Have an unruly inbox? The prescription is Roy G. Biv

An overstuffed work inbox isn't just a nuisance—it can contribute to stress and lead to important emails going unread by staff.

Fortunately, higher education leaders can follow a few best practices to help their staff prevent email overload, according to Kate Vonderhaar, an expert on human resources at Advisory Board.

Limit 'must-read' emails to leaders

One best practice is to distill as much as possible of your "must-read" information for leaders into one weekly email, Vonderhaar says.

While this kind of wrap-up email can take time and energy to prepare, having one easy-to-read weekly communication will reduce email overload, ensure you give leaders key information in advance, and increase the chances that information is read and acted upon.

For instance, at Scripps Health, managers receive a weekly email containing important information. The email includes a "5-minute news to know" section, a streamlined version of key details to be shared with all staff. Scripps also provides leaders with additional resources, such as talking points or infographics, to help managers talk to their staff about sensitive or complex topics. 

5 ways your emails can make you look unprofessional

Make emails easy to scan

You should also use a consistent format for regular emails that allow leaders and other staff to quickly identify key information, Vonderhaar says.

Some organizations have done this by turning to Roy G. Biv—an acronym for the colors of the rainbow. Leaders mark text in different colors to indicate different types of information.

For example, leaders at UPMC color-code their weekly emails to nursing managers to delineate components that require more immediate responses:

  • Red text signals action items that require a response to the Director of Strategic Initiatives,
  • Green text signals "need-to-know" information, and
  • Black text signals "nice-to-know" information. 

Institute an email blackout

Another strategy for reducing email overload is to establish an "email blackout" period that allows leaders to fully disconnect.

The first step is to set up a certain timeframe during which leaders are discouraged from sending or responding to emails. Vonderhaar emphasizes that, in order for the strategy to be successful, senior leaders need to both model the policy and remind staff about why it's important to observe the email-free time.

Be smart about your recipients and CC's

One simple way to cut down on email volume is to train staff to include only essential recipients when replying to an email—instead of hitting the dreaded "Reply All," Vonderhaar says. You could also use the "CC" field for recipients from whom no reply is expected.

Students suffer from email overload too. This new strategy helped one advising leader see a 600% increase in student responses

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