How To Manage Email Overload
By John Sumser
I don't know about you, but my inbox has been backing up at an alarming rate. Where I could once pare it down to a half-dozen pieces that were well worth procrastinating, my email backlog is often several weeks old. I tend to glance at them when they come in, and then mull over the transaction until I sit down to plow through it.
The onslaught of speedier and more effective communication tools like Twitter and Facebook make things worse. When I remember to check those mailboxes, I reply quickly. Both Facebook and Twitter have faulty status indicators. That means I have to carefully think about the inbox before I react to it.
I have a number of funny stories that result from responding to a Twitter Direct Message from two different devices with two different answers. I have a growing number of missed meetings that stem from the fact that my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn mail accounts are not integrated with my calendar.
In the middle of digital heaven, it feels like I am more disorganized than ever before. The truth is a different matter. As the organizations around me flatten, and my communication orifices become more open, there is a flood of correspondence that used to go elsewhere. Like everyone reading this article, disruption has come to my desktop. Email is broken and multiple communication channels make it worse.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with the chaos:
Stop looking at email all the time. The disease of our time is fractured attention. Give your inbox a focused 30 minutes at the start of the day and another 30 minutes at the end. Then, turn it off, ignore it, leave it alone.
Know what's important. If you're looking for a job, don't procrastinate responses to employers who want more information. Set deadlines for response from people who are giving you recommendations. In all things important, promptness is required and being early is better.
Know what isn't important. This changes with your circumstances, the shape of the economy, the rhythm of your work and the well-being of your family and community.
Be very kind to yourself and others. Before you assume that your communications weren't answered, check all of your inboxes on all of your devices. You know how they're supposed to be integrated and synched? They're not. And, you are the likeliest culprit. Your friends and colleagues are dealing with the very same mess and making the very same mistakes. Vent your frustrations in some form other than digital communications.
Kindness isn't the same as formality. Make your routine emails more like a text message. Skip the salutation (they know who it's addressed to). Skip the closing line (they know who it's from). Get to the point and drop the fluff. Most people will appreciate your clarity and concern for their time.
Set your expectations properly. The new wave of communication improvements has slowed things down. Where you could once expect an almost instantaneous answer to an email, a couple of days is now normal. A week is not unusual. Grousing and feeling impatient because you don't get an immediate answer is so 1998.
Set other people's expectations properly. You're swamped. They're swamped. No one has realistic expectations about turn-around time. A quick note that lets the other person know when you'll respond can be really helpful.
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