I coach managers who get at least 100 emails a day. CEOs have reported at least 150 a day. When we do the math, that’s at least 30,000 emails per year. I’ve been told, on average, that it takes one entire work day (8-10 hours) a week to answer and organize e-mails alone. That’s at least 400 hours spent each year working on emails.
During my coaching sessions, general housekeeping (answering emails, making phone calls, and dealing with recurring tasks) always comes up and I am asked the following common questions:
- How do I better manage my time?
- How can I deal with this overload of requests and questions and actually focus on long term projects?
- How am I supposed to improve my performance when I’m constantly on my cell-phone?
- How can I unplug, decompress from all of the demands and refocus?
Email management is quite a new phenomenon. With the advent of smartphones (with Blackberry phones being notoriously called Crackberries) answering emails became no longer reserved for the first thing in the morning after a nightly break. Now, with company provided phones, managers and executives are chained to their Smartphones – and within the context of international business and differing time zones- email is management a non-stop job.
Getting a constant barrage of emails takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll. There’s the mental concentration element, the stress of dealing with a variety of conflicts and miscommunications in a delayed format, and the physical consequences such as carpal tunnel, neck and eyestrain, and headaches. We don’t even have to talk about the personal conflict of answering emails in front of family and significant others.
It’s not enough to understand the challenging context and consequences of email management. Managers and leaders must manage their time resources wisely enough to keep it under control. I’ve worked with quite a few managers that have a compulsion to answer emails as they get them and all in one go (good luck) so they can,according to them, have a clear mental state to focus on other housekeeping items and longer term projects. The problem with this is that this is not how emails work. They come in constantly. Many (just about all) that I’ve worked with even answer emails at home and in the middle of the night and in bed. I won’t go into how this is a bad time management habit….
When working with clients, I ask them to prioritize their work and assign time limits to each project and task in order to challenge themselves to stay focused. Part of that work is email management and one method involves putting it off as long as possible.
First thing in the morning, sort through the e-mails. Star or flab what is absolutely important and must be answered right away. Put a different marker on those that can wait until the end of the morning (before or after lunch) and another marker on what can wait one-two-or three days. Work on what needs to be answered right away and go on to other work. If it’s possible, set up a time or time frame at different parks of the day to work on lower priority messages.
Schedule Your Server
Another email management tip is to set your server to push emails every few hours or during a set interval. This way, the flow of emails is trickled in through bunches, rather than in a constant flow.
Train Others To Write Better Emails
When working with subordinates, ask them to wait to send low priority emails until a certain part of the day and wait until they’ve got all the facts or questions they need until sending an email in order to minimize the number of emails in an effort to consolidate messages. Be sure to teach subordinates and others to know when to call, stop by your office, and when to write.
Turn Off Email Indicators
To deal with the psychological compulsion to answer emails, I recommend turning off the email indicator and email sound notification on your smartphone so that while you’re in meetings, working at your desk, on the road, or on your personal time, you’re not emotionally compelled to answer emails.
Email management is a skill that times practice, commitment, and emotional control. In essence, it’s not easy to develop and maintain the self discipline it takes in the face of constant, around the clock, demands for your time and attention. Play with the techniques above and think about creating your own email management techniques to make emails a part of your job, not your entire job.