Is email a waste of time?

What’s the one thing that would be difficult to do your job without?

Ask 100 office workers this, and you’ll get 90+ answers of ‘email’.

88% of us now regularly use email at work (I’d be willing to bet 100% of the readers of this blog!), but 20% of these are described as ‘time wasting’ or unnecessary (survey by Kelly Services).

 

Once upon a time, email was a godsend. A utility sent from on high to make communication simpler, easier, and more manageable. A way to communicate with customers in the blink of an eye, sometimes even an easy option when the news wasn’t good.  A way to liven peoples lives up with funny stories and jokes, making the humdrum working day a little more bearable.  It wasn’t a replacement for ‘real’ mail, and it wasn’t an essential. It was just useful; an aid to productivity and, in some cases, a cost reducer.  I mean, why spend 20 minutes carefully typing a letter, finding an envelope, paying for a stamp and writing an address when you can spend just 30 seconds banging out a quick email?

 

Nowadays, those systems have moved on. Not content to be merely a messaging interface, email is often the main business tool for a lot of users. Blackberrys and PDAs have made it mobile. No longer restricted to desktops, we can send and receive messages on the move, and from almost anywhere.

It’s all too easy, and it often attracts our attention to the point where it stops us doing anything else!  In fact, this is one of the biggest challenges that email has; it has become ubiquitous. It is so prevalent, so ‘always there’ that we don’t stop and think if we might be better off using a different method of communication.  A short written note, perhaps, or even, shock, horror, a phone call!  Maybe we could just think about NOT replying, or at least, taking people off the CC list when they no longer need to be there.

 

It’s not email’s fault I know. Email is just a tool that finds itself open to misuse (in some cases one could reasonably argue abuse), but when you’ve had 30 emails in 20 minutes arguing about whose turn it is to buy the cakes, or give people a lift at lunchtime, it gets extremely annoying. Particularly when you find that in amongst these vital emails is the one really vital email you’ve been waiting for and you missed it because it was crowded out by everything else.

 

There are ways to reduce these issues though, and start to make email a useful tool again, rather than letting it run your life.

The first of these is really simple – think for yourself how you should manage email. Everyone is different, every business is different, and everyone needs different things from their email systems. How can you use it best? Spend some time, thing about this. Find your own ways. Suggest them here – we can all use new ideas on how to make the most of the tools available to us.

 

I will make one suggestion, and that is this – check your email at spaced intervals, NOT every time an email comes in. It could be every 30 minutes, every hour, every day, even in some cases every week.  Checking email at intervals means that we can spend focused time managing, rather than just reacting to it. It’s quicker to delete 10 emails at a time than it is to delete 10 individual emails. It’s easier to prioritise and act on 10 tasks rather than just starting each one immediately it comes in.

 

Remember this – you have better things to do than check each individual email that comes in – prioritise and act on the tasks you already know about. Add to that list when you need to, but don’t let email run your business!

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1 Response to “Is email a waste of time?”


  1. 1 Theresa January 13, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    When I was working at a big bank, email came through constantly all day, internal information, emails to a group I belonged to and it was like constant white noise distracting me. I put a lot of filters in to move these sorts of emails into a folder which was for me to look at on a non urgent basis. Also helped the post holiday blues when you don’t end up with millions of email in the inbox!

    My boss there had a good filter on his email, anything he was cc:ed in on, he would move to another folder and read sporadically.


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About me.

A professional speaker focused on helping people get more out of their day; for themselves and their companies.
I help people get things done by helping them realise that all the knowledge in the world will do absolutely NOTHING for them - if they don’t use it.
I want to change the world, and getting the right people in the right place is only the start. In todays world it is so, so easy to get pulled into doing all the wrong things. I help people figure out what the right and wrong things are and make sure their energies are focused in the right place.
Feel free to comment, or you can contact me by emailing markbell AT mbsprogress DOT com

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