Time Management Expert, Event Speaker: Mark Lamendola

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Time Tips: Email Time Reduction Tip#2

When I give my time management seminars, people always ask about e-mail. It seems most folks feel overwhelmed by their e-mail systems. They tend to blame spam, but that is not a core problem. In fact, the whole spam thing is is grossly exaggerated.

There are two core problems with e-mail:

  • Captivity.
  • Poor etiquette (we'll discuss this in future eNLs--it's a huge sinkhole for time).

What is e-mail captivity? It's analogous to phone captivity. Have you ever been in a conversation, when the other person suddenly whips out a cell phone and answers it? As though you aren't there? Sure, this is rude. But it's also inefficient.

During the day, how often are you answering e-mail? That is, how badly are you fragmenting your schedule, how poorly are you concentrating, how much are you diverting your attention away from priority items?

Back in the days when movies and books first started showing characters using e-mail, the writers of these stories adopted an odd model: AOL. Anyone who's not a newbie knows AOL provides an awful online experience and it's so expensive as to fall into the "rip off" category. AOL did bring a large number of people into the online community via aggressive promotion. But an AOL user who tries any alternative to AOL instantly wants to switch. So it was weird for most of us to see the AOL-based way characters were accessing e-mail. One of the "features" was a voice announcing, "You've got mail." That cute but annoying "feature" has inculcated people with the notion that they have to answer e-mail as soon as it arrives. That, like the phone call taking notion, is untrue.

Schedule times for handling e-mail, and/or answer it between other activities. Don't interrupt or delay other activities just so you avoid unanswered e-mail in your inbox. I get hundreds of e-mails a day, and do not feel overwhelmed by them. Nor do I feel any need to answer them right away. I pretty much empty my inbox every day, so I do handle incoming e-mail rather than let it pile up. I just don't feel compelled to answer it as soon as it comes in.

One way I keep my inbox uncluttered is I place low priority items into one of two folders: ToDo and DelayRead. I do this manually. I do not use (or trust) automated filing of incoming e-mail, except for the junkmail function.

Your incoming e-mail will require one of these actions:

  • Answer soon. Example: someone sends you a question that's fairly time sensitive.
  • Answer later. I file these in a folder where I tend to them as time permits.
  • Delete without reading. You can do this with most incoming e-mails, if you use the preview pane. I also find using Outlook's built-in junk mail filter to be quite helpful.
  • File. I have an extensive filing system, patterned after the paper filing model. It's easy for me to find anything quickly.

My e-mail doesn't pile up or overwhelm me, because I separate the important from the urgent from the unimportant. I feel no need to answer it instantly.

From the above, you already know my opinion of Instant Messaging. If you want to be inefficient and insane, then IM to your heart's content. If you want efficiency and sanity, don't do IM.


Do you want to radically improve how well people in your organization make use of the limited number of hours in each work day?

Contact me to arrange a time when we can talk about a presentation: mark@mindconnection.com. Why arrange a time? So I can give you full attention during the call. There's a really powerful time management tip. Ask me why it works.