Today’s Washington Post carries an article about an increasing number of people who find themselves having to declare email bankruptcy.
The article is full of sad cases of people who think that declaring email bankruptcy will solve their problem. It won’t. I’ve talked about why email bankruptcy is worse in some ways than financial bankruptcy, and this shows why email bankruptcy is not a solution.
Just as people without financial skills may find themselves bankrupt, people who lack email and time-management skills will find themselves wanting to declare email bankruptcy. People are usually restricted from starting businesses immediately after a financial bankruptcy. In a similar manner, people who suffer from extreme email overload should ensure they get some training in how to handle their workload before they get back in the game.
It’s not just a skill these people are lacking, though. It’s a way of viewing their inboxes and the place the inbox occupies in their life. I’m always saying that email overload is a state-of-mind, and David Ferris puts this very nicely:
“A lot of people like the feeling that they have everything done at the end of the day. They can’t have it anymore.”
I speak from experience. I once declared “job bankruptcy” — my inability to cope with my workload, in which email played a major part, prompted me to tender my resignation. My boss did not want to accept it, but I was determined. During the time that I worked out my notice, I adopted the Getting Things Done method. All of a sudden, I had more than doubled my productivity and reduced my stress tremendously. GTD worked for me because it solved both the practical and psychological sides of the problem. I found that I could do the job well after all, and I continued working there for another 18 months!
Or to rephrase this, how quickly would you be fired for multi-tasking at work?
A 2005 study by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London shows that people who allow themselves to be constantly interrupted by email and instant messaging perform slightly worse than those who are stoned on pot. Continue reading
Do you ever get frustrated when someone does not reply to your messages within 24 hours? Isn’t it fun to work with people who reply only after you’ve politely (but persistently) badgered them a few times?
As I used to be one of these overloaded individuals, I can tell you that they only reply to two types of people: those whose cooperation they need in order to get their own job done, and those who badger them persistently enough to make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassingly inefficient.
As I said, I used to be one of these people. I now consistently reply to almost all of my email within 24 hours. So how do I maintain my responsiveness?
I once worked for a crisis-driven company. Until a problem had elevated itself to the level of a crisis, it would not be dealt with properly (resource allocations, management attention etc.) – there just was not time for it. In my opinion this approach is rather foolish, but many companies seem to operate this way.
This is how we would typically handle (or mishandle) a crisis: Continue reading
Warning! Don’t read this if your company will collapse if you don’t log-in to email tonight!
An inbox which is full to the brim is (for me, at least) a stress-generating liability. There is too much undefined work lurking in the pile of unread and read-but-unhandled messages. The read-but-unhandled messages are the worst culprits. Unhandled does not mean that you have not completed the work that the message defines, it means that you have not yet decided what work the message requires of you. Once you’ve decided and recorded what actions you need to take, it’s no longer “stuff”, and you can get rid of it (file it or delete it). It’s very tempting to scan a message and not decide what to do about it. You’ll revisit such messages quite a few times, until they are buried too deep under other “stuff”, and will probably not resurface until it’s too late. You then start to approach your inbox with apprehension — who knows what is lurking in there…
Over the last few months, I’ve been running a private Beta of SpeedFiler. I’ve recruited a wide range of people, including some of the busiest people I’ve worked with.
However, a few of the people I contacted gave me an almost identical response: “It sounds really interesting, but I’m too busy right now. I’ll try it out in a few weeks.” Because I know them well, I know they are not just being polite, and having worked closely with them in the past, I also know that SpeedFiler could save them lots of time and reduce their stress.
I remember a time when I would have given the same answer — that was before I clawed my way back from the edge, with the aid of GTD. The above answer boils down to:
“I don’t have time to save time!”