Don't Let Email Overwhelm Your Work Day
Email may just be the 8th wonder of the world. It's practically free, keeps me in touch with the entire universe and helps my business run smoothly and efficiently. … or does it?
According to Marsha Egan, a professional coach and authority on email productivity at Egan Email Solutions in Reading, Pennsylvania, while email is effective, inexpensive and efficient, it can also get in the way of productivity. I've heard this before.
I've also heard the suggestion that you check email twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, so as not to interfere with important tasks. But because my business relies on email for just about everything, this is bad advice for me. It's also bad advice for many of my clients, so I started wondering what the good advice was.
I turned to Marsha for clarification.
dM: I hear lots of people say that to manage email, just check a certain number of times at certain times of the day. Is that really practical for businesses that exist only because of the Internet?
Marsha: I like to suggest that people plan roughly 5 times a day to check their email. First thing in the morning, midmorning, and after lunch, mid-afternoon, and a half hour before closing down for the day. And if you can do it even fewer times, the better.
Because email continues to grow and to be the primary means of communication in business, it could be somewhat foolish to restrict the amount of time that you spend on email, without understanding the complexion of your particular workday.
What we do want to avoid is having email constantly interrupt us, and becoming distracted by what arrives in the email as being more important than that high priority project that we were working on when it arrived. And unfortunately, that is happening all too often.
dM: So how do we take control and make email a productive part of our work day?
Marsha: There are several steps.
1. Don't "let" email interrupt and distract you. Take control by saying to yourself, "I am in control of my email." Taking control allows you to turn off all dings and flashy reminders that a new email has arrived. It also gives you the freedom to decide when you are going to check your email for sorting purposes.
2. Don't confuse "working" email with "sorting" email. Approach your email just like you approach mail in your postal mailbox. Each time you check your email, do so with the intention of sorting it, not working it. As you sort it, put it somewhere so it can be handled accordingly.
3. Don't let email pike up in your inbox. It's just clutter. A full inbox is a huge source of stress that wastes a lot of time.
dM: What other mistakes can we avoid when it comes to email?
Marsha: I believe that too many people try to use email for dialogue, and it simply is not good for that. For example, I've seen people send out an email message to 10 people asking for opinions or input on a particular topic. The "reply to all" responses that inevitably come back develop tentacles of their own and eventually, very little is accomplished.
Never enter into an argument or an emotional discussion with email. It's much better at tearing down relationships than building them up. One of my favorite sayings is, "When dialogue is needed, email is not."
What I like about what Marsha said.
Marsha said don't use email for goals it was not designed to accomplish. So true.
A few years ago, an important business relationship of mine was falling apart. I called the person a few times and left voice mails saying that I thought we should talk things through. She replied by email, saying it was easier to get in touch with her that way because she is not always at her phone. Since it had never been difficult to catch up with her by phone before, I knew this was a sign that she would rather avoid the difficult issues than seek to resolve them.
Of course I didn't insist on a phone conversation, so what do you think happened next? We "sorted it out" by email. And we haven't spoken since.
Don't let this happen to you. At the first inkling that a relationship is about to take a tumble, pick up the phone and at least try to work out your differences like real people. If the other person is not willing to talk, you just have to deal with that. But at least do your part to communicate in a way that maximizes the chances of a positive and productive outcome for everyone.
What about you?
Does email drive you nuts? Is your computer programmed to emit a bell or whistle when an email comes in? (I have a friend whose laptop moos like a cow when she gets an email. It's funny, but how much more distracting can you get?) What do you do to take control of the email monster? Tell me about it in the comments section below.
Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC, is CEO of EganEmailSolutions. An ICF Certified Professional Coach, Marsha is a leading authority on email productivity. She works with forward thinking organizations who want a profit-rich email culture. Her email efficiency consulting, seminars, teleseminars, ebooks, and elearning resources help companies reclaim email drain. Her popular eKit, “Clean Out Your inbox Week” is available on her website.