The email habit that (might be) unintentionally affecting your workplace relationships

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Have you ever thought about how email habits can affect your relationships?

They can.

And they do. 

If you’ve ever received “that” email (and honestly we ALL have), you know exactly what I’m talking about. The email where you get a passive-aggressive comment from a colleague that basically says “you’re an idiot,” and you throw your hands in the air, make a face at the computer, turn to a colleague and start venting.

So, yeah, you know the value of crafting a good email — one that conveys the message, tone and intent properly.

But, that’s not what I want to talk about today.

There’s another bad email habit that is wreaking even more havoc in our workplaces: 

Letting your email inbox overflow.

I mean, I get it.

I know what it's like to have too many emails. 

You stare at your inbox that has literally HUNDREDS of messages.  You've answered some (but not all).  Some need responses.  Some are just "FYI" or newsletters. Some are the dreaded 'reply all' emails.

And you think to yourself that you "should" be better at email. 

But it’s likely all about you.

You're thinking that being on top of email will make life less hectic.  Or that you won’t miss important deadlines. Or that you don't want to be sitting there guiltily trying to catch up on work email while everyone is having a family movie night.

But here's the thing.

Losing control of your inbox also impacts your workplace relationships.

Because when you let your email inbox overflow, you lose track of emails that don't seem important to your priorities. 

It might take days (dare I say... weeks?) to reply to someone, because you've lost track of your emails.

Of course, we're all in the same boat, drowning in our inboxes. 

But here's the thing.

The person who sent you the email is waiting for a response.

Now, I'm sure you're usually really good at responding when the request is urgent, or when it's from someone important to you.

But you might let the email slide when it isn't really about your priorities, it's not urgent, or when it's not from someone you think is all that important.

You don't do it intentionally of course.

It's not like you're sitting there, reading the email and thinking "You know, I don't really care if Jen gets an answer. I'm just not going to write back to her".  (At least I hope you don't do that!)

It's a bit more insidious... The email wasn't urgent, so you don't write back immediately. It wasn't one of your projects, so it doesn't come to mind during your daily work. And because your email inbox overflows, you lose track of the email. Meaning that if Jen wants a response, she's going to have to email you again, stop by your office, or call you to get an answer.

And Jen totally understands.  She doesn't judge you (yet), because she knows how much email you get.

But over time... It does impact your relationship with Jen.  Because she may feel just a little bit (or a lot) uncomfortable having to ask about the email. Or she might start thinking that you're probably too busy to help her.

Eventually it'll mean she'll prefer to ask questions or get help from someone else. (Which means she's building a relationships with someone else rather than you!)

On the other hand.... If you're the person who is always getting back to Jen, you're going to build an incredible relationship with her. 

  • She's going to see you as the go-to person.
  • She's going to feel like you always have time for her.
  • She's going to come to you for support, advice and opinions. 

And as the relationships continues to build and develop, she's going to see your emails as important. So when you have a question for Jen, she'll instinctively get back to you right away. 

And it all starts with making sure your inbox doesn't overflow.

6 email habits to keep your inbox from overflowing


Be deliberate. 

Review and respond to your email in batches.

Set aside chunks of time in the day when you can batch your email. Be focused and deliberate. 


Live by the 2 minute rule.

If you can reply to an email in 2 minutes or less, do it right away.  

Every time you open an email, you use brain energy to figure out the context of the email and start thinking about how to reply. By getting in the habit of answering the same time you open an email, you're saving your brain a chunk of energy that you can use to tackle another email.


Eliminate Distractions.

Turn off pop-ups or other email alerts. 

These are major distractions from your other work, and most of the time, you probably don't actually open the email right then.  Instead, see tip No. 1 about doing your email in batches.


Set up and use an archive folder.

When you've replied to an email get it OUT of your inbox. Create a folder called "archive", and the second you've dealt with an email, move it to that archive folder.

Pro tip: In Outlook, you can set up a quick steps (link here for instructions) to send an email to your archive folder with one click.


Create and track projects, not emails.

If an email is part of a bigger project, and you feel like you can't archive or answer in 2 minutes, then create a project and have a way to keep track of emails related to your project that need a response.

Whether you turn it into a task, keep track in OneNote or put it on your calendar, get it OUT of your inbox.


Use automatic rules (or filters for gmail users) and subfolders.

Is your inbox a mishmash of newsletters, project updates, messages from your boss and funny memes from your bestie?  


Use sub-folders and filters to organize your email. Remember tip No 1?  Be deliberate about your email.  Some examples of rules you can set up:

  • A rule that sends messages from your boss into a special folder that you deliberately check (when you want to 😉 ) so you can see all the notes from your boss in one place, without getting distracted by the other inbox noise.
  • A rule that sends emails about specific projects into a special folder about that project that you deliberately check when you are working on THAT project. 
  • A rule that sends industry newsletters or emails about other passive information go into a special folder that you deliberately check (maybe once a week, likely in the afternoon, when your energy level is low.  This is a good time to passively consume information. Don't do this in the morning -- your morning energy is very precious).

Taking control of your email inbox is a simple (if not easy!) way to improve your workplace relationships. 

It also has the added bonus of making you more productive 😉 

Start with the 6 simple habits and you'll see your email inbox slowly whittle down... and your relationships grow & strengthen. 

Would you like more ways to improve your workplace relationships? 

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