I recently asked to be taken off an email thread that was producing about 20 back-and-forths a day and had nothing to do with me. My boss caught wind of this and scolded me. He said he wanted me up-to-date on my co-workers' progress. How do I convince him that these email threads are clogging up my inbox and preventing me from getting real work done?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 20:29

10 Answers 10


So set up a folder for each project like that one and a mail rule to direct the emails there.

Then once a day, or every other day, a quick gander will keep you up to date.

Leaving the inbox for more directly relevant stuff.

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    I would add "disable notifications for emails that are sent to less-relevant folders", if the OP's email client is set to produce notifications for incoming emails. Personally my productivity went way up on the day when I disabled all notifications from my email client.
    – Stef
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 12:31
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    Yes, surely "notifications" are the true interrupter, not the email itself. Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 17:12
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    Unless these emails are being sent to a DL, an inbox rule isn't going to work consistently.
    – JeffC
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 2:40
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    This is a good idea, but definitely not a solution. Clearly OP's boss feels this is directly relevant. If notifications are the issue, this will help significantly. If the problem is the amount that you have to read, then this is mostly useless. (Although it can help efficiency if you read them at your own time, in batches)
    – Mars
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 6:46
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    @Mars my reply was not concerned with the amount of material to read, that would be a different question.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 7:54

How do I convince him that these email threads are clogging up my inbox and preventing me from getting real work done?

You can't convince him because this is a bogus argument. There are a myriad of ways of handling this from configuring various email client settings to not reading emails just because you received one.

Clogging up your inbox is a bit overly dramatic, and doesn't prevent you doing meaningful work.

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    I don't entirely agree. Yes, what you say is generally true. But, I've been in a work situation where I received daily over 200+ lengthy emails from one of my superiors and I was expected to read them all and respond. In fact, this superior would bury requests to me deep in some of these emails to make sure I was indeed reading them. I chose not to continue working in such an environment. But demands about email can be onerous and make it near impossible to complete your other responsibilities.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 2:17
  • @A.Ellett that isn't even close to the OP's situation, I'm not answering your question about being required to read 200 emails and respond per day. I'm answering the OP's question.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 4:35

How do I convince him that these email threads are clogging up my inbox and preventing me from getting real work done?

One of the first training received at the company I work at includes efficient management of e-mails. I was dismissive at first, I've learned to really appreciate it.

There are multiple things required to efficiently manage your e-mails:

  1. Time Management:
    • Disable e-mail notifications -- whether sound, pop-up, or anything else. E-mails are for asynchronous communications, they can wait a few hours.
    • Handle e-mails in batch, on your schedule. Whatever the schedule is doesn't matter, it can reserved time, or flexible "in between" time. The important point is to only handle e-mails when you have time, when this doesn't interrupt your work.
  2. Empty inbox:
    • Automated e-mails which generally do not require attention (I get many) should be automatically dispatched to the appropriate folder. Consider them as "archives".
    • Your inbox should be reserved for mails "to be handled". Depending on the volume of e-mails there are multiple strategies:
      • Small volume: any e-mail "to be handled".
      • Medium volume: any e-mail "to be dispatched", where dispatching is skimming and deciding whether it needs further handling. If not, then move it to the appropriate folder, and if it does... also move it to the appropriate folder -- different from the precedent.
      • Large volume: same technique, but nested. One folder per project/sub-project with its own "inbox", "to be handled", and other sub-folders.
    • E-mails which you need to reply to, but for which building the reply will take time (for whatever reason) go to a "to be handled" folder. If necessary, you may schedule time (as estimated) to reply to them later.
  3. To / CC / BCC:
    • BCC is perhaps the clearest: it's for people that are in copy, secretly. Either your boss, to keep them in the loop without seeming to escalate the issue, or when sending announcements to avoid people replying to everyone.
    • To vs CC is a bit subtle. In general, there seems to be an agreement that:
      • To: people from which an action (reply, actual action, ...) is expected.
      • CC: people just kept in the loop, or people acting as "back-up" for a "To" person.

That's the gist of it!

I'll throw in a few tips on top, though they are vastly less important:

  • Use "Conversation mode" so that the entire conversation takes a single line in your inbox no matter the number of replies.
  • If you need to regularly chase people, you'll want a folder "to follow-up on" where you keep the e-mails for which you are waiting replies to.

Now, let's apply it to your situation:

  1. Those e-mails should not clog your inbox. Even if you manually have to sort them out, it's just a quick "Move To" action and they're gone.
  2. Those e-mails should not prevent you from doing your work:
    • You don't have notifications, so they do not interrupt.
    • When you do handle them, they're quickly moved out of the way.

And that is the worst case, because ideally you'll be applying a rule: all e-mails related to a project should either have a project tag in the subject or be directed to a specific mailing list, which can be used to apply rule. And if that is not the case, you should be promoting the idea. It eases everyone's life.

Just be careful -- do not automatically move+mark as read an e-mail you are in "To" of, in case there's an actual action you need to take in there, such as answering a question.

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    That's excellent advice. That said, your first point (disable notifications) only works if you never get e-mails from people (boss, clients, contacts in other teams) who expect an immediate response. If you do, and can't convince them to use some other system (e.g. phone calls or chat @pings) for urgent issues, you may in fact need to enable notifications for at least some e-mails. But if you can't disable all notifications, do at least disable them for the "endless threads" (e.g. using "rules and alerts" in Outlook). Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 19:04
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    @IlmariKaronen: Indeed. Clients are probably the trickiest. I'd attempt to explain "mail etiquette" to any coworker or even boss -- especially if there's an internal "chat" application -- but clients essentially have e-mails or phone, and even "urgent" e-mails are at least somewhat asynchronous, so less distracting than phone calls. Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 10:17
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    Great answer. The problem here is poor use of TO vs CC vs "let's hash this out in chat and announce the results afterwards"
    – Mars
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 6:50

My boss caught wind of this and scolded me. He said he wanted me up-to-date on my co-workers' progress. How do I convince him that these email threads are clogging up my inbox and preventing me from getting real work done?

You do as you are told.

Your boss already knows you don't want to be involved in this email but has decided you need to be.

No one said you had to agree with or like your orders.

Twenty emails a day should not be "clogging up your inbox". You need to organize your mail folders and move stuff to appropriate folders either manually or using automated filters.

If these emails are very lengthy and this is the source of the problem you need to explain to your boss that this is the case and suggest the team involved produce e.g. a summary document each week rather than requiring everyone to follow the entire discussion. This may, however, be something your boss wants you to see in detail for e.g. training purposes.


Even if you could somehow convince him, do you really want to be the one making an issue out of something that isn’t an issue for anyone else? Being seen as difficult to deal with at work is almost never a good thing, especially by your boss. Maybe he’ll understand your position so well, he’ll start leaving you off other threads as well, even some that might be of great interest to you.

Ignore them, filter them, turn off notifications, google “how to deal with distracting email chains.” Just don’t do the one thing your boss asked you not to do.


You might want to consider switching away from email. Collaborative chat environments, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and many others have replaced endless emails and reply chains for many companies. I work in a 24/7/365 IT environment and if we still used email, I would start every morning with 100s of emails. With these collaborative environments, Everyone can be subscribed to the channels that matter to them and read and reply to everything in one place. While I still have email, I maybe get one or two per week. The biggest challenge is convincing your company to try this new method.

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    They are also way more organised then an email thread. Most tools allow comments, clickable reference and tagging people for who the message is extra important. This wel solve your problem and then some :) Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 13:30
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    While this may work for some (we have a mixture of Teams PM and groups and email), it won't work for all. It especially won't work if the company hasn't implemented some sort of collaborative chat environment. We only implemented Teams 2 years ago - prior to that it simply was NOT an option.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 14:07
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    @FreeMan " It especially won't work if the company hasn't implemented some sort of collaborative chat environment" umm.... what? this comment makes no sense.
    – Keltari
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 16:29
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    Several answers & comments have suggested using chat/IM/Groups, etc. If the OPs company doesn't use those systems, then these suggestions are useless to the OP. Not every company is caught up to date technically enough to have these systems in place. i.e. email may be the only option to the OP and his coworkers.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 17:23

I think Dave Crenshaw would say that you can still read the e-mail threads but still be focused. Solution: Set a certain time of the day to check e-mail instead of checking e-mail/your phone every time you get a notification.

For starters, schedule a time to process everything. Having a specific time to go through your stuff keeps everything from hanging in limbo.




I know you didn't ask this, but what about using Jira or asana users can comment on their progress, problems, and any other issue? Using a tool like jira/asana has helped me reduce the number of random email conversations I get.

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    Yes, I was going to make the same suggestion. Hopefully, he can convince his company to do this. Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 21:33
  • Yeah, do this in a chat. Email is the wrong forum for a lot of things nowadays. Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 22:01
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    Chat is even worse. In emails, at least a small fraction of people at least try to form coherent thoughts at least some of the time. In my experience, chat is mostly stream-of-consciousness gibberish. Both email and chat require you to chronologically reconstruct everything everybody has ever done to figure out what the current state is. A ticket system or a Wiki would allow to edit the status to always reflect the current reality, requiring only a single glance at the top of the page. Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 12:23
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    @JörgWMittag also chat is asking for your attention right away (and that makes sense for some things) but switching something from mail to chat means you are supposed to follow it more closely not less. Most people can be convinced that email is a comparatively slow medium where you maybe read and check once a day or maybe every couple hours. For chat the assumption is that you at least get the message immediately. Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 14:40
  • @FrankHopkins Not really... if you are subscribed to a Project X channel but aren't actively participating in the project, you can turn off notifications and check it a few times a day. Most chat apps that I've used will notify you if someone sent a message @ you even in those channels. Also, there's plenty of people that expect that emails should be answered immediately. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, just that it's a fact.
    – JeffC
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 2:44

Using your experience to occasionally redirect your colleagues is "real work." Yes, sometimes it takes some of your time that is fruitless, but it's worth it if occasionally you can save other people a lot of time.

What I do is allocate a half hour every morning, and occasionally when I have downtime between other tasks, and put things into rough categories:

  • I can safely ignore it just from the title.
  • I need to scan the content to know if I need to weigh in.
  • I need to carefully read the content to know if I need to weigh in.
  • This requires my full attention and I need to allocate some time for it.

The vast majority of things fall into one of the first two categories. I get maybe one or two of the third category per day, and maybe two or three of the last category per month.

Also, people don't always know what is useful to include you on. I had some pretty important input on something this week that I was only incidentally notified about. It's better to be included unnecessarily, than to be accidentally left off when you had important input. If you start asking to be removed from threads, people are going to become more reluctant about including you in the first place. And often, just knowing that you saw something and didn't see a need to intervene is helpful to others.

So find a way to manage the clutter and your career will thank you for it.


Just direct them to spam.

Anything that can be solved with technology is not worthy of human interaction. Just set up a rule that emails from X or emails with specific phrases go to spam/archive/a custom folder for garbage.

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    @JoeStrazzere: That's why asking to be taken off the list was a mistake. If OP had kept their mouth shut, they would not have been given such a directive. Now they're left with the uncomfortable choice of either reading the emails or quietly ignoring them and hoping the boss doesn't notice or care.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 5:17
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    Sending the emails to spam or ignoring them is effectively ignoring the instructions explicitly given the OP by their boss. This could get the OP fired depending on the details fo where they are and their contract. Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 15:41
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    Your boss states that they want you to stay in the loop on some project and your reaction to that is to move all emails regarding the project to spam? Sounds like a good way to get fired. "Specific phrases" is also a really bad way to filter emails... you most likely aren't going to get all of them and/or move the wrong ones into spam.
    – JeffC
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 2:47
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    Directing emails to a folder does not equate to ignoring them - it's just organizing them. Solar Mike's answer may be OK if the OP's boss is OK with the idea of looking at them every day or two (which I am dubious about), but just plain ignoring them (your idea) is asking to be fired under these circumstances. If workload is the issue them the OP needs to directly address that with their boss, but ignoring it isn't a viable option. Bosses, let us remember, do not always care that you have too much to do. Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 4:57
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    Ive actually seen people fired for doing this. I mean, basically you are telling your boss that his direct command is worthless, as is the work.
    – Keltari
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 1:06

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