The e-mail challenge – Who is going to join me?

Heather Townsend
The Excedia Group
Share this content

Are you finding in busy season that your e-mail has got on top of you? What’s your inbox like... bursting at the seams?
I wonder if you are like me and have found that you struggle to keep your e-mail manageable and under control. When my inbox gets swamped with e-mail, I know that I am leaving (and losing) e-mails which really need to be replied to. Yes, I really can’t see the woods for the trees. Not good, and potentially damaging for my credibility and relationships with clients and potential clients. No practice, however large or small, can afford to lose business because of poor e-mail discipline.
The problem is that I get too much e-mail every day. Often 100-200 e-mails a day. This is impossible to process daily AND run a business... I had a huge swathe of rules set up to manage my e-mail, until my laptop was completely wiped by PC World and I had to start all over again. I’ve started rebuilding all the rules in outlook again... which is helping, but I didn’t rebuild them quick enough. This meant that as soon as I got busy, such as being ill for about a month in November and December, my e-mail discipline went and the number of my e-mails mounted up and up and up.
It took me about 2 hours to clear down over 1000 e-mails this week. And, there were no surprises in the e-mail mountain. Two-thirds of the e-mails were non-urgent, unwanted or unnecessary e-mails. Mostly newsletters – and often ones where I had not given my permission to be added to the mailing list. (But that is the subject of another blog)
Dealing with an inbox which has under a page of e-mails is manageable. My personal goal is to finish the day with zero e-mails in my inbox. To do this, I will use the following simple rules and stick to them

   1. Turn off Outlook, except for 30 mins at lunch time every day when I will process all my e-mails, and reduce my inbox to zero
   2. When I am processing my e-mail I will aim to:
      Do it, if it is a quick task
      Delete it
      Delegate it
      OR add to the 'action' folder, and schedule in a task to process the e-mail
   3. Schedule in a weekly reading session (of no more than an hour) to read through all my e-mails in the ‘to read’ folder. Once they have been read, then they will be deleted or filed, if full of useful information
   4. Ruthlessly, and I mean ruthlessly, unsubscribe to any newsletter which is not adding value, and any newsletter which I am subscribed to, automatically file into my ‘to read’ folder. Oh, and if I haven’t given permission to be marketed to, I will report the e-mail as spam.

I will aim to eliminate my following bad habits:

   1. Always have Outlook open
   2. Check my e-mail when I get bored (particularly in the evening on my iPad)
   3. Reading an e-mail and then doing nothing with it

 What simple rules will help you keep your e-mail under control?
 Are you up for the zero inbox challenge?



About Heather Townsend

Heather Townsend is a brand ambassador for the Practice Excellence Programme, and the Founder of ‘The Accountants Millionaires’ Club’. In 2015 the ICAEW decided she was the number one online influencer for the accountancy profession. She is the author of 4 books, including The Go-To Expert, and ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ (co-authored with Jo Larbie).

Heather is always up for a challenge. Perhaps that is why she has built a track record of helping accountants grow the size of their practice by 50-200%, often in under two years. Often helping them make partner or equity partner in the process.

Heather is a high profile member of the accountancy profession in the UK. She has worked with over 300 partners, coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices. Heather's clients have included: 7 out of the Top 10 UK practices, including all the Big 4 firms. 

In 2016 her and her team of coaches have coached:

1) 7 people successfully to partner

2) Professionals from all of the Big 4, from every major continent in the world


As well as helping accountants make partner, she still spends 40% of her time helping small firms, typically under £1m GRF:

1) Create profitable revenue streams from advisory services and reduce their reliance on revenue from compliance services

2) Radically increase their profitability, even if they are a cloud based practice, often helping them achieve a net profit margin of 40%+

3) Double or even triple the size of their practice within 3 years

4) Win bigger and better clients

5) Grow the right team around them so they stop working stupidly high hours and spend quality time with the people they care about

Her articles appear regularly in the UK national and trade press, including The Financial Times, Accountancy Age, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Heather is also in-demand for her speaking and has recently returned from the South African Accountancy Academy conference.


Please login or register to join the discussion.

03rd Jan 2011 15:30

The email challange - overcoming email overload to improve produ


This is a subject dear to my heart as I believe that email overload is the bigest potential threat to personal, professional and business productivity as outlinned in my own blog and recent column on  Other ways to reduce the email overload inlcude, being ruthless about what emails enter your inbox by learning to say 'no' and using folders effectively.

Good luck with the email challenge,  Monica Seeley


Thanks (0)
06th Jan 2011 10:20

The email challenge - count me in.


I too have decided to really work on my email practice this year, having read a useful book over the break, Mark Hurst's Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload. Some really useful things in there, even allowing for the fact that it is really a plug of his to list tool. I open my email three times a day, 10:00  in case anything urgent has come in first thing, lunchtime as you do and around 16:00 to check/deal with any thing. Each email is "touched" once, as you say, action, delete, delegate or add to to do list. I also use rules,  categories and folders to help me manage the things I know can be dealt with (semi-)automatically. So far, so good, BUT it is only the second day back in the office for me. However, as with all challenges, it is always good to have company, so count me in!


Thanks (0)