Do you ever feel like you are overwhelmed by the amount of emails you receive? Most of us do and most of us consider that the fault lies entirely with people sending, or copying us into, emails. However the reality appears to be somewhat different according to research undertaken by Chris Brown, Andrew Killick and Karen Renaud reported in The Harvard Business Review (September 2013).

In a recent initiative the leadership team of London based International Power discovered they were sending on average 56 emails a day. The team were given training to reduce their e-mail output by taking more-deliberate actions: not forwarding messages unless strictly necessary, limiting messages’ recipients, and choosing the form of communication that would most efficiently accomplish the task at hand (for example going to see someone or picking up the phone).

Within three months the team’s total e-mail output dropped by 54%. The output of the 73 other London-based employees soon began decreasing too, even though those employees received no training or feedback. In fact, this drop was even greater—64%. The result was an annual gain of 10,400 man-hours, which translates to a 7% increase in productivity. The new practices soon became embedded in the top team’s behavior, and the reductions have been sustained for two years.

I wonder what you would give to achieve a 7% increase in productivity across your organisation? And it also points to the importance of starting organisational change at the top.