How much of your typical work day is spent in front of a computer? More specifically, how many hours a day are you reading emails, writing emails, replying to emails, thinking about emails, and forgetting about emails you should’ve replied to?
As much as some of us would like it not to be the case, much of modern business runs on email. It’s the quick, easy, and reliable channel through which to communicate with colleagues, clients and customers. While some younger members of the Facebook generation will label it old-fashioned when compared with the likes of Facebook Messenger and other platforms, the fact remains that in a business sense, email is still the ubiquitous channel and its reach, particularly amid the continuing take up of smart phones, has perhaps never been so powerful.
I’ve got too many email accounts. There’s my work account, and the account my blog and Facebook account is linked to. Then there’s the uni account I shouldn’t have any further use for but still insist on checking for alumni news. Finally, there’s my long cherished Hotmail account, my first ever, which I set up as a fresh-faced teenager in 1998.
Of all these accounts, it’s my work account that sometimes seems like it’s ruling my life. Sometimes I have so many red-flagged emails, I feel red-faced. My mates who do a lot of work outdoors or, more accurately, away from a computer, just can’t understand how I do it – “tapping away in front of a screen all day”. Sometimes, I don’t understand how either.
In many cases, email is of course unavoidable. The complexities of modern business mean a typed communication, sent at the speed of light through cyberspace, is the only way through which you can corral support and/or understanding for, and propel forward, a project across geographic boundaries. Further, an email leaves a trace, a digital footprint which, in the risk averse world of international business, is important.
But, in some cases, we use email as the easy way out, or at least as the habitual, or default, channel through which to communicate. I’ve emailed people sitting across from me, even sitting next to me. Why?
I think what I’m getting at is that, sometimes, I feel like a slave to my inboxes. How we use email can see us ‘being busy’, but not necessarily being as productive as we could be. I accept, too, that the level of attention one must afford one’s inbox is entirely dependent on one’s respective role, and the respective communications channels used in one’s workplace. Every business, and person, is different.
But, for those who are feeling overwhelmed, here’s two simple tips on how you can unshackle yourself from email slavery, rise up from your computers and go some way to increasing your productivity, and happiness, in the office.
Pick up the phone: a real genius thought, huh? Sometimes we get stuck in the email black hole: sending messages back and forth for hours when a five or ten minute conversation could identify a way forward. Think about the next trail you’re getting involved in; could you tie this off with a quick phone call instead?
We thrive and benefit from human interaction, and the phone call, while nowhere near as interactive as a face-to-face conversation, can build rapport with your colleagues and save you time.
Have ‘email-free’ periods each day: this is catching on in many workplaces, and seems so obvious when you think about it. If you’re like me, you’re often distracted by Outlook windows opening at the bottom right-hand side of your screen while you’re busy working on some project, drawing your attention away and stifling your momentum. So why not allocate a few hours a day where you shut down your nominated account, during which time you focus on the really big projects?
Sure, you’ll reopen your account to a swollen inbox, but by then allocating time specifically to cleaning it up, you’ll likely find it prioritise tasks and remove those red flags faster than if you were juggling email all throughout the day.
Email isn’t going anyway, not yet anyway. While there are some fantastic internal social media channels taking hold in organisations around the world, a replacement for the old e-pipe is still some way off, and that means we’ll continue being hooked on it.
By understanding how we use our emails, and changing our behaviour, even by a little, we stand to save ourselves time, to get more done and, ultimately, manage our emails, not have them manage us.
What about you? What do you do to manage your overflowing inbox?
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