Posted on

The single most effective strategy for managing email

Email management strategies

Email management strategies

Is it the end of personal time?

The single most effective strategy for handling email is to control it and not allow it to control you. Personal life coach Valorie Burton, author of How Did I Get So Busy (Broadway Books, 2007) relates the story of a woman who sleeps with her BlackBerry. Her reason? If she gets an idea in the middle of the night, she can email it before she forgets.

That’s not such an uncommon story. Stefan Klein, in his book The Secret Pulse of Time (Marlowe & Company, 2007) talks about the constant stream of emails that prevent us from finishing our projects. He cites an AOL study that indicated people are addicted to email. Three quarters of all Americans spend more than an hour a day on it. 41% of those questioned retrieve their email first thing in the morning even before brushing their teeth – and almost as many admit to getting out of bed at night to check their email. 4% even read their email on their laptops while seated on the toilet!

One of my own clients told me that he was proud of the fact that he could reach any of his managers at any time – even if it were midnight Sunday – because the company had issued BlackBerrys to all the managers.

Valorie Burton referred to a Wall Street Journal article titles “BlackBerry Orphans” that discussed how these gadgets intrude on families and how children are feeling neglected.

Email is one of the reasons that work is no longer a place but a state of mind. It’s also one of the culprits in an out-of-balance life. And it contributes to the number one time problem as we will soon see as well.

It’s not email itself, but our lack of control. People check it from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night. That is, if they don’t sleep with it! And it frequently takes them on tangents, checking recommended websites, reading attachments, responding to queries and keeping them from working on their priority projects. Some people even have bells and whistles that tell them another email has arrived so they won’t miss another distraction.

If you want to gain control, set up a time and a procedure for handling email. Don’t allow it to control your day. You might check email twice per day, for instance – more frequently if your company’s success depends on a quick response to emails. Checking your email every ten minutes or so is both costly and time consuming.

Timothy Ferriss, author of the book, The 4-Hour Workweek, published in 2007 by Crown Publishing, checks his email no more than once per week. He insists that any lost orders or other problems are overshadowed by his gain in efficiency. Personally, I wouldn’t go to this extreme. But twice per day does not seem unreasonable.

It’s not generally a good idea to check email first thing in the morning. You could easily get distracted from your plan. Make sure you get your top priority done first. We recommend you schedule one or more priority tasks each morning and not check your email until about 11:30. You could check it again about 3:30 in the afternoon. You might want to turn off the automatic send/receive option so that email doesn’t pop up in your inbox the moment you sign on. Email programs seem to be designed to control us rather than the other way around.

I encourage everyone to at least give it a try. Check your email twice per day for at least a couple of days and then assess the impact on your business. I’m sure most people have experienced a computer crash or an Internet access problem or a vacation when accessing email was impossible, and yet have survived the experience with no earth-shattering problems.

When you do check your email, make sure that you have enough time to dispense with all the email messages in your inbox. You might want to allow a half hour for instance every time you check your email. Either delete it, forward it to someone else for reply, file it, answer it, move it to an action file or To Do list, or (if it warrants it) schedule time in your planner to take the necessary action before replying. It’s a similar process you would use with paper. Handle it only once where possible and never leave it in the inbox.