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Does Email Kill Your Personal Productivity?

A manager at one of my clients came up to me at the end of a meeting. I had been talking about some of the factors that was stopping us from delivering on time and one of them was not making decisions in a timely fashion.

Many of the people in the meeting put up some of their arguments about why they had so little time and email came up repeatedly.

So, I asked them a qualifying question:

"How quickly do you need to respond to your emails?"

They largely looked at each other, rather than responding. I continued by asking them whether they were processing their emails in a systematic fashion, or being distracted by their email program (with their 'helpful' pop ups telling you that you have new messages).

I got a mixed response to my question and observation, but a couple of them got the point I was making: email is a tool and you get to choose how to use it.

In Lean manufacturing there is the reference to 'just in case' manufacturing; product being made just in case you need it (as opposed to just in time synchronised production). Emails, for many people, have become just in case. The following questions run through people's heads:

  • What if you miss something?
  • What if there is something vital just happened?
  • What if my manager needs me to do something?

Unless you job specifically states that you must look at your emails constantly it is a reasonable assessment that if one of the above situations happens someone will come and get you.

For the rest of the time emails will wait until you get a chance to look at them and here lies a really simple strategy to help you conquer slavery to emails:

Figure out how quickly you need to respond to an email and that becomes your 'review interval'.

The review interval is how often you need to open your email program to review new messages.

So, if you said that a two hour response time is a good period of time you would open your email program every two hours to look at the new messages and act accordingly.

Streamline your business admin
I hope you see how this works.

For some people they need to look once an hour, for some twice a day is good enough. And let's be honest, most of us look too often on our smartphones in-between!

Like most improvements I recommend you try this out as an experiment. Figure out your review interval and give it a gentle test one day: review your emails, act accordingly and then close down the program until the interval has passed and repeat. Start with a short interval and stretch it out until you find an optimal gap.

If for some reason this doesn't work, you can always go back to what you were doing beforehand. Use this as an experiment.

My manager friend found that he got a lot more 'real' work done and that he became a lot more effective with his time. It could happen to you too!

If you want some additional strategies for managing your emails (especially processing them like a machine!) and streamlining your office administration tasks then check out my book Office Productivity, it is available on Kindle, iBooks and in paperback.


All the best,

Giles


About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.

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