How to Manage Email Deluge for NonProfit Group?
January 12, 2018 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I am newly leading a non-profit activist group. The deluge of emails is killing me. There are no email conventions, no interest in other workflows, and I have to find a way to better manage my approach to email so things don't slip through the cracks. Please hope me.

I am newly in charge of an activist group with about fifty members. The majority of members, including the other people on the board, are retirees. The majority of communication happens through email. There are often multiple different email threads about the same thing, lots of backchanneling, emails that require lots of parsing and follow-up, some that require action and others that do not (and many emails that are very unclear about whether action is needed or not). I am drowning in email.

Email is the primary method of communication for this group. Any adoption of additional technology from other members is unlikely. What I am looking for is:

-a way to organize my own inbox so that things don't slip through the cracks/get buried
-a workflow I can adopt to triage the emails I receive and prioritize which ones need action from me and which do not
-a set of concrete guidelines/best practices that are easy to adopt and that I can promote to members to encourage them to slowly change their email habits
-any sort of tech solution I can adopt that will help me manage or prioritize emails

Please hope me--I'm sure there's a better way than what I'm doing now but I just don't know what it is. I did see this question but it's not quite transferrable; it's not so much tasks I need to manage as communication.
posted by stellaluna to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Filters filters filters.
In order to be able to have this, you're going to need to figure out what your priorities are. What's the thing that gets you 'paid'? That goes into your inbox. Everything else can be filtered into a hierarchy. Don't be afraid to overfilter and finetune it regularly!
posted by msamye at 1:35 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can set up a code phrase for "stellaluna needs to pay attention to this ASAP" - you have to be on all the email chains because of reasons, but you're not actively part of many discussions.

Let people know that the email is overwhelming, and you don't want it to stop (communication is good!) but you need some help in figuring out when to step in. Set up code words that work as search terms: "STELLALUNA ASAP" for things that they absolutely need your participation in right now; "MONEY MONEY" for accounting, billing, invoices, etc (the double word is important; that way you don't wind up searching for every email where someone mentions money); ~CALENDAR~ for scheduling events, and so on.

Sort out the categories that require your direct participation, and tell people what those are, with a codeword or phrase attached to each. They won't all use them (and don't go out of your way to push harder), but some will, and that should help. And over time, people will think differently about their emails - they'll notice if they fall into a category that needs attention, vs just being back-and-forth chatter.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:00 PM on January 12

What hardware/software are you currently using?
posted by adamrice at 2:29 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I’m using Gmail and Apple + PC devices.
posted by stellaluna at 5:46 PM on January 12

Briefly, and maybe this is over-obvious:
* Immediately file/archive anything that doesn't require a response.
* For messages that require a response/action, assign a priority label.
* Sort your Inbox by Priority (I'm assuming you can do this in GMail).
* When the action/response is complete, file/archive.
* Consider setting up a mailing list or forum for random interperson communication or for issues where you're hearing from multiple people. You can also do this on Google Plus or Facebook.
posted by cnc at 9:03 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Are you using a mailing list/multiple lists, or are you just doing "reply all" to a big distribution group? If the latter, start using mailing lists (you can set up a Google Group in about 3 minutes). Set up the members of the various lists to relate to broad topics of concern or levels of responsibility, whatever works best for you. Then filter those lists rigorously. Gmail makes this pretty easy. I'm in an organization where I'm on 7 different mailing lists (and 4 different calendars). I filter each of my lists into a separate label, with "skip inbox" set for each, so that I only see list messages under their label.

Start insisting that people summarize their action items inside their messages. If you don't see an action item, respond to it either by providing your own summary, or with a canned "I see no action items in here. If I am mistaken, please respond with a list of action items." Eventually your more clued-in group members may start helping enforce this rule for you.

Gmail's web interface does let you star messages (for follow-up, or whatever you want to use stars for), so that's one thing you can do. I generally do not use Gmail's web interface myself--I use Apple's Mail app, with a number of plugins (Mail Act-on, Mail Tags) that help me manage stuff. I don't use these as aggressively as I could, but even to the small extent that I do use them, they're useful.

And you may want to start organizing your action items elsewhere. The organization I'm in uses Trello for this, and I see that there's a way to integrate Trello with Gmail, although I have not explored that.

Finally, the organizational scheme you choose is less important than sticking to a scheme.
posted by adamrice at 9:57 AM on January 13

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