The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

May 12, 2012

Taming the Demon Email

By Steve Motenko

Like most addictions, email can ruin your life.  Your work life, anyway.  (And by the way my wife responds when I open the computer on weekends, maybe your home life as well.  Okay, email is a home-wrecker.)

 I’ll never forget my first taste.  It was back in the mid-‘90’s, and a friend named Aol suggested I try just a bite.  At first I was just a social emailer.  Two or three a week.  No problem!  But the next thing I knew, it invaded my work life.  And then, obviously, my home life.  Before I knew it, I was in deep.  Way deep.

I found myself beginning to tremble when I didn’t have my smartphone in my hands.  But I stand before you here at this EA meeting to tell you that yes, you can tame the Demon Email.

In my role as Director of Ops for a sustainability nonprofit, I’m co-producing the largest series of virtual sustainability events ever offered.  At times, I’ve been fielding in excess of 200 emails a day.  I know many of you can relate. And yet, my email is now under control.

Here’s the key.  (As an executive coach, I should charge you for this … you owe me big-time.)  This is what I’ve been telling coaching clients for years.  Peter Bregman agrees with me – and he just wrote a similar post for the Harvard Business Review (http://bit.ly/KviWyW ), so I must be right.

  • Guesstimate how many hours of time you spend on email per day.
  •  Take 75% of that amount, and schedule it into your calendar every day, over one, two, or three segments.
  •  Every day for a week, spend that amount of time – and only that amount of time – on email.  Set a timer when you start, and do only email for that amount of time.  When the timer beeps, you’re done emailing — until the next scheduled time slot.
  • Adjusst the scheduled time slots as necessary so you’re always dealing with all the email that has to be answered, but none of the email that isn’t a priority.

 This practice will:

  • force you to prioritize your inbox
  • force you to be efficient with the time you spend on email
  • keep you from multi-tasking (which is inefficient, despite conventional wisdom)
  • enhance your focus
  • enable you to let go of the emails that aren’t critical
  •  free up time (25% of your previous email time, remember?) for bigger fish that need your full attention, your problem-solving capability, your real-time communication, and your creativity.

Will this always work for everyone?  Nope.  If you’re so important that your emails have to be answered within the hour, this won’t survive this practice.  If you’re a phenomenal prioritizer – or if you have all the time in the world – you don’t need this practice. 

But if you’re like me – “just one more email, please, just one more, before I flee this burning building” – then try it.  What have you got to lose?  You have a demon to tame.

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About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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