April 24, 2017

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

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 10, 2019.

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

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Fortunately, health care leaders can follow a few best practices to help their staff prevent email overload, HR Advancement Center's Kate Vonderhaar tells the Daily Briefing.

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 such a wrap-up email can take time and energy to prepare, having one easy-to-read weekly communication will reduce email overload, ensure you are giving leaders key information in advance, and increase the chance 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.

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 hospitals have done just that by turning to Roy G. Biv--an acronym for the colors of the rainbow that, in this case, is condensed to just "red," "green," and "blue." 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.

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Sample UPMC 'Nursing Weekly' Email Excerpt

Email excerpt

Institute a realistic email blackout

Another key to reducing burnout and the feeling of 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. But that's not sufficient, Vonderhaar says: Senior leaders also need to model the policy in order for it to be successful, and remind staff about why it's important to observe the email-free time.

Be smart about your recipients and CC's

Another way to reduce email overload is to train staff to include only essential recipients when replying to an email—instead of hitting the dreaded "Reply All," Vonderhaar says. You should also use the "CC" field for recipients from whom no reply is expected.

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