When I went away for a break to the sun earlier this year I returned to an information deluge, including over 2,000 articles in my RSS reader and around 2,000 emails across my personal and work accounts, and that was just over a week!
I’m sure for many of you this is far from uncommon and this no doubt contributes to the growing trend for people to stay connected whilst on holiday. After all, the average person is said to get around 100 emails per day, so a week away from the office is going to have a deluge of emails ready to greet you upon your return.
And that’s no good. The weather this summer has been awful, so you deserve your break. You deserve the chance to disconnect from work and refresh mind and body in whatever way you see fit.
So here are five tips to help you get to grips with your email situation.
- Impose a time limit McKinsey revealed recently that we spend 28% of our time ‘doing’ email at work. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that all of those replies aren’t mission critical, so rather than replying instantly, try setting an amount of time you want to spend on email each day, and then stick to it. Maybe try a limit of 15 minutes every 2 hours. To avoid temptation I recommend closing down Outlook during that time so you’re not tempted by the new mail icon.
- Create some ground rules The Email Charter provides some great guidelines on proper use of email in the workplace. You don’t need to abide by it verbatim, but if you do nothing else, make sure you support the underlying principle of the Charter, which is to respect your recipients time.
- Set priorities Sure you will agree that not all emails are equal. Most email tools allow you to flag based on priority or urgency. I would go a step further though and try creating a culture that ensures only vital emails are even sent.
- Don’t sign on the dotted line Ok, junk mail isn’t as big a problem as it used to be as filters now are much better, but it’s still easy to collect emails when you sign up for things. Most services now come with an option to subscribe to updates etc. If you’re given the choice, make it the least frequent one (or none at all). Make sure those newsletters you sign up for are really something you’ll read. It’s often much easier to subscribe to something than to unsubscribe!
- This mail will self destruct How many times do you go back over the same email? A nice approach to take is to set yourself a target to never open the same email more than once. This means that when you open the email the first time you need to instantly decide whether to respond, delete, archive or whatever. The point is though that you take action immediately and don’t procrastinate.
Email is a technology that has survived better than pretty much any other over the Internets relatively short history, and usage continues to balloon each year. So getting to grips with the information flow is critical to your future productivity.
I’ll leave you with a bit of mental stimulation in the form of James Gleick talking about information overload. Enjoy.
Adi Gaskell is a social media expert and management blogger.