Combat email overload

Combat email overload

Email. We rely on it heavily for both work and personal communication but email overload threatens productivity and efficiency.



By Oksana Tashakova (Maximise your potential)

Published: Sun 23 Mar 2014, 11:08 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 7:08 PM

As NPR’s Elise Hu reports, a 2012 survey by Barry Gill among US, UK and South African workers found that some employee’s spend half their workday interacting with messages.

Santa Clara University communications director Miriam Schulman lists other startling statistics. Globally, employees receive an average of 42 emails everyday while in some professions, emails can average 400 to thousands per day. Most are generated within a company and can take two-three hours to manage, resulting in many lost hours of work or employees simply ignoring most messages and missing important and time-sensitive information.

Joshua Brustein reports that 30 per cent of an employee’s workday is spent simply on reading and writing emails while 20 per cent is spent gathering information from co-workers. A study of Blackberry users found that people received seven time-sensitive emails every day, a number that makes up 39 per cent of their email time. Peter Bregman reports that a 32 per cent increase in unfair overtime lawsuits has occurred since 2008 and that this is mostly related to emails that affect our non-working hours.

This constant email management interferes with attention. A University of London study found that email interruptions greatly affect problem-solving ability, even when employees are told to ignore emails. The distraction effects found were twice as impactful as smoking marijuana.

Barry Gill says that email overload strongly affects people that can’t categorise tasks and focus on one thing at a time. Former Apple executive Linda Stone tells NPR that constant interruptions at work today lead to “continuous partial attention.” People are distracted most of the time which results in faulty communications that end up increasing the number of times clarification is needed.

The solutions lie in changing habits, discipline and making use of email management tools.

First of all, turn off email alerts. Since online notifications are designed to constantly grab our attention, alerts guarantee that you’ll be constantly distracted. Addressing emails in bulk and in one sitting is effective. Figure out what works for you, how many times you may need to tune in, concentrate and read and write emails in bulk per day and stick to it. Control your addiction to check emails constantly. Even time-sensitive information can be processed reasonably if you adopt this method.

Secondly, improve communication methods. Intel reduced unnecessary emails by encouraging leaders to help employees understand that email busywork would not advance their careers. They also give email tips: agree on acronyms to use in subject lines that help others to understand whether the email needs immediate action or not and try to send messages that are complete within the subject line. These techniques greatly increased email effectiveness at Intel.

In a CBS article, Michael Schwantes recommends unsubscribing from many of the programs or newsletters that take up too much of your time and sending clear email messages that don’t generate more back-and-forth communication. Think before you write; ask “yes” or “no” questions when possible; limit copying on emails; let people know when no response is needed (NRN) and include default response actions such as: “If I don’t hear from you by this time; I will assume…” while giving people adequate time to respond.

Here are some very useful email tools: SaneBox to help prioritise emails; Unroll.Me to sort subscription emails from other messages; Boomerang to flag most important emails; Alto to organise all of the messages in all your email accounts into visual groups; and Mailbox to help clear and organise information on your smartphone or tablet.

The writer is an executive coach and HR training and evelopment expert. She can be reached at oksana@academiaofhumanpotential.com or www.academiaofhumanpotential.com. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy


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