In the 1960’s, people first started using email and by the 1970’s it took off to the form we are familiar with today. The original goal of email was to make our busy work lives better. Fast forward almost 50 years and the average American office worker now spends more than 10 hours per week on email. 10 hours is a lot of time! But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does checking our email take up time, but when we get distracted by our email, it takes a full 23 minutes to re-focus back on task. Let’s say on a typical day, you stop to check your email 3 times. That’s another 1.2 hours thrown out the window trying to get re-focused. Spending this much time on email can also lead to reduced productivity.
Studies have shown that the average white-collar worker now deals with information overload, a condition caused by having to deal with increasing volumes of email. The irony is that email management isn’t on anyone’s job description. Yet it takes up valuable real estate in both our mental and physical space!
With the explosive growth of technology and mobile devices, we are also receiving email outside of our working days. This new phenomenon triggers increased stress and decreased satisfaction with work.
So what gives? Why are we so addicted to email? Is it just to cover ourselves to prove that we did what we needed to do at work? Is it truly an effective form of communication or just another thing we have to get through in our already jam packed, over-scheduled, not enough time day?
Researchers at Harvard studied the effect of email on the brain. What they found was that even though email was invented to make our lives better, the opposite has happened. It has made it worse. Much worse. More stress, less time with family, and an unwritten expectation to respond within 24 hours. Seriously?
Information in email often gets misunderstood, the wrong people get copied, other terrible things can happen. We know intellectually that when we type things in email, there is the potential that it can get forwarded. Some people say that we shouldn’t put anything in an email that we wouldn’t be proud to see on the cover of the New York Times. So we know this, yet we still slip up and at times may get sucked back into old behavior of typing things that sound passive aggressive or rude or angry.
So why do we keep getting sucked back in? Something is drawing us to the email. It’s like a virus.
How many times has an email set you off during the workday? When we get an email that we may misunderstand or that we think is being passive aggressive, it can trigger stress within us. Tempers flare, curse words get thrown around. Then we may elevate the situation – we lose our patience, march over to the sender of the email, and tell them what we think. Or worse, the email gets forwarded to our bosses. YIKES!
Beyond just the misunderstandings that happen with email, there is also the email etiquette we have to deal with. Things like the dreaded cc: all reply with one word - “thanks.” Don’t even get me started on that one!
That is why I implemented the 3 Email Rule. It provides guardrails to email etiquette.
Here’s how it works. If something cannot be resolved in 3 email strings, pick up the phone. Walk to the office. Do whatever you can. Don’t let the confusion go on or the emotions run any higher than they need to.
So 3 emails back and forth and then it’s time to get off the email string and talk to the people involved.
Email is a tool, it isn’t a crutch. It is unfortunate that some of us have let it have the force and influence it has over us today, but we can take back the hold it has on us!!
Tell me, in the comments below, how you are going to try the 3 Email Rule today!