Are you a slave to email?

While waiting for a conference to begin last week I did the business small talk you engage in while standing with people you don’t know.  A senior business person (who I’ll refer to as Bob) asked me what I did for work to which I provided a simple explanation. 

When I asked Bob what he did he linked it back to me and said “I spend most of my day responding to emails, it’s not my main job but at the moment that’s what I feel like I do.”  My response was “Wow! That’s terrible Bob, it must be incredibly frustrating, I remember when I had an extremely busy job over 10 years ago and I was drowning in the volume of emails because I didn’t really have a system to manage them. I’m sure you realize you need to get on top of that immediately.”  At that point the conference began.

This got me to ponder how well do knowledge workers manage email at work? Does email either assist to do your job or restrict from doing your job?

The data suggests the challenge is sizeable. The University of Southern California studied the emailing habits of 2 million people over several months who processed 16 billion emails.  The findings included:

·       Many suffer from email overload (the volume of emails received in a day is more than they can handle)

·       People who receive more than 100 emails a day are only able to respond to about 5% of them (I must admit I found this value hard to believe)

·       Younger people generally respond faster with shorter replies

Coincidentally later on the same day I had to speak to my customer (who I will refer to as Joe) who I consulted to 8 months ago when he was drowning in massive volumes of email.  At the time we were able to get Joe under control so I asked Joe how he was going now.  Joe explained how he was still on top of his email, that he had the occasional crazy day where everything seemed to go off the rails, but at least he was able to get back to the rhythm we established.

Joe shared that the major benefit was it completely changed how he worked from being able reduce the frequency and time interacting with email.  How using rules reduced the volume of emails and turning off the new email alert removed a significant amount of interruptions.

The conference I was attending ended and Bob’s email challenge must have really played on his mind because Bob came up to me and said “it’s time I addressed this situation I find myself in, can you help me?”  At that point we exchanged business cards.

What action do you need to take in managing email so it helps you to do your job rather than restricts you from doing your job?