How to stop email (and social media) controlling your day
Email is a lot like Schrödinger’s cat.
Both are dead and alive at the same time.
- There are over 4,371 billion email users. This figure is predicted to reach 4,730 billion by 2026 which is a growth of more than 4% yearly. – Radicati Group (2022)
- There are 4,371 billion email users worldwide who send and receive 333 billion emails per day. – Radicatti Group (2022)
- 961,697 legitimate emails are sent every second, making 3,462,108,804 legitimate emails per hour. – Internetlivestats (2023)
- The number of email users is still growing. 73% of EU individuals aged 16 to 78 use internet to send / receive emails in 2018. Compare this to only 48% in 2007. – Eurostat “Individuals using the internet for sending/receiving emails” (2021)
People still prefer email for commercial communication
It may be less immediate than some forms of social media, less intrusive than a phone call, but did you know that:
- as a company you can be held liable for employees’ email?
- when you delete email, copies still remain in the network?
- an email message can be changed and edited without the sender’s knowledge?
- It can provide an audit trail of an exchange with a time stamp.
The tyranny of email… 24/7
But it is a potential source of stress, it, like the social media tools that have followed, can be the master, not the servant of our working lives. In a number of work roles, the ‘always on’ work model has become standard.
Can you step away from your phone for 30, 60 minutes or more in the working day?
Read it once, bin or reply?
The email minefield
These are just some of the issues in store for users who press ‘send’. It is an effective management tool; however, business email can be a Trojan horse of trouble:
email sent by employees can land employers in litigation; courts in the US consider email files viable documents that can be subpoenaed; encryption gives only partial protection; email copies cannot be distinguished from originals.
Even deleted emails can come back to haunt – during the Iran-Contra trial, the contents of Colonel Oliver North’s purged email messages were obtained from backup tapes and were used as a source of information against him.
Working at a ‘personal’ computer, and having a personal email address, employees can think that email is private to them; unless agreed in a company policy, it belongs to the owner of the computer system i.e., the employer.
Using your work email for private correspondence and vice versa can contravene terms of employment and company policy.
If you are the author of company policy – do you have a clear policy for staff communication practices; whether post, email, social media, Teams, Zoom or even the phone?
over-use/abuse comes in many disguises:
- users have multiple email addresses and only check a few.
- people send oversized file attachments which take forever to download, when a link to a shared repository is available.
- users send messages to lengthy distribution lists, e.g., the ‘All Users’ address, with wild abandon (so the MD is mailed about Sally’s hen night and the latest stationery order); important messages get lost in the crowd.
- even worse – the recipients then ‘reply all’.
mail hoarding: paranoid or just plain disorganised users store their messages, one for future protection, the other because they don’t know what’s worth keeping; result is wasted disc space and a slower system.
email efficiency – read it once?
Email can be tackled in the same way you might handle any business or time management decision. The temptation is to just put the message in the ‘I’ll deal with it later’ box.
There are many rule-based systems that are meant to aide email workflow management. Five, seven, ten and more…the web has many workplace evangelists:-
‘23 email management tips to help you handle emails smartly’
Whether rules or tips, remembering to follow the model and embed it (or them) into your daily practice isn’t easy.
Keep its simple…
Try this decision matrix approach for a few days – it was created by Dwight Eisenhower, the President of the United States (NB: others have claimed ownership).
However, you can stop email controlling your working day by thinking of your audience, the message, the channel and your response.
Better still write your emails, especially replies, walk away, have the coffee,
wait a few hours (or even overnight), edit then press send.
The Harvard Business Review reports that:-
- Email in particular is a major contributor to employees’ perceptions of feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
- Research concludes that the email inbox itself has become a symbol of stress and overload.
- Combine that with a McKinsey report that found employees spend approximately 28% of their time in the office responding to, reading, or composing emails.
Firms are trying to tackle their email troubles in a series of ways:
Time control: Software firm Computer Associates takes perhaps the most disciplined approach to controlling email – each day the email system is shut down from 10 am until noon, and from 2pm until 4pm, to make it more like handling ordinary mail.
restricting email use: e.g., by restricting usage time, or removing the ‘all Email Users’ address, and filtering those who want to mail the entire company via the IT department.
offering alternative places to post messages: companies with intranets can set up bulletin boards, internal WhatsApp groups with general info of interest to the whole company e.g., ‘lost and found’, corporate events, schedules; any urgent messages can be ‘flagged’ to users daily as they log on.
introducing ‘intelligent AI agents’ i.e., using AI to filter email messages as they enter/leave the email system; the aim is to monitor info and to screen out junk mail; some agents even sort messages on behalf of the user.
- whether the employer reserves the right to look
- the circumstances which justify looking
- if employee consent will be sought prior to looking.
What is your company’s policy?
Some firms have chosen a ‘hands-off’ policy, keeping email private
Others has opted for a ‘look’ policy which asks employees to “please use your good judgement as you use the email system”.