I’m a relatively early to bed, definitely early to rise girl. On ordinary weekdays, I’m in bed by 11 p.m. But last night, I stayed in my office until 1:30 a.m.
I wish I could say I’d had my head deep in a juicy project, but the truth is I was shoveling out my inbox.
Sometimes I hear about people who have 40,000 unopened e-mails, or even 2,500; that’s not me.
I work long hours and I aim to get back with everyone—preferably within 24 hours. I ruthlessly remove myself from lists I never signed up for and rarely subscribe to anything. I’ve never returned a chain mail (do people even send those anymore?) and I only hit reply all when it’s absolutely necessary.
Yet, none of that seems to have much impact on the fact that when I close up shop late at night my inbox is relatively empty…and by the time I open my laptop at six a.m., I can’t find any empty space at the bottom of the screen.
I have to admit that I am old enough to remember working in an office before e-mail existed. I remember my first word processor and the advent of the fax machine.
The old version of the overflowing inbox was piles of that thin waxy paper lying in those curls that tumbled off the table.
These days, I answer e-mail from my kitchen table before breakfast, all day long in my office, from the freezer aisle in the grocery store, parking lots, public bathrooms, from the sidelines of my kids’ sports games, even while riding my bike!
How did this happen?
A quick search of the internet shows there were almost 145 billion e-mail messages sent last year—and more than 2.8 million messages every second!
Corporate users spend an average of 30 percent of their day responding to e-mail.
And what it means for me, and I imagine legions of others, is that instead of utilizing our amazing talents and skills to generate magnificent ideas or pump out new innovations, we’re in a constant state of response—not creation. And that our formerly thoughtful and caring messages to friends or family members, catching them up on the happenings of our days is more likely to look like: Thinking of u. Hope u are well.
It certainly appears as if e-mail is not going away—and that the whole way we approach it is ripe for a metamorphosis.
So what more can we do?
Ultimately, e-mail overabundance is a problem we collectively create for each other—and therefore the problem can only be solved collectively.
During this time where managing the volume of our days is unprecedented, imagine the possibilities we could manifest if everyone adopted a few agreements around their approach to e-mail and we reclaimed some of our precious brain space and time.
To this end, I’ve formulated some personal guidelines:
1. Check off some life priorities before opening your e-mail first thing in the morning. The e-mail will still be waiting for you after you have gone for your morning run, done your yoga video or written a couple of pages of your novel. And, your time for a run, yoga, writing or (insert name of life enhancing activity) may disappear if you attack your e-mail first.
2. Set aside some time to work when your e-mail is off. Turn off the phone too. You’ll be able to focus more clearly and work more efficiently without the constant interruption.
3. Set aside time to check your e-mail. Some execs I know only check e-mail during set times each day—keeping those in-between moments clear for other thoughts or activities.
4. Keep your e-mails shorter. Period. They can still be kind and thoughtful. Just short.
5. Pick up the phone more often. Caught in an endless back and forth? Pick up the phone and make the final call in real time.
6. Consider before you “cc.” It takes only a second for you to add that cc, but it takes the recipient longer to process. They have to scan, click, read, consider and possibly respond. Be mindful of others’ time. If they don’t need to know, don’t send it.
7. If it doesn’t add value, don’t send it. Do you really need to send that one word e-mail? Does “great” or “okay”tell you something new? One word e-mails have a way of bogging things down. Don’t contribute to the problem.
8. No response required. One of the favorite lines I have adopted is opening an e-mail with a simple: No response required, before launching into my message. It conveys the content but nips the thread in the bud.
9. Check your signature. Do I really need to read your favorite quote every time I hear from you? Does your company logo show up as an attachment that gets downloaded each time you send an email? Is it possible that no one would really consider printing the e-mail from you? Then perhaps you don’t need to remind us to consider the environment first.
10. Practice awareness. Re-read your e-mail before hitting send. Take a breath and consider receiving it on the other end. Do you need to adjust your tone, add a pleasantry, make it shorter or maybe not even send it? Are you adding value? Take a clue from my friend Lynn who has the only signature I really love; it reads “Take three deep breaths now. Seriously. Just do it.” Aaaah.
Towards the reclamation of our personal time and space!
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Assistantt Ed: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Bryonie Wise