Email Bankruptcy: Definition

Email bankruptcy seems an odd name to call this topic – it’s more like email overload or overwhelm.

This is the first of two blog posts I’m dedicating to Email Bankruptcy. This post defines it – the other post called Email Bankruptcy: Solutions gives options to avoid it or how you can recover from a very large… inbox.

Do you have unanswered email from last month? How about a few months ago? Last year? I’ve talked with people who have over 1,500 unopened, unsorted email in their inbox.


Email bankruptcy is a decision to delete all or a majority of your email messages. By declaring email bankruptcy you have to decide if you will:

  • Delete only some messages (from everyone who is not a client for example)
  • Delete all messages (junk or legitimate)
  • In the worst case situations to close your email account

It’s the equivalent of raising a white flag and surrendering to an unmanageable volume of email.

During an email bankruptcy you should also send a message to everyone explaining you have deleted their message. This unfortunately flips the problem around – now, if the person who has been waiting still needs a response they have to send yet another email. Exhausting!

Impact On Your Brand / Your Reputation:

Email bankruptcy should not be taken lightly – its impact on your reputation can be severe. Consider – you are suggesting you can’t manage your time or responsibilities well, or that the people who’ve emailed you aren’t important enough for you to read their email message.

Is this the reputation you want to reinforce for you and your business? Are you destined to do the same thing Stanford University technology professor Lawrence Lessig did in one of the first and most publicly identified examples of email bankruptcy?

Is Email Bankruptcy A Helpful Solution?

I don’t think so.

It’s really not a volume problem – it’s a work flow problem… volume only makes the problem more obvious. Weather you send and receive 50 or 500 email, you need to find a process to manage your volume.

Instead of email bankruptcy, put a plan in place that focuses on best practices and solutions that will work for you. And, it’s likely the plan that works for me will not be perfect for you – we are all individuals.

Your solution will contain elements from two or more of the following:

  • Good email etiquette and writing structure
  • Efficiently using your email management system (like Outlook)
  • Reducing how many newsletters, alerts and blogs you receive
  • Use Folders, Alerts and Rules… three of my favourites

Whatever you solution, email etiquette is a good place to start.

Email Etiquette Example:

If you are a manager who chronically Cc…’s more people than need to, don’t be surprised if the people who work with you do the same – and therefore fill up your inbox with irrelevant messages. Consider that 10 unnecessary email each day from 5 staff is an extra 50 useless email you have to sort through each day.

Declaring email bankruptcy is likely only going to provide a temporary solution unless you can identify the root of the problem.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

5 Responses to Email Bankruptcy: Definition

  1. Gerat post, Bruce.

    Someone once gave me a tip that I have found to be very helpful.

    He suggested we sometimes, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of email as you have pointed out, we miss some critical ones. He said he takes a few moments to go through and delete ones that are OBVIOUSLY not important – and in doing so, the remaining ones don’t seem as overwhelming.

    Eat a cake a bite at a time, not the whole cake at once:-)

    Keep up the posts.


    • Bruce Mayhew says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with your suggestion.
      My personal twist on this is I have created a Folder in my Outlook and have a Rule that pushes all ‘repetitive non-essential’ messages to that Folder (like Google Alerts and LinkedIn announcements).
      This keeps my general Inbox much more ‘Relevant’.
      When I have time, I go through that Folder.

  2. Bruce,

    Where were you last night? I took my business e-mail inbox from over 5550 to 538. Mostly just what you said repetitive and cc’s. My boss and everyone that emails me knows that if I am not in the TO line I will not answer it unless directly asked to.

    I will spend some time looking up Alerts once I get through some email.



    • Bruce Mayhew says:

      Thanks for the feedback – and the confirmation the problem exists.
      You are going to love Alerts… and Rules.
      I hope my solution post helps you stay away from the 5,000 mark. It should be posted early next week.
      May I suggest you sign-up for my blog so you get notified when I have a new post. Be assured, I do not sell or SPAM.

  3. Pingback: Definition of Bankruptcy under the Ethiopian Commercial Code

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