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RocketReader newsletter - The Golden Secrets of Reading and Managing Email

The Perils of Email and Information Overload

In today's so-called information society, emails have become an ever-pervasive presence. Email is one of the largest sources of information flows globally, second only to the telephone. The International Data Corporation estimated there were 31 billion emails sent daily in 2002. This figure is expected to double by 2006. Globally, an average 667,585 terabytes of emails are sent per year. When you consider that one terabyte is equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000 bytes or 50,000 trees made into paper and printed, the amount of emails being exchanged is just phenomenal.

woman overwhelmed by the amount of emails in her in boxThe sheer volume of emails means many people are unable to devise simple and effective strategies to manage information flows.

A study conducted in 1996 by Reuters found information overload was a major cause of stress in the workplace. Two out of three respondents blamed information overload for affecting work relationships and loss of job satisfaction. With the number of emails sent annually set to reach 62 billion by 2006, emails will no doubt become an escalating source of information overload and workplace stress.

This newsletter will pass on the golden secrets on how to manage the formidable email monster. Many people spend two hours or more per day on email. Slashing this email reading time will enable you to better focus on core priorities, or simply spend less time working late at night and over the weekend.

Golden Secret #1: Don't Spend All Day Slaving Over Your Email

Man reading his emailsYour email should be a communication tool used to save you time and help you work more effectively and efficiently. It should not take over your working day. The following tips are designed to cut the time spent on the day-to-day management of email. You'll be surprised how much time is saved, just by making minimal changes.

  • Allocate a fixed amount of time to reading emails each day.
  • Do a high priority session first and if time is exceeded, stop.
  • Try to deal immediately with each email you open. If you don't think you have the time to deal with an email, don't open it. Otherwise you will be spending precious time reading it again when you deal with it later.
  • If you are the boss and you are swamped with hundreds of daily emails why not delegate email reading to someone else, so that only the most important and relevant information reaches you.
  • Ensure you have modern anti-spam system in place. It is estimated spam will account for 50% of email traffic by 2006!
  • Create targeted email groups and encourage people to use them - allow simple group removal, so group emails can be sent quickly and efficiently.
  • Only have one email account - forward all other emails to that account reliably.
  • Skim through old emails once a week - get a perspective on how life has changed and what your follow up has been like. Judge your response to events and adapt your responses accordingly. This is a great opportunity to review and reflect. You can become a better time manager if you reflect on how you spent your time this way.

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Golden Secret #2: Have a Lean Inbox and Archive, Regularly

Man reading his emailsA healthy inbox should contain no more than 10 to 20 messages. A large inbox is like having a desk piled with clutter. It makes it hard to focus on the most recent and most important events. In addition, scrolling through countless emails everyday while checking your inbox wastes time - you might even miss seeing an important message. The key to saving time is to ensure only the latest and most relevant emails are in your inbox.

  • Move messages to an 'Inbox Archive' at the end of every day. Alternatively rename your inbox every week with the date, for example: inbox_May3_04. You can still find these older emails with your email keyword search facility.
  • Automatically file routine emails using 'folder movement' filters. This will save you time from manually sorting them out.
  • Use your email search facility to locate emails and familiarize yourself with your program's advanced email search features. In this way, you will be able to access emails easily without sifting through your inbox.
  • Do not fuss with creating folders and manually shuffling email. It is hard to separate complex work into clear-cut categories, which often overlap and change over time. If you have 100 emails per day and 200 folders, this means an extra 100 decisions you must make each day, and each decision has 200 possibilities! Save yourself this enormous decision making load by not moving your emails around between folders. Remember, if you need to find an email, you can use the advanced email search facility in your mail program.
  • Sort your emails with color filters. By color coding your emails, you will know what they are about and what to do with them at a glance, without reading them again. For example, you could code urgent emails red, to remind you which emails have to be dealt with by the end of the day.
  • Do not delete your emails, unless they are spam. In the business world, every correspondence counts. As emailing often forms a vital paper trail, deleting emails may result in the loss of important information such as the terms of a contract or customer details, forever. You never know when this information will be needed again. Instead, take advantage of your computer's archive facilities, and you will safeguard against losing important information.
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