My resolution for 2013: breaking bad email habits

I’ve a habit to confess to, which I’d like to break this year. Emails have had a hold on me for more than 15 years, arriving and requiring responses at all hours. The more I respond, the more traffic arrives to fill the void. I came into work early this morning after a week or so off to clear out the messages that had landed over Christmas before getting on with the rest of the day.

Driving into the office before 7am after a lovely festive break with family and friends, it is easy to be struck by how maddening this is. As new year’s resolutions go, breaking the cycle of email addiction is one of the better ones I’ve made.

The serious point here is that, at a time when ‘prioritise’ and ‘efficiency’ have become watchwords, the rise in scattergun, irrelevant emails that one has to filter through to get to the important stuff seems to push back against attempts to work smartly. I sometimes get more than 100 emails a day; keeping on top of them is an ever-present challenge. Judging by what I’ve read recently, I’m not alone.

Bristol MP Kerry McCarthy blogged today about the emails Parliamentarians are copied into, which are abusive and often difficult to respond to in a meaningful way. The ‘lose lose’ result is often a non-response which leaves the sender more frustrated with politicians than before the email was sent.

Halton Housing Trust Chief Executive Nick Atkin wrote in The Guardian before Christmas that dealing with internal emails had become so time-consuming that his organisation is banning them in 2014. It’s an interesting idea, which generated mixed views amongst housing professionals on a Linked-In discussion group.

I agree with Nick’s sentiment, whilst also being of the view that some important conversations need to be put into writing. But 100+ a day? I could break out in a sweat thinking about returning from my next holiday already.

I have made some changes to how I deal with emails, which have helped towards the end of a hectic 2012. I will turn them off at certain times, checking them mid-morning, over lunch and at the end of the day. And the world doesn’t stop turning. Colleagues get an ‘out of office’ email advising them to call if it’s urgent. Journalists tend to call if they want something quickly anyway, so they aren’t affected. It stops the ‘ping, ping, ping’ of messages potentially distracting me from more important tasks. I realise too that I’m part of the problem, so I’ve been sending fewer emails, keeping them short(er), trying to make better use of internal channels for people to read content at a time to suit them, picking up the phone if it’s urgent and so on.

Tomorrow, I’ve got three big pieces of work to complete by the end of the day. I will be checking my inbox, but if you don’t get an instant response, I’m not ignoring you. I’m just prioritising my work. If you need me quickly pick up the phone; I’m always on the CrackBerry. But that’s a blog post for another day.

6 thoughts on “My resolution for 2013: breaking bad email habits

  1. Thanks for the comments both. Jenny, it doesn’t surprise me that you’d be on top of this. Power Hour sounds interesting; ‘productivity ninja’ is an interesting phrase for a headline though!

    1. Liking your thinking for 2013 Ben. One thing I find that working for yourself really does is make you focus on tasks that have to get done, you can catch up on the CC’ed stuff once the work and the invoice is out the door! Happy New Year.

      1. Cheers Drew; not surprised to hear that either. Does that make an empty inbox a vanity project in such cases?

  2. Good resolution. I read the Guardian article on this over Christmas and am pleased to say I already do much of this (try to anyway.) stopping using your inbox as a to do list is key I think. Good luck!!

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