July 25, 2010
You’ve got (too much) mail: Take control of your inbox before it controls you
Scripps Howard News Service
Countless people resolve to lose a few pounds. But perhaps even more people could boost their productivity, and consequently their self-esteem, by losing a few hundred e-mails.
“E-mail has become the biggest interrupter of the universe,” says Marsha Egan, an executive coach from Reading, Pa. She says companies rarely notice the impact of those interruptions because they occur in such small increments.
But those increments pile up. When workers stop what they’re doing to check an e-mail that just arrived, it takes four minutes to return their full attention to their work, Egan says. So it takes only 15 e-mails to use up an hour.
Older boomers most e-mail efficient
People ages 55-64 scored the highest in a 40-question assessment of e-mail efficiency, according to a survey conducted by executive coach Martha Egan during Clean Out Your Inbox Week, Jan. 25-29. People ages 45-54 were the next most productive users, followed by those 25-34.
Women generally have better e-mail habits than men. The survey also showed that those with graduate degrees have better e-mail habits than those at lower education levels.
To find out how well you manage e-mail, take a free assessment at eganemailsolutions.com/assessments.html.
Add to that the fact that the average employee receives 15 to 80 e-mails a day, and the potential waste of time — and company money — stops looking small.
For those who want to get serious about trimming their e-mail inboxes, here’s the short course.
Limit when you view your e-mail. Instead of leaving your e-mail program running all day and notifying you each time a new e-mail arrives, check your e-mail at set intervals. For most people, Egan says, five e-mail checks a day is plenty, and many people could get by with two.
“People give power to the ding and the flash, just as someone might interrupt a romantic dinner to answer the phone,” she says. That’s bad for a romantic dinner, and it’s bad for work.
Change the way you approach your inbox. Many people use their inbox like “a very disorganized to-do list,” Egan says. As a result, the average person reads and rereads an e-mail seven times before acting on it — the digital equivalent of putting mail back into your mailbox.
“I don’t know anybody who puts stuff back in their USPS mailbox,” she says. “What they do is sort. Shift your thinking from going into your inbox with the intention of working your e-mail to going in with the intention of sorting it.”
Get organized. Divide your e-mail into three categories: those requiring action (with flags to remind you when to act), those to hold for reference and those to delete.
“Look at an e-mail no more than twice,” Egan says. “The first time is to sort it, and the second time is to work it.”
If you have an overstuffed inbox, don’t try to tame it all at once, she says; never spend more than an hour at a time on it. But you still don’t have to delay your gratification.
By creating a temporary folder, dating it and moving your inbox contents into it, you can experience the feeling of a clean inbox even as you continue the work of sorting that temporary folder.
While managing e-mail ultimately falls upon the individual, Egan says companies could make things better all around by training employees in e-mail management, which is where she comes in. But it’s not always easy.
“For a company to embark on a campaign to get people to use their e-mail differently sounds silly,” she says. “I can go to a 40-person company and tell them that I can save them thousands a year, and it’s still a hard sell.”
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