I’ll be the first to admit it: I have a problem. I’m addicted. If I go too long without looking at my email I get antsy, even stressed out. It’s so bad my smartphone is constantly connected to my side. Even though some around me get annoyed, I keep checking; I mean come on, what if I miss something important?
What’s worse is the thought of taking some time away from my email and then returning to hundreds of unread messages.
So, when I heard about Bob O’Hare’s new book “Unload Email Overload” I was intrigued. How do you unload from inbox overload? O’Hare knows our pain: “Statistics say individuals spend almost a third of their time at work managing email and much of that can be shown to be wasted time. So, if we can master email, that will help us recover precious time, get our work done-- at work.”
O’Hare says two strategies will help you master your email. The first plan means establishing some etiquette with your manager, team or colleagues:
Business mail is not instant response communication; allow 24 hours for a reply:
If your job requires you to accept and respond instantly to email, like customer service or emergency management, so be it. However, most of us are not in that position. Many “feel the need” to reply at once, fearing consequences; and others, through their lack of planning/organization are projecting their problems on others.
To contact someone when a situation is critical, text or call them:
There should not be many critical situations in your work week, if any. If there are, the organization has other fish to fry and email, a wonderful communication media, should not take the rap. Most often a crisis is in the mind of an individual.
Agree that you respect one another and don’t need “happy” messages:
“Thank you” and “Appreciate it” can be one more distraction. Trying to calculate productivity loss due to distraction, researchers say it could take a few minutes to refocus after being distracted; and, if taken on a tangent, the individual might lose hours of productive or personal time.
Agree not to send FYI messages:
If you believe your colleague has a ‘high need to know’ the fantastic, or incriminating, message you possess, contact the person for a conversation and decision. If you think they might ‘like to know’, forget about it; don’t bother them with one more email to fill their inbox. If you are trying to make points, talk to them and learn the outcome of your strategy.
THE SECOND STRATEGY INVOLVES EXPLORING A FEW DIFFERENT IDEAS FOR EFFECTIVE EMAIL MANAGEMENT:
Maintain separate work and personal mailboxes
Create one email address for personal email and one for business email. Large organizations require that you do this because they know personal email will distract you from the job you are being paid to do.
Spending time on pictures, jokes and personal matters robs your focus and can distract your colleagues, especially if you forward to them. On the job, paying attention to business is what’s ethical and courteous. Personal email, perusing the web, and having fun on the computer are best done when you are not on company time. Explicitly ask friends to use your personal account for personal email. In a short time, this change alone can significantly reduce the number of emails arriving in your office inbox.
If you don’t want to have a second mailbox, at least set up a personal folder in your business email and ‘drag’ personal email to it, leaving it there until you are ‘off the clock.’
Do not surrender today’s plans to today’s email
Remember your first management course. You were told to plan, organize and control your work and your day. You were to do ‘first things first’ and ‘second things never.’
One of the worst email problems is using incoming email as a spontaneous To Do list. Instead, discipline yourself to use email to build a task list, arrange your calendar and organize your work. Plan your work and work your plan. That way, you should be able to get your work done and go home at a reasonable hour. If input is required for today’s work, don’t depend on email; pick up the phone.
'Batch process' email by making an appointment with yourself at work
This principle, in particular, is essential to managing your email effectively and relieving overload. It will stop email from managing you and stop you from constantly checking your email. During each appointment, preferably at your computer, do nothing else. Look at email first thing in the morning to see what happened overnight, check at noon during lunch, connect again before you go home at night. When you have email under control, this might take a half hour each time. When you finish, shut off your email program and get back to your priorities. Only do email when you plan to do so.
Limit smartphone checking
Everybody loves their smartphone, and we do benefit from having tons of information available to us; however, I‘d like to suggest that the dinner table and the bedroom were made for better reasons than doing email and playing games. Relationships in life are terribly important and building them with our children, friends and significant others are very essential to a happy life. Let’s make sure we invest enough time, without technology, to look into each other’s eyes and listen to one another’s stories. Set some time limits!
For more tips check out O’Hare’s website.