Cutting Through Email Overload

It’s that topic again. And no apologies are offered for checking the latest wisdom about the ever-increasing problem of email overload.

My own reflections on it in this column have dealt with the pressure of 24/7 access, the inefficient time-management that goes with it, and how to deal with vexatious abuses of the system. But these only scratch the surface of the problem.

This week I just started work with a full-time specialist in ‘Information Overload’, and it is incredible to think that this branch of workplace stress has now spawned a mini-profession dedicated to it.

My colleague explained his latest conclusions about the types of policies that management should adopt towards email.

The biggest challenge is to step away from the popular assumption that email is the new, improved version of all that old-fashioned telephoning and face-to-face dialogue.

Email has its function, and it is a fairly restricted one, properly defined as ‘a method of notification’  –  that is, conveying pure information without any emotive charge. It is not a debating platform, and it soon shows its limitations when people try to use it as a channel either for in-depth reporting, exchanging opinions, negotiation or serious discussion, when that instant-reply button (especially on the Blackberry) can generate a plethora of unnecessary comment. 

If our new expert is right, it means that management must persuade employees to remind themselves of the merits of more traditional forms of contact, and insist on face-to-face meetings as the first resort for internal communication. This seems to me to call into question the advantages of the virtual office, whose benefits have been widely endorsed  -to the exclusion of its drawbacks.

Good practice

Establishing the proper role of email will divert a lot of needless traffic. Other sensible house-rules include the discontinuing of certain email functions that people feel they ought to use, just because they’re there.

An obvious one is ‘red-flagging’  –  a classic case of the so-called ‘urgent’ getting in the way of the ‘important’. Another is reply-to-all, which appears to be very helpful, but is actually self-proliferating to a pointless degree. And of course, the whole culture of emailing out-of-hours, which I have identified in the past as ‘presenteeism’ (the opposite of absenteeism), which is a psychological need to look indispensable, particular for the insecure amongst us.

So much for management policies about email overload. But what about employees’ personal email habits? My colleague has itemised the following five points of good practice:

  • Restrict your email activity

Designate time for emails, or they’ll dominate your working day.

  • Actively delete or file

Keep your inbox for messages requiring action. Don’t hesitate to delete.

  • Keep the whole of your inbox in view

If you can’t see the bottom of the box, edit down to the point where you can – usually about thirty messages.

  • Turn off new-mail indicators

Don’t be distracted by ‘flags’. If it’s really urgent, they will telephone

  • Be ready to exit email altogether

When you’re concentrating on a problem, log-off and go off-line!

By eliminating email overload, and the false-urgency culture that supports it, we can expect to improve team efficiency and general working atmosphere,   as part of our never-ending anti-stress agenda in the workplace.

Key points about email overload

  • ‘Information Overload’ now qualifies as an executive training need and mastering the issue is a means of offering competitive advantage
  • Emails are no substitute for face-to-face briefings on key issues

 [Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Got an opinion? Let’s have it!

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Book Motivational Speaker, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.  See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX

Contact Carole  for a FREE stress management strategies consultation – Tel:  +44 (0) 20 8954 1593  or email info@carolespiersgroup.co.uk.    She is dedicated to supporting your long-term growth through talent retention rooted in effective stress management.

Or check-out our latest professional stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L and stress management services delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

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Sleep – the Hidden Performance Factor

We’re always told we should make sure we get plenty of sleep in order to work at optimum efficiency. Yet in the age of snatched lunches and 24/7 emails and text messages, the conditions for a full night’s sleep are increasingly under threat.

One unfortunate factor of sleeplessness is that our critical faculties are centred in the cortex (left-brain), which our body prioritises as last in the queue for glucose  –  the essential fuel for our performance. And many of us, even quite junior staff, are now required to perform not just mechanical tasks  but also those that are interpretive or cognitive.

Deprived of sleep, we have more difficulty summoning our critical or creative resources (and remember, to be creative, we have to be critical  –  strictly evaluating that exciting idea we’ve just thought of.) We are then liable to rely merely on routine solutions that are suitable only for superficial examination of a problem or brief, and not for in-depth study. Some new research from Duke University suggests that the effects may even be more pronounced. It seems that the sleep-deprived brain may replicate old  decision-paths without noting whether those resulted in a good or bad decision. So you could end up repeating a previous decision that actually led to a poor result.

Nightmares

I once worked for a major supplier of credit-card, scanning software, whose CEO, called Douglas, had made a thorough study of the effects of sleep deprivation at work. He understood the subject so well that he could recognise early signs of sleeplessness in his staff, and would offer helpful solutions, usually involving diet and exercise. It was remarkable how willingly they took his advice, and his department was nearly always ranked as No.1 for performance and staff satisfaction.

Like those employees, I developed a high respect for Douglas. But I did find him to be quite a secretive man. Even after several years, I never felt I really knew him. But he seemed to possess a particular quality that I had come across in the prisoners-of-war I once counselled in Serbia, and I had an idea that at some point, he must have come through a similar experience.

Then one day, while we were stuck in a bad traffic-jam, he unexpectedly confided to me about the moment, early in his career, that had caused him to study sleep-deprivation so seriously. I must say that it was just about the opposite from what I had expected.

He told me he had been one of a group of three young railwaymen, who were always lounging around the clubs late in the evening, and were often reprimanded for not getting enough sleep. One night, Douglas had encouraged one of his friends, a train-driver, to stay out into the small hours, when he was due to drive an express the next morning. Sure enough, during the morning rush-hour, that driver misread one of the signals at a main junction  –  although fortunately the emergency brakes came on, just in time to avoid a serious crash.

Douglas really took this to heart, when he thought of how much worse it could have been.  He said he felt like a murderer, and experienced many recurring nightmares about it. But not surprisingly, his own attitude to work changed overnight. 

So that was how Douglas discovered a new purpose in life and became a highly-respected manager. And of course, he treated sleep deprivation as his special mission within his department – with the impressive results we all witnessed.

 Key points about sleep

  • Today’s work culture tends to upset our natural sleep-patterns
  • Our brain’s cognitive faculty is at risk from glucose deprivation
  • Sleeplessness at work should be a formal managerial study

Others are logging their comments…

Why not you? Give us your frank opinion now. Make an important difference to the UAE’s view of itself.

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Book Motivational Speaker, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for a charismatic, high-impact presentation on proven stress management and organisational change strategies.  See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX

Contact Carole  for a FREE stress strategy consultation – Tel:                +44 (0) 20 8954 1593         +44 (0) 20 8954 1593  or email info@carolespiersgroup.co.uk.    She is dedicated to supporting your long-term growth through talent retention rooted in effective stress management.

Or check-out our latest professional stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L and stress management services delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

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