E-mail Overload: The Very First Timely Tips -- September 2004
Welcome to the first issue of the Timely Tips© monthly e-mail. This e-mail will provide you with useful tips and proven strategies to help improve your professional and personal efficiency and effectiveness. Designed to be read in three minutes or less, Timely Tips© will help you find a few extra minutes each day of that precious commodity: Time.
Timely Tips©: Volume 1, Issue 1; September, 2004
E-mail Overload (Part 1)
A recent study conducted by Forrester Research and John Carroll University found that the average professional now spends nearly two hours of each normal workday reading and responding to e-mail. And many professionals regularly report that they often spend half or more (4+ hours) of each workday simply reading and responding to e-mail. Even senior executives are getting caught in the e-mail trap – a recent Harris Interactive/Wall Street Journal Online poll found that C-level executives average five hours per week, or one hour per day, processing e-mail.
As long as the time spent processing e-mail is productive and leads toward the accomplishment of business and personal goals, it is time well spent. But many professionals are finding themselves overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of mail received, as well as the amount of limited or zero-value e-mail (junk, spam, unnecessary CC’s, and time-wasting personal messages). This and the next issue of Timely Tips will share some strategies for handling and being more efficient with e-mail. It is not meant to be a fully exhaustive list – instead, look at these tips as some simple starters toward e-mail sanity!
Tip #1: Use Discipline!
Because of the ability to quickly respond to and immediately receive gratification from e-mail, many professionals now spend their entire day checking their e-mail. They may do this while trying to focus on an important project, during an important meeting, or even while taking an important call (yes, the person on the other line CAN hear your hands on the keyboard!!) Of course, if you are checking e-mail numerous times throughout the day, you are probably having difficulty maintaining the required focus on your higher priority projects.
I strongly recommend getting into a habit of checking your work e-mail only 3-4 times per day: once first thing in the morning; again right before and/or after lunch, and finally about one hour prior to the end of your workday. This kind of regimen will allow you to be appropriately responsive to your e-mailers, but still allow you to have solid blocks of time that are uninterrupted by the random, sometimes urgent nature of e-mail. (Another quick tip – make sure others in your office know you are doing this, especially if they have become accustomed to your real-time e-mail replies.)
Tip #2: Follow a Three-Minute Processing Rule
Another bad habit that many professionals get into is to let a bunch of little e-mails stack up in their inbox. I personally follow a 3-minute rule when it comes to e-mail. I decide when I open up an e-mail (every single one!) that I am making a commitment to decide what I am doing with that e-mail in three minutes or less. That means if I can, in three minutes or less, I will review the e-mail and archive it, respond to it, forward it with more info, or delete it. If I can’t do one of those activities in three minutes or less, then I will print the e-mail so I can process it into my workflow and deal with it at an appropriate, prioritized time. (I use a similar system to handle voice mails, snail mails, and other documents that cross my desk.)
By doing this, I am greatly reducing the amount of clutter in my e-mail inbox, which makes it much easier for me to stay focused and productive. I actually have a goal at the end of each day to have an empty inbox, which tells me that every single e-mail that needed a response or an action got one. If you are like many professionals that have let literally hundreds of e-mails build up in your inbox, you have one of two choices: 1) delete everything in your inbox that is more than a week old and start over (processing your e-mail in the right way); 2) or, bite the bullet, and block a day on your calendar to go through all of those old e-mails and follow the three minute rule. Either way, you will feel your overwhelm drop and your sanity return by following these two simple strategies.
Next post, we’ll share a couple more good strategies to help you become a more efficient and effective e-mailer.
Timely Tips© is written and produced by Randy Dean, President of Randall Dean Consulting & Training, LLC, a time management and PDA-usage consulting and training firm based in East Lansing, Michigan. You have full permission to forward this blog's contents to friends and colleagues provided that you keep this footer as part of the document. Copyright 2004, 2006 Randall Dean. To subscribe to the e-mail version of Timely Tips© or find out more about Randall Dean Consulting & Training, LLC, visit our web site at http://www.randalldean.com.