5 Tips for Managing Email

The average office worker deals with about 150 emails per day. Managing them well can be a surprising career booster. 

June Archer

Project Coordinator, Government Affairs practice


A wave of anxiety washed over her every time she glanced at the little red circle at the top right of her iPhone’s email app. It stared her in the face whenever she opened the phone. The number of unread work emails had swelled into the thousands. 

Keeping up with the geyser of emails from bosses, colleagues, clients, prospects, and others can be a job unto itself. Studies show that the average office employee spends four hours a day reading, writing, and managing upwards of 150 emails. For someone like June Archer, that number is a lot higher. As a project coordinator in Korn Ferry’s Global Government Affairs practice, she has at times managed four or five accounts simultaneously. “I checked once, and in an ‘average’ week it came to more than 3,000 emails,” says Archer. 

Despite texting, chats, Slack channels, and good old-fashioned phone calls, email remains the dominant form of communication at most organizations. Without a system to track all the messages flying around, it can be easy to get overwhelmed—and find your career sidetracked. Some tips:

Get close to zero.

Get in the habit of setting a goal for the number of emails left in your inbox at the end of the day. For instance, despite receiving hundreds of emails a day, Archer aims to have no more than 30 remaining at the close of business. Most days, she’s able to do this by deleting, moving, or saving. “At the end of the day I do a run-through, and anything left in my inbox functions as a to-do list for the next day,” she says. 

Categorize and compartmentalize.

Frances Weir, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach, assigns a category and color to each of her emails. “This allows all emails tied to a certain engagement to be grouped together for easy reference,” she says. She then creates folders for each category with action headings such as “Reply,” “Act,” and “Develop.” The important thing, says Weir, is to schedule time to follow up on each activity as needed. 

Create rules and filters.

You can set up the rules and filters functions in your email system to automatically route incoming messages according to certain parameters. For instance, messages from your boss can be color-coded as red and marked as high priority. Rules function as an AI assistant for Weir, placing messages in the appropriate categories and folders. “I swear, rules have reduced my inbox traffic to near-zero,” she says.  

Set boundaries with direct reports.

Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager for the Recruitment Process Outsourcing practice at Korn Ferry, has a standard procedure for managing email traffic with direct reports. Being copied on a message, for instance, is considered an FYI and doesn’t require a response. He also tells direct reports that if they need to send more than five emails in a day, they should schedule a quick call instead. 

Remember, emails are not conversations.

Don’t use emails to have a long back-and-forth with colleagues or clients about a work or business issue. You’ll not only create long message chains that make keeping track of the conversation difficult; you’ll also make it easier to miscommunicate. Chats and texts are better channels for informal conversations with coworkers. For clients, however, “if you find yourself communicating via email like you would hold a normal conversation, pick up the phone and talk to the person live,” says Zabkowicz. 


For more information, contact Korn Ferry Advance.