Email Challenge: Time Management Put to the Test

Posted by: Jonathan Weiss
  • April 12, 2016
  • 7

Email Challenge Time Management_455x290

Let’s start with a quick thought exercise. Think about how many emails you receive on a typical day. Fifty? One hundred? FIVE hundred? Now, try to convert that volume of email into an estimate of the amount of time you spend on your email on an average day. Think about it for a bit. Some email notes are immediately discarded, while others require a fair amount of time to read. I’ll venture to estimate approximately thirty seconds on average per email, which thereby sums to just about three hours per day just spent reading and responding to work email. 

This figure may strike you as crazy, but a recent poll estimates that U.S. workers spend more than three hours a day on work email matched by another three hours on personal email.  That’s more than a third of our waking hours each day interacting with email!

The proliferation of email has been bothering me for a while. I recognize that as a business person, I am overly reliant on it. Don’t get me wrong – I certainly value the medium but feel like I often default to email even when there are more effective ways of communicating for a given circumstance. I, therefore, embarked upon an experiment. A challenge, of sorts. Could I go a full week without any email for work communication? I didn’t tell people about this, as my goal was to let the week play out organically to see what impact, if any, it had on my work life.

Once the week ended, I reflected on the experience with several observations:

  • I become MORE available to my clients and my team. If I had a question to ask or a request of someone, I just picked up the phone or walked down the hall. The two-way dialogue proved far more effective than an email. Some conversations were short and sweet. “Yes, I agree.” Other times we dug deep, clarified, brainstormed, then agreed upon next steps.
  • I saved time and others did, too. We often came to an agreement in two, five or fifteen minutes, and in doing so, eliminating the lag time in typical email exchanges. I gained back countless minutes not reading the “keeping you in the loop” emails and the “no looping in required but I am copied anyway” inbox killers. (“Thanks!”)
  • I felt more energized about my work. I enjoyed rich conversations and the collaboration I was seeing. I got to know a thing or two about one of my client’s personal life that gave me new insight about how to be a better thought partner. A colleague and I chose to go outside, get some air, and grabbed a cup of coffee to discuss a work-related issue, and solved a problem that had been gnawing at us. We felt victorious.
  • I enjoyed lengthier, more focused windows for work. The bottom line, without feeling like I needed to respond to the little ping I heard or the bolded line items.
  • Bonus! I got out of my chair more.

Once this experiment ended, I returned to my use of email, but I use it more judiciously. I hope I can keep it up. Before sending or responding to an email I ask myself if email is the best way to communicate on a given topic, issue or question. I ponder who really needs to be involved at the particular state of the communication. Lastly, I think about how long it will take me to craft the message or for someone else to read it. (If it’s too long, then I probably need to go back to my first question.)

There’s only 24 hours in a day.  Let’s use that time well.

Categories: Leadership
7 Comments
  • Gloria
    May 27, 2016
    Thanks for the great post. I continue to respond to emails and some texts with a call, thinking along the same vein. I once had a colleague answer his phone with "how quaint, a phone call." We laughed at the irony that what the phone was originally meant to do is what sometimes surprised him about it: getting a call, vs. some digital form of communication. :)
  • Matthew
    April 13, 2016
    I am flopped over my laptop right now late night peeling off one email after another following a day consumed in a client workshop. It is insane and retro communication is so much more satisfying. Thanks for the blog Jon. Logging off :)
  • Matt
    April 13, 2016
    Interesting experiment, Jon - thanks for sharing! Email can be a tremendous time suck that can also drive people operate in 'auto-pilot' mode. I've been working on a project for the past year called DayPoint to enable people to actually SEE where their time goes (at a macro level) so you can become more aware of your time and ultimately spend it consciously and meaningfully. If interested, check it out at www.daypoint.com. Will be launching on the App Store in a month of so!
  • Rahmatullah Akbar
    April 13, 2016
    Great post! I think the problem is not email, per se. It's our comfort with what's familiar and convenient. We resort to emailing because it addresses our short term needs quickly (once we reply, we feel like "the ball's on their court now!"), even though, looking at the larger picture (and as very well demo'ed by your mini experiment) doing so is quite often counter-productive. So I agree 100% that walking over or just picking up the phone can accomplish so much more than emails ever can. My personal rule of thumb for group email chains is to stop replying to all if there are more than 2-3 emails per hour -- that's when I know things are getting out of hand and some phone calls need to be made and some conversations need to be had with all the decision makers. THEN, once those are done, recap by email is an absolute must (imho) - so that everyone is aware of the issues and resolutions. Thanks for highlighting some very important issues around efficiency -- I hope this post sparks broader team discussions leading to changes/gains in our quality of work.
  • Alene
    April 13, 2016
    Jon, I love this blog post and the inherent challenge you pose that we could all try! A week seems straightforward. And even if we don't accomplish the 100% no email, I expect there will be a lot of discovery (as you noticed) that will come from simply thinking about it first before acting automatically and responding via email. Love this topic as I think it is increasingly clouding our effectiveness in the work setting in terms of REALLY getting things done.
  • Jonathan
    April 13, 2016
    Great question, Bethany. Actually, I didn't close myself off from reading email. I read notes that came my way, just chose to address them through other means of communication, like a return phone call instead of defaulting to an email note.
  • Bethany
    April 13, 2016
    So interesting Jon! I had no idea you were testing it out and I'm not at all surprised at the benefits. I mostly wonder if once you got back to your inbox there actually were big important things missed or not addressed? (maybe not urgent but important?)

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