Managing the email torrent (for clergy especially)


One of the common sources of exasperation for clergy (at least in my conversations with my peers) is that they feel overwhelmed by the amount of email they receive during the day. Truth be told our email load isn’t anything like what people in large corporations get, but unlike theirs which is filled with massive numbers of cya ‘cc’s, clergy email often comes from parishioners, is not an fyi, and has to be acted upon.

It’s hard to manage the deluge of requests, each one legitimate and worthy of thoughtful response, and still be able to find space to pray, read and study; to say nothing of all the other appointments and administrative things that go with the job.

Peter Bregman has some suggestions about how to carve out space in your day:

“Instead of checking email continuously and from multiple devices, schedule specific email time during the day while you are at your computer. All other time is email vacation time.

We are most efficient when we answer email in bulk at our computers. We move faster, can access files when we need them, and link more quickly and easily to other programs like our calendars. Also, when we sit down for the express purpose of doing emails, we have our email heads on. We are more focused, more driven, wasting no time in transition from one activity to another.

I bulk process my email three times a day in 30-minute increments, once in the morning, once mid-day, and once before shutting down my computer for the day. I use a timer and when it beeps, I close my email program.

Outside my designated email times I don’t access my email — from any device — until my next scheduled email session. I no longer use my phone for email unless I’m away from my computer all day.”

More here.

The key point here is that email was originally meant to be mail, not instant messaging. If you don’t answer for a couple of hours, or even a day, that’s okay. If it’s more urgent, or going to be more time consuming than a short note, pick up the phone.

I’ve starting hiding my email application on my computer desktop. I glance every now and then to see how big the backlog is getting, but by hiding it and turning off other notifications, I don’t have this overarching need to respond immediately. And amazingly enough, people still thank me for getting back to them as quickly as I do. A few hours is good enough. A day is okay. If it’s really an emergency, people will follow up if they don’t hear back.

Do read the rest of the article. Any of you have any particular strategy for your email that’s working well for you?

UPDATE: Here’s a study of what happens to people when they intentionally ignore their email during the work day.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Paul Martin says

    Nick, this recommendation is getting quite common. I was just listening to a podcast from manager tools ( which made the same point. They also recommend completely emptying the inbox on a daily basis. I have started to make the switch, but it’s too early to tell what kind of difference it is gong to make. I hope this works for you.

Comments are closed.