Well, 5000% might be a bit of an exaggeration but the point is definitely valid. For many of us, email has become the 500 pound gorilla that we have to wrestle every day. We strap on our armor and charge into battle and ultimately work harder rather than smarter. Email is a productivity tool that is woven into the very fabric of social and corporate culture alike. Without specific email management and time management strategies set up, we won’t actually be able to use this tool to be efficient, effective, or productive. So let’s step out of the cog and stream-line it.
Step 1: Email Management Best Practice: Batching
Let’s start with the concept first. How many people do you know take a dirty piece of clothing and wash it as soon as they are done wearing it? None, right? If they did, they would be constantly washing their clothes. It sounds to me a lot like how a ton of people treat their email. They are constantly checking their email at work, at home, on their iPhone, Droid and Crackberry. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love technology and what it can do for you, but in this case the perpetual feed is more of an interruption than a help.
Again the idea behind batching is that you batch or collect a group of items together. In our laundry example, we would collect all of our dirty laundry in a nice wicker basket and then once it was full, we would wash all of it at the same time. This is a much more productive, efficient, and effective us of our time.
Advantages of Batching
Now stretch your imagination to think what it would be like if we treated our email more like our laundry and batched it? What if instead of allowing your email to interrupt you again and again and again while working on a single task, you saved it till you were finished with that task and checked them all at once. This would take us a step towards how email was originally intended to be and away from using it like an instant message chat room. When you let it become a chat room, it will control the flow of your work every time a new message arrives. Don’t let it.
Simply set up scheduled “meetings” to block out time to make sure that you can adequately respond to your emails at a time that fits best in your schedule. It takes time to switch from focusing on one task to focusing on another and the more times you do that, the less gets actually finished. But I thought we checked our email constantly to get more done faster? The old adage, “less is more” seems to ring true here.
Statistics to Chew on
In a 2005 survey, 41 % of respondents said they checked their email in the morning before going to work. There were more than 25% that said they had never gone more than a few days without checking email. The world is so connected to the web these days that 60% said they check it on vacation and finally, 4% are probably the most productive people on planet Earth check their email in the bathroom; there isn’t a place they can’t be reached.
How much of that is actually necessary? Would your productivity really be hindered if you batched your email instead?
BUT WHAT ABOUT EMERGENCIES? There is a massive population of people who live under the impression that there is always an emergency. I find that there are a lot more illusions of time sensitive emergencies than actually exist. However, for the conscientious objector, there are some things you can do. The first is create an auto response to your email much like an out of office used for vacation in which you let everyone who emails you know when you’re checking your email, and when to expect a response from you. If this emergency can’t wait till then, have them elevate it to a more immediate channel like your phone. Train those you work with to discern what needs to be taken care of immediately and what can wait till later that day or the next day.
BUT MY OFFICE REQUIRES CONSTANT MONITORING? It is amazing how this cog can be surprisingly counterproductive. However, simply communicating your goal to be more efficient, effective, and productive by improving your email management can really help. Introduce it by mentioning that you’ve been reading up on email best practices and that you would like to pilot this as a test program for a week. Then you can legitimately test it to see if it works for you and your coworkers and boss will be in the loop. More than likely, they will be interested in how it actually works for you. As a back up, no one is going to get on your case about trying to be a more productive employee and you can always revert back to the never ending email addiction you where consumed with before.
Questions for the Reader
How does this relate to you? Do you find this helpful? What are other success stories, comments or objections you may have?