Email Overload Enters New Phase

Over the last half of 2005, I've gradually become aware of a change in work styles:

  • People are working harder than ever.
  • There's a greater level of frustration associated with the work.
  • People have the sense of never being able to catch up.

In part, this is due to the reviving economy in the United States. But mainly, I suspect it's due to email:

  • It's common now that people receive 80 or more emails per day.
  • Many people have the habit of constantly checking for new email, and allowing themselves to be interrupted by new email.
  • People constantly try to keep the inbox down to a minimal level.

What this means is that work is driven by the random dictates of arriving email. Minor tasks constantly divert people from more important ones. This translates to stress and frustration, the correct feeling that one simply can't keep up and that things that should be done aren't getting done.

We have to recognize that we can't let the inbox dictate how we spend our time. It's bad for business, and bad for people.

My personal approach is:

  • Schedule time for important tasks.
  • Try to check for email only at the end of tasks; ideally, only four or five times daily.
  • Create the following parallel inboxes:
    • Inbox-Do today.
    • Inbox-Do over the next two days.
    • Inbox-Do over the next week.
    • Inbox-Do over the next two weeks.
    • Inbox-Long term.
  • Deal with email immediately if that can be done in a few seconds.
  • Otherwise, put a new email into one of the parallel inboxes.
  • When there is free time, scan the Inbox-Do today inbox, and deal with email there.
  • On a daily basis, review all the parallel inboxes, and move email to different inboxes as appropriate.

... David Ferris

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