For quite a while now, I’m hearing voices from around the web telling everyone that emails are the source of all evil. That we should treat them as some else’s agenda shoved down our throats…
Why the bad rep? Because allegedly, our real goals and tasks are not a part of the email stream we get, right? Methods to manage emails more effectively, best practices, tutorials, and, what not, sprang into the market in the last decade with promises to help us alleviate the pain of email-overload.
All for what? So we’ll be able to make time for the things that “really matter”?
I’m probably living in a parallel universe since last time I checked emails were a way to transmit messages and, often tasks. While email overload indeed happens, it happens mostly to those who don’t know how to control incoming information.
Email is just the messenger, don’t kill the messenger… (I couldn’t resist the pun)
Is that the reason we’re experiencing email backlog problems?
Email overload is a result of having a lot of things to do, period. I would tell you to be proud of yourself; you’re quite popular and lots of people want to keep you in the loop, but there’s nothing to be proud of when one can’t manage their affairs.
It reflects badly on us when we miss emails, when we respond late and when someone checks the amount of unread emails still pending in our inbox. I even heard people who mentioned that they’re unwilling to work with people who have more than a few emails pending in their inbox for obvious reasons.
Methods like email bankruptcy and if it takes more than 2 minutes to handle, delete it were invented to give those who suffer from email overload quick solutions. But that’s exactly the problem…there are no quick solutions. Those deleted emails will come back to haunt you if the original issue they tried to communicate was not resolved.
Delete all is not a solution. You need to understand how to manage your overload problem so you won’t look like this after all that turkey…
Emails have real people behind them (usually.) Those people are waiting for your timely and accurate response, if you treat your emails like an interruption and delete them or ignore them unreasonably- you’re going to get real people pissed.
First, begin by changing how you look at emails, they are an integral part of your workflow and, as such, should be managed accordingly.
# Emails are messages conveying tasks from various sources
When a manager gives you a task, you roll down your sleeves and do it. Your email is a source of many tasks, whether you like it or not. You will need to roll down your sleeves and tackle those emails. If not, you’re not tackling them properly; they’ll add up in your inbox and balls will drop.
It’s your job to process quickly into actions, projects, someday, reference, etc. As you create your tasks, prioritize them, schedule reminders or corral them into existing tasks and projects. Get a system in place; make a habit out of it to ensure that every foray into your email is not a learning experience but rather a well rehearsed pattern.
# Change your attitude towards emails
Since the average American corporate worker receives on average about 113 emails per day. Our thoughts are always focused on finishing emails fast… so we’ll be able to work on other things.
This is a little previously unmentioned modern bias our work culture created to justify focusing on speed rather than quality. Doing your job quickly is not getting things done. Doing it right i.e., in a way that will allow you to control the outcome is.
That’s right, instead of focusing on process and progress, we’re focusing on speed. Well, you can clean your house fast by swiping the dirt under the rug but it’s just for show, the dirt is still there and now you how bumps all over your rug!
Graffiti by Banksy
# The Only way to Progress is through Process
Processing emails is not only organizing them in folders. Sure, it’s part of the process but there needs to be something connecting those emails to your workflow…
The ongoing “practice” of moving email to this or that folder, is just “kicking the can down the road”. An email that was moved to “next week” folder will stay there because next week comes and goes, and emails are a static medium if not handled or connected to some sort of anchor outside the email folder.
Your process and system should be fail-safe ensuring that it’s always a closed loop system whereby nothing gets lost. Here’s an example, when you send an email to someone asking for something to get done; how are you managing that? What do you do to ensure that you are in control and keeping track of that? Do you have an action and a follow-up date reminder? Do you want an item on your Waiting For list for that request? With hundreds of outgoing requests, if there is no process, there will be limited progress.
Email overload happens because you think its ancillary and don’t invest time and effort to control the information stream. Once give email the respect it deserves and focus more on controlling that information stream and less on speed, you’ll be able to easily see it as an integral part of your daily workflow. Email is not the enemy, lack a plan is!
Until we meet again, happy thanksgiving!