worst practice number eleven: using e-mail when a telephone conversation would be more appropriate
if you're using e-mail to expose or even to try and solve a problem, and it takes you a long time to do this, many chances that a telephone call could help resolve the issue (at least partially) in a much more efficient manner. My recommended strategy in this case is never to try and replace oral communication by written communication. (please note that I would also recommend that you avoid at all costs using oral communication when written communication is more appropriate). At the end of the day, it is very much a matter of choosing the right mode of communication with regard to the kind of problem that you're dealing with. It seems a very straightforward principle but there is in fact no rule of thumb for this, and one has to take a bit of hindsight and look into each problem individually.12 WORST PRACTICES OF E-MAIL USAGE IN THE WORKPLACE AND THE RECOMMENDED STRATEGIES FOR INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY (PART FIVE AND FINAL)
worse practice number twelve: the ten second attention span problem
One of the main issues in the modern world is that people can rarely focus for more than a few seconds at a time on any subject before moving to another (as a matter of fact, the New York Times suggest that our average attention span has spiralled down from the standard 30 second traditionally used in TV commercials to even far lower levels). This is one of the drawbacks of the Internet and its immediacy which actually allows so many events to happen at the same time; it is very easy to get distracted instant messaging are other items. Having your e-mail client open all day is not really a good idea in fact. The more you send e-mails, the more you receive some. It is inevitable, and if you have to stay all day in front of your e-mail client trying to sort out e-mail or trying to reply to it, chances are that you will have to spend more days receiving more and responding to more etc. This is a never ending vicious circle, and a very bad idea for personal productivity. My recommended strategy for efficiency gains related to e-mail usage and concentration are the following: if you can't discipline yourself, I would suggest that you force yourself to spend one or two hours in the morning, and maybe one or two hours in the evening and not more to the reading and writing of your e-mail. PDA and smart phone owners could also use their time in public transport for instance, to do this and empty their e-mail tray. Another recommended strategy is that when you are doing something very important, which requires all your concentration, you close your e-mail reader altogether. Similarly, if you're using mobile e-mail, I would suggest that you turn it off to avoid distraction.
Lastly, my recommended strategy for e-mail usage is the following: never retain more than 10 to 15 e-mails in your e-mail inbox at any one time. Get rid of your messages as fast as possible so that you reduce this e-mail queue to its bare minimum. E-mails should be acted on as fast as possible or discarded altogether. Either you can do something immediately, or you should store them (mainly if you learn only been common copied for instance), or this has nothing to do with you, and then you should discard the message altogether and delete it. If you do this, you would see that you do not really need to have more than 10 to 15 e-mails in your e-mail tray at any one time. This is the optimum for good e-mail management and good time management. If you do this, you will have very few action items behind you. Usually when I have an e-mail that I have to act upon very fast, rather than keeping it in the in the e-mail in-tray and then leaving it there and to have done something about it, I translate it into an action item which I insert into my to do list in Outlook immediately. Then I add a quick reference to the folder in which I have stored the e-mail. Very often, I just copy the body of the e-mail into my to do action item list description field. This way, I can be a lot more efficient and deal with a lot more issues than people less organised in a day.
This reminds me of this top executive I used to work with at Unisys. I was always amazed that despite his incredible level responsibility his desk was always clean. Not a paper was to be seen on it, nothing was outstanding. In fact, I realised that this is the best way of working. The more responsibility you get, the more action items you have to deal with, the more you desk has to be kept tidy. This is a sign that you have processed all your action items, and that you are not letting yourself be guided by events, but are instead staying on top of them. Similarly, this metaphor can be used for e-mail. I heard a manager declare recently that she had more than 900 e-mails in her tray and I doubt that you can actually do something about so many e-mails, except maybe call the Guinness book of records. My professional e-mail reader and my personal e-mail reader are always kept lean so that I am able to deal with approximately 2 or three times more action items than I would if I didn't do it that way. Needless to say that this recommended strategy is a real winner, unless you are quite happy being overwhelmed.
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