It’s an electronic communication-themed month here at pme.
Columnist Ethan Grossman, whose material always is enlightening, talks about texting in engineering.
I’m going to take the opposite path of Ethan and delve into texting’s predecessor: email.
Several weeks ago prior to writing this, after wrapping up a particularly long stretch of work travel (I think it ended up being 10 weeks in a row with at least one flight), I decided to clean up a recent portion of my email inbox.
What a disaster it turned out to be. I decided to go back two months (coinciding when my heavy travel started) and delete all messages I didn’t need and put the important ones in a file.
About four hours later, I had deleted close to 3,000 emails, based on the deleted mail counter in Outlook.
That’s not the worst of it. As of this writing, I still have 140,895 emails in my inbox, of which 48,959 are unread. My junk folder has 30,191 residents. In my defense, many of the 48,959 unreads are spam in nature, ranging from people claiming to be “key blog influencers,” whatever that means, to folks wanting to sell you sourced PVF products from overseas.
If there was a reality TV show on email hording, I’d be a shoe-in for a starring role.
In early May, I attended an industry event in San Diego where one of the speakers (Beth Ziesenis) was giving tips about phone apps that make your work life easier/more productive. One of them had to do with email filing (her book is called “The Big Book of Apps,” worth checking out).
During her speech, she asked everybody to take out their phones and to raise your hand if you thought you had the most stored emails in your inbox. I thought I would be a slam-dunk winner. Shockingly, there were others in the crowd with even more emails in their inbox. I was bummed.
Sadly, I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. I’d venture to guess there are more people in the business world who have a high-volume of emails sitting in their inbox than there are email drill sargeants who run a tight inbox ship.
For me, most of the time it’s simply a case of not having enough hours in the day to add email cleanup to the to-do list. I suppose there also is a tinge of laziness mixed in there as well as the dread of setting aside time to clean up the out-of-control inbox.
Another excellent resource on this subject and time management as a whole is author/speaker Steve McCarthy. I’d highly recommend getting his book “Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example.” I had the opportunity to hear McCarthy speak numerous years ago and email/time management was one of his talking points.
In his book, McCarthy has an easy-to-remember suggestion that relates to management of what he calls information resources. “Touch it once,” he writes. “That simply means make a decision when something is in front of you.”
He then asks the reader if they have ever opened an email or received a phone call and procrastinated any action due to the perceived time it would take to complete that task.
McCarthy suggests asking yourself, “If not now, when?” If you decide now, he suggests putting that task on your future to-do list for the day, that way you don’t have to worry about getting buried or forgotten.
“Training yourself to take small steps the moment a task or new piece of information appears will eventually make it a habit,” he writes.
If you are locked in email/messaging hell like I am (for me, I won’t be a resident of that community much longer), my advice would be to set aside a small block of time at the beginning or end of each day to get your email/texting house in order.
Think about all the time you’ll have on your hands to knock out much more productive tasks/work. Maybe even have time for innovation?
I’m going to start hitting the delete button right now. Join me.