Last week after I got back from my vacation, the only thing I was dreading to get back to was my inbox. For the first time in 10 years, I had managed to stay away from my emails for the entire duration of my holidays. Well, 8 days really isn’t much to be proud off but it was a holiday nonetheless.
So here I was trying to contemplate how best do I tackle this problem on hand. I wasn’t overtly eager to power on my laptop. Wanted to be sure that when I do get to my emails, I must be 100% focused to ensure every email I must read, I must action and close out.
I did power up my machine as soon as I got to work but only started reading current emails. Few action items on them and I was done with it. Had a few meetings and, to be honest, they were nothing but excuses to further delay the inevitable. It was only late evening, when 90% of the office was empty, that I finally decided it was time.
It took me 4 hours uninterrupted to read, review and respond. And come to think of it, I took my time. But one blaring statistic stood out – I replied to ONLY 5% of the emails that I received during an entire week. Only 5% emails actually warranted a response. Now, I don’t count ‘OK’ or ‘Thanks’ as a response. So that got me thinking.
How efficient are we on emails? Or are we at all?
Emails have become the primary mode of formal communication at the workplace today. I really don’t need to get into detail about what kind of communication et al but my question is : Are we overdoing it? If only 5% of my emails needed my response, what about the remaining 95%? That gets me to my next question: Why was it sent to me then? And lastly to my most important point : how were these ‘useless’ emails affecting my productivity?
I hear stories about about how most highly productive (read: famous billionaires) people are very good at time management. They ensure there is a time of each task. And emails is one of them. But for us lesser mortals, who know nothing about time management, if an email hits your inbox, it needs to be dealt with right away. For if you don’t, then the cell phone starts ringing. And in a matter of minutes, it gets escalated. This is if you receive an email that requires your attention. But every once in a while, an email gets buried under a clutter of useless emails.
And this is where my question on productivity comes. Are we spending too much time sending and reading senseless emails? It took me 4 hours to go through one week’s emails, it took me about 30 min to compose and send my response. What about the 3.5 hours that I lost reading useless emails? How many such hours am I losing daily? And at the end of the day, I am left working late at work. Or working late at home after kids go to bed. Or working early in the morning before dawn.
It is a work culture to document anything and everything on email. I agree there are certain communications that absolutely need to be documented. What percentage of your work does that constitute? Differs with different people. I can safely say that it is about 20% for me. Rest 80% does not require any emails to be exchanged.
But force of habit, we send it anyway. By doing that, we are compromising on our productivity, our time and most importantly, our work-life balance.
I have vowed to better manage my email traffic. It starts with me.
Note to self: Stop sending useless emails.