Are emails consuming your life? Take it back!

66% of workers feel they don’t have enough time to complete their work.  At the same time, over the next 60 seconds 98,000 tweets will be sent out, 495,000 Facebook status updates will be made, 510,040 comments will be made on Facebook and an astounding 168 million emails will be sent.  As I am writing this blog at least 10 emails have popped up and three of those emails caused me to stop writing.  I just had to open them, read them and respond.

Were any of these emails very important?  Not a single one.

As I was responding to these emails I started to think what If I got the same number of phone calls as emails?  I wouldn’t get anything else done but answer the phone.  Then I laughed because I am probably spending about the same amount of time reading and answering emails.  My laughter quickly turned to sorrow when I consider that if I had actually talked to someone on the phone I would have gotten a lot more accomplished. We could have resolved all of the issues right then instead of sending emails back and forth.

I wonder if the new communication technology is helping us or hurting us? There was an interesting study done by the Harvard Business School about why people like to tweet.  The study said that telling people about ourselves makes us feel good.  Basically, if people are listening to us it makes us feel significant.  I believe that emails have somewhat the same effect.  I can email anyone, at anytime, and copy as many people as I want.  Whether someone reads my email or not is somewhat irrelevant because I sent it out to anyone who might have the slightest interest.  I probably even sent it out to people who had no interest.   I believe they all read my email and I have now created a built in audience.  How many people before the age of email and Twitter could get such an audience?
In his book “The Power to Shape Your Destiny,” Tony Robbins says that being significant is one of the four key emotional areas that everyone needs to fulfill to some degree in order to survive.  The advent of email and Twitter has dramatically increased people’s perception of their significance, which is probably one of the reasons it has exploded.

The reality is, while the new communication channels may be hurting us in many ways, they are definitely helping us in other ways.  How do we start eliminating all of the extraneous information that is killing productivity and keep the information that dramatically improves productivity?

You can’t cut off the constant bombardment but you can manage it by applying the same things that worked before the information boom.

Don’t Multi-Task

In our Better Managers’ blog on multi-tasking, Debra Koenig masterfully spelled out why multi-tasking doesn’t work.  We know that if you eliminate interruptions you are ten times more effective than when you stop and start a project. Your conscious mind is not very powerful.  It only processes 2,000 bits per second while you are being hit with over 400,000,000,000 bits of information per second.   According to Tony Robbins, your conscious mind can only focus on a couple of things at one time.  An example Tony gives is you rarely feel the clothes you are wearing.  You only feel it now because I got your mind to focus on it just by drawing your attention to it.  However, very quickly your mind will turn to something else and you won’t think about your clothes again.  Therefore, if you can turn your focus to the task at hand and eliminate all interruptions, you will not only be more productive better able to shape your life.

Think about doing the following to help stay focused and take back your life:

•    Realize that all those emails probably are not very important. If the email is important, the person who sent it would probably call you if they needed an immediate response.
•    Only answer and read emails that are important to what you want to get done.
•    Only answer emails a couple of times a day in scheduled windows. Give yourself the time to focus on the tasks that are meaningful to your life.
•    Turn off the notification setting on your email.  (note to self on this one)
•    Only focus on those things that you want to get done.  Create a time value ratio.  For everything you think you think you should do, rate the value of the task and compare to the time it will take to do it.  If the ratio of value to time is low, don’t do it. If it is high make it a high priority, or throw your to-do list into a priority matrix and see what you get. There are lots of tools out there to get you on task.

The information boom creates a new management challenge that compounds as we sit here contemplating its effects. If we don’t proactively attack it we will be like the guys in the Direct TV commercials who end up in a bad place because all we did was answer meaningless emails.

By Greg Thiesen, President and CEO, Red Book Solutions and B2A – Over 30 years of experience in various areas – President and CEO of  Red Book Solutions and B2A, Turnaround Specialist with Doering and Eastwood, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Information Officer for a major division of Conagra, Inc. and Senior Manager and a Certified Public Accountant with Ernst and Young.

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