We are in the midst of an epidemic. The affliction I am referring to is so pervasive that it is able to take control of people’s lives without them evening realizing it. I am talking about email. Don’t believe me? Take a look around your office. Has somebody looked at their blackberry twice in a period of 2 minutes? Have you alt-tabbed to check your email in the middle of doing some work today? We have become obsessed with our email. We all have a deep rooted fear of missing something important; It may also be a tactic for dealing with the hundreds of emails most of us get in a given day. The result is that we are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with email.
Here’s the truth: Most of us are not that important. There has probably never been an email that was so important that if you did not reply within an hour something bad would happen.
Here’s another truth: You are sacrificing productivity for the sake of email. You are probably not being paid to reply to emails; you’re probably being paid to actually do something.
I’ve found that in order to be successful in a fast paced environment you need to have your priorities clear in your head. Email should be close to the bottom. I try to do email in the morning when I first come in and and the end of the day just before I leave. I spend most of my day focusing on my team and my priorities.
Some other things your can do:
1. Adopt a system for dealing with email. To be fair most managers and executives have a ridiculous amount of email to deal with in a given day. At one point I was getting close to 500 a day! Having a simple approach to processing mail will make a big difference. I’m a big fan of “Inbox Zero” (http://www.43folders.com/2006/03/13/inbox-zero ) It’s all about taking your email and deciding what you need to action or archive. The rest gets deleted. It will help you see your email in a new way.
2. Know what to ignore! If you’re like me you are probably CC’ed on a large amount of email. Get this: you can probably delete that email without ever reading it! Nobody will ever know! It’s unlikely that the meaning of life is buried deep in someones reply to somebody else’s email.
3. If the thought of deleting email is just too outrageous for you just archive it instead (This is what I actually do). Move everything into offline storage instead of deleting it. Then use an indexing tool like Google Desktop (http://desktop.google.com/) to easily search the archive when you need to. This will allow you to selectively ignore email but be able to bring it up later in case you need to.
For some of you this may not be that simple. Some people work in organizations where the addiction to email has permeated into the culture. I’ve worked in places where they give you the blackberry before they give you a desk or a computer. I would suggest that you give it a try anyways, perhaps you will become a role model. Your increased productivity may be noticed and may inspire others to kick the email habit as well. If that’s impossible then perhaps you should consider another job. The people in your company will never realize that the company is going out of business until somebody sends an email about it.