Article: Have you become a slave to your inbox?

Life @ Work

Have you become a slave to your inbox?

Unless you are vigilant, sending and receiving emails can easily hijack the agenda of your working day
Have you become a slave to your inbox?

Literature suggests that apart from causing annoyance, excessive e-mailing may create an environment of politicking and mistrust


Empirical evidence suggests that bad e-mail practices can be a primary source of stress and anxiety for an individual as well as his/her co-workers


Your working day can quickly become overwhelming unless you find a way to balance the conflicting priorities of e-mail and the daily work agenda

Manasi Ahuja is a mid-level manager in an MNC. Her typical workday goes something like this:

7:00 am
Manasi wakes up and finds a red light blinking on her Blackberry. She checks her new e-mail and then gets ready for work.

8:15 am
Manasi gets to work and opens her laptop. The first application she opens after her computer boots is Microsoft Outlook. She spends the next half hour skimming through the 100 odd e-mails she has received in the last 12 hours.

8:45 am
Manasi gets into a meeting. Her Blackberry, meanwhile, continues to blink every now and then, beckoning her to respond.

6:00 pm
Manasi gets through the day responding to e-mails every time there is a little pop-up at the bottom right corner of her computer screen.

6:30 pm
Manasi is home but continues to read, delete, or respond to her emails every time her Blackberry blinks.

10:00 pm
Manasi is about to call it a day, when she realises that she has missed sending off her most important project of the day!

Every one of us has a day like Manasi’s every now and then. Most of us react to the little pop-up and the blinking red light the way she does. Checking e-mails incessantly has become a part of our professional DNA. While one cannot undermine the central role that e-mail plays in conducting our daily business, research indicates that bad e-mail hygiene can quickly become the singular reason for heartburns and stress. Literature suggests that, apart from causing annoyance to colleagues and managers, excessive e-mailing may create an environment of politicking and mistrust, stifling productivity and efficiency within an organisation.

So here are five factors you could bear in mind so that you don’t let emailing distract you from your daily priorities.

1. Do not check e-mail first thing in the morning and the last thing at night
Empirical evidence suggests that it helps to come in a little early, and get things in order before starting the work day. Checking e-mails the first thing in the morning shifts focus away from the ‘important’ to the ‘urgent’. Similarly, checking e-mails the last thing in the night pulls forward stress from the next day. Prolonged stress is the single biggest reason for burnout and fatigue.

2. Do not plan meetings over e-mail
Planning a meeting on e-mail starts with a harmless e-mail soliciting responses from colleagues for a time and date. After everybody’s schedules are mapped, a mutually agreeable time is decided. This is followed by a meeting planner that colleagues accept. Before you know, this process has consumed half an hour of your time and 20 fresh e-mails.What happened to the good old way of walking up to a colleague and asking for time?

3. Check e-mails in batches at scheduled intervals
Experts suggest that e-mails create a sense of ‘manufactured emergencies’ that conflict with broad priorities. Psychologists suggest that instead of checking emails incessantly, one should make a practice of checking e-mails in batches. Such a practice leads to lesser distractions, and helps one focus on the important rather than the urgent. While there are no magic numbers on how many time windows one should schedule for batch-checking e-mails, experts recommend that they should be scheduled at least 30 minutes apart from each other.

4. Check the length of your e-mail
Web behavior analysts suggest that a reader tends to lose interest if the contents of an e-mail are more than one screen shot. E-mails are meant to be a communication tool, not a publishing medium. If the contents of the e-mail are too large to fit into one screen, it may be a better idea to put it all together in a word document and send it as an attachment.

5. Subject matters
A ‘Hi’ is short for ‘Hello’ and it ends there! Most of us tend to focus on the contents of the e-mail without worrying too much about the subject line. Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Principal of business writing firm Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts & Associates, argues that the subject line is the most important part of an e-mail. Unless the subject line is captivating and directed, one cannot expect an immediate response.

Empirical evidence suggests that bad e-mail practices can be a primary source of stress and anxiety for an individual as well as his/her co-workers. The key to good e-mail hygiene, perhaps, lies in adopting a disciplined approach, which will help reduce stress and anxiety to a great extent.


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Topics: Life @ Work, Watercooler

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