Does Your Email Inbox Dictate Your Day — And Should It?

Guest
post from Dianna Booher:
A reporter for Newsday called recently for a comment
about his story on executive stress and the connection to email. As I shared
stats from my organization’s recent survey, the reporter passed along comments
from a CEO he’d just interviewed: “Email interrupts me all day long. I can’t
focus on my core work. It’s 1:30. I have a project in front of me right now that
should take me an hour and a half to finish. But because of the email
distractions, it’ll take the rest of the afternoon to get it done.”

Do you feel this executive’s
pain – the frustration of disruptions in focusing on your core work? The bad
news: You’re not alone. The good news: There are simple solutions (not easy
solutions, but simple ones).

My organization, Booher
Research Institute, recently commissioned a survey of email habits and
productivity from the Social Research Lab at the University of Northern
Colorado. Here’s what a representative sampling of knowledge workers across
multiple industries reported about their email habits:
  • 42
    percent spend 3 hours or more per day reading and writing email
  • 55
    percent check their email either hourly or multiple times per hour
  • 31 percent
    spend more than 20 minutes per day searching for information or files to
    include in responding to emails

Conclusion: If your inbox
feels like an email monster, you’re not fighting it alone. Here are five proven
strategies to getting through your inbox faster so you can focus on your core
work and the important emails.

Declutter
If you’ve ever tried to move
your belongings into a closet or garage previously used by someone else, you
understand this principle: Get rid of the items that served someone else’s
purpose before you reload that space. You’ll typically sort the previous owner’s
junk into piles: garbage, donate, sell.

Look at your email box the
same way: Over the years, you may have let it become a collection of junk
serving everyone’s purposes but yours. And your own purposes may have changed
over time as your role has changed. Cutting your email clutter can be the
easiest way to carve away a big chunk of wasted time.

In the earlier mentioned
University of Northern Colorado (UNC) survey, a whopping 69 percent of the
participants identified clutter as their biggest email problem.
Once you set your mind to the
idea, decluttering goes quickly. Let’s get even more specific about how.…
Ask
Team Members to Stop Hitting “REPLY ALL” and Stop Doing So Yourself
Instead, of using “REPLY ALL,”
send congratulatory comments directly to the person who deserves kudos. Offer
thanks directly to the person who helped you. Turn down an invitation only to
the appropriate person. Why clog up seventeen other inboxes, only to have all
seventeen recipients echo back?

A good rule of thumb on the
REPLY ALL feature: Is your response helpful to all on the distribution
list?  If not, fly solo. Granted,
changing the culture can be difficult. But aim to set the example.
Cull
Your Distribution Lists
Chances are great that you get
copied on many emails you don’t need. Their usefulness to you has long since
passed. But you’ve found it quicker just to delete those periodic emails than
to take yourself off the distribution list permanently.

In fact, according to the UNC
survey, knowledge workers report that fully 35 percent of the emails they
receive are either irrelevant  (22
percent) or redundant (13 percent). (Irrelevant emails refer to those about topics
that do not apply to you. Redundant emails are those with the same information
sent by multiple people.)

That “quick and easy” decision
is understandable when you’re dealing with just one email. But over time, that
decision amounts to thousands of distractions.

You also may be surprised to
discover that culling your distribution lists for emails you send may increase
engagement with the interested parties on important projects. As with meetings,
the larger the group, the lower the individual participation. When emailing for
input, the same principle applies: When you copy a large list, people feel
anonymous, and fewer feel it’s necessary to respond. If you need their input,
cut the list and you’ll increase response.
Stop
Responding on CCs Sent for Promotion or Pressure
Hidden agendas. Backhanded
compliments. CYA attempts. Whatever the label, you recognize these tactics when
you see them.
When you respond to such CC emails about
projects and issues not directly involving you, this encourages the sender to
keep up the self-promotion and the pressure tactics on colleagues.

If you’re ever tempted to write
such an email yourself, by all means, do so. Just don’t send it. This strategy
in particular may demand a new mindset and a major emotional adjustment. An
email cannot be both a productivity tool and a weapon. While it may motivate
some, it will demoralize others.
Turn Off Email Alerts or Disable Automatic
Retrieval
In the UNC survey, 55 percent of
the participants said they keep their email open either
always (37 percent) or most
of the time
(18 percent). That’s a major distraction from your work – unless
your primary job is to read and respond to email!

Instead, handle emails only
two or three times a day: ideally in the early morning, after lunch, and at the
end of the day. Responding every time an email pops into your box breaks your
concentration, wasting minutes and energy with each interruption. Productivity
studies show there’s no such thing as multitasking – just rapid
attention-switching. That in itself creates stress, increases the chance for
error, and reduces overall efficiency.
How you handle email can often
determine the trajectory of your career—whether you piddle away your time or
focus on your core work. Master your emails—make them faster, fewer, better
—and you’ll stand out as a leader who communicates clearly and delivers real
results.
Dianna
Booher’s
latest books include Faster, Fewer, Better Emails; Communicate
Like a Leader
; What MORE Can I Say?; and Creating Personal Presence. She’s
the bestselling author of 48 books, published in 61 foreign editions. Dianna
helps organizations communicate clearly and leaders to expand their influence
by a strong executive presence. For more information, please visit www.BooherResearch.com