Last week I was asked to do a presentation for the Institute of Directors Herts Talk round table on the subject of ‘Taming your Inbox’. It is a subject that many of us are interested in as it is surprisingly easy to become overwhelmed by the number of emails we receive on a daily basis. In fact, one person I met had more than 45,000 unread emails in their inbox! Whilst rare, it is not unheard of for this to happen, and is an extreme example of someone being controlled by their email. Whilst many of us are concerned about email security, maybe we should be concentrating more on our own email protection.
Research shows that, on average, we spend 13 hours a week reading and responding to emails, which equates to around 650 hours a year – yet only around 38% of those emails are important to our business.
Emails are stressful and addictive
There is a huge temptation to check an email as soon as the notification appears on your screen. It becomes almost an addiction, even though it is bad for us – research carried out by the US Army found that limiting email access had a positive effect on the reduction of stress levels and an increase in the ability to focus.
So we are not only losing those 403 hours’ worth of productivity annually on reading unnecessary emails, but every time we check our emails we’re losing even more time in terms of turning our attention back to the task in hand – on average, it takes 64 seconds to refocus on what you were doing before you decided to check your email.
Creating an email-less office
In 2011 Thierry Breton, the CEO of Atos Origin, discovered that, over the course of just one week, 300 members of staff had sent or received over 85,000 emails, and managers were spending up to 20 hours a week either writing or reading them. He therefore decided something needed to be done and made a declaration that his company would become a zero-email company within three years.
The company installed an internal social network enabling employees to talk to each other in a forum. This reduced the distraction caused by the constant arrival of emails and, in the end, was a much more efficient way of sharing information and encouraged collaboration in the company.
Whilst Breton’s original target of zero emails by 2014 wasn’t met, the overall number of emails used by the company had been cut by 60%, and their operating margin increased from 6.5% to 7.5%.
Take control of your email – do not let it control you
There are steps you can take to take control of your emails, however many you have in your inbox: