How to save time and cut through the clutter in your inbox

Email introductions should benefit both parties, not just you.
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MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year? is written by Renae Scott, CMO of Togo’s.

I believe that businesses should be ‘data-driven,’ however, I would argue that information overload is a threat to effective leadership. You can have too much of a good thing, and data is no exception. I can’t use the overwhelming majority of data reports that land in my inbox. Moreover, distinguishing between data and “data” – the sales pitch masquerading as research – has saved me from hours of wasted time and distractions. Twenty years ago, businesspeople soaked up data because it was rare and precious. At most, we received a quarterly report on company performance. Data is now a daily tidal wave, but this came about gradually. Just as fish don’t realize they’re in water, we might not realize that we’re drowning in information.

For me, the damn broke one morning in January when I arrived at the office and saw that 1,000 emails had piled up in my inbox overnight and I thought to myself: If I spend half my day sifting through these emails and processing all the industry analyses, news reports and data they contained, how could I possibly be an effective CMO? How could I lead a team if I spent my morning chugging pints of data that would soon be irrelevant and leave nothing but a cognitive hangover?

See also: This could be why your best employees are leaving

This wake up moment forced me to renegotiate my relationship with information. Yes, I still receive 11 different morning “news” emails about the restaurant industry, get weekly reports on social media and receive internal data on sales and product information, but now I have a system for dealing with it. Every morning, I set aside one hour to read and absorb any data reports that have landed in my inbox. I love to get lost in research, so setting a time limit prevents me from overindulging. As I go through the emails, I apply this mental filter: Would this be nice to know or is this something I need to know?

For example, I don’t need to know how many click-throughs Togo’s received on its last email campaign. Though it would be nice to know, that data will not influence the actions I take throughout the day or week. Our digital manager is the only one who needs to know about click-throughs, and if something requires my attention, I trust that she’ll tell me. On the other hand, I do need to look at top-level transactional data to evaluate and guide our marketing strategy. Before I look at any external data, I filter it by quality. If I have requested or paid for specific reports, I review them. I delete unsolicited reports, infographics and white papers; they’re sales bait and usually low quality.

Lastly, twice a week, I spend an hour planning out how to act on the data that matters. For instance, if I’m planning a new product calendar, I’ll use data on consumer trends to plot our angle. Millennials love spicy foods? Great, let’s capitalize on that. Data is suppose to inform your strategy, decisions and actions. In excess, it will leave you in analysis paralysis.

Read all responses to the MPW Insider question: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

The reason so many executives fail at leading teams by Mary Godwin, VP of operations at Qumulo.

What every business leader can learn from Boston’s failed Olympic bid by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

The No. 1 reason companies fall apart by Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises

Oracle’s Co-CEO: Leaders need to ask tougher questions by Safra Catz, co-CEO of Oracle.

What millennials can teach CEOs about leadership by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson: One of the biggest lessons she learned this year by Marillyn Hewson, CEO, chairman, and president of Lockheed Martin.

How CST Brands’ CEO overcomes resistance to change byKim Lubel, CEO, chairman and president of CST Brands.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s secret to a successful career by Ginni Rometty, CEO, chairman and president of IBM.

Mondelez CEO says this is why managers need to be more transparent with employees by Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelez.

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