone on their response, so then you get copied on someone else’s response to them. Why do people do that? Some of my colleagues must have ‘reply all’ set as default. More look-at-me narcissism, I suspect.

The number of emails you receive is directly proportional to the number of emails you send out. I vow to be more succinct, to be more selective in distribution and, wherever possible, to get away from my desk for a proper face-to-face instead. My new mantra: send less.

Next time… Candid looks at recognition.