Email Challenge: Time Management Put to the Test
- April 12, 2016
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.