A symbol of stress: handling the mail flood
It goes “buzz” and “bing”, it “pops up” and “pushes notifications”. Your inbox is screaming for attention and it won´t let you rest. According to a McKinsey report  we check our emails up to 350 times a day. It´s not surprising that it´ll drive us crazy, up to a point where the inbox itself becomes a symbol of stress and overload. When a new message flies in we feel like we have to jump to it right away. Quite many people even think they have to handle all of their mails during the day. Here comes the paradox of productivity: for each mail you reply to, you´ll get three mails back. It´s pretty clear that no one can handle such an amount of emails and still be in a productive mode that adds value to the work. Emails seem to control the schedule of the day and make us their slaves. They interrupt tasks constantly, decrease the power of focus and leave us with the unpleasant feeling of incomplete tasks intensified by the little envelope icon that flashes in a penetrant matter until you pay it its (un)deserved attention. In fact, employees are more satisfied at work when they have control over their day and decide on their very own schedule. Moreover, human beings are programmed to get things done and finish incomplete tasks. That´s simply in our nature and we can hardly help it. But the game is not lost – that is to say, we are in the driver seat and can regain our time and productivity. The answer is simple: P R I O R I T Y.
Set your goals and priorities clear. Set them not only for the year or the quarter, set them on a daily basis, and refine them whenever needed. Structure your to-do list following the question “How is my time best spend right now?” That will set the stage for further conversations with team members, stakeholders and your manager. If you know our top priority you can make your day your own again and rule most of its activities.
With this in mind let´s turn back to our overflowing mailboxes. If we consider emails a way to execute communication we should also think about a strategy for its execution. Emailing is not a face-to-face conversation, which implies that you´ll most likely do not receive a response immediately. So when you are the sender of an email, have some thoughts upfront about your expectations: who do you want to contact? When do you expect a response? Which kind of information do you want to transfer? And always remember that one mail shot out initiates a sequence of actions on the recipients’ side as well as yours.
One easy way to organize both your work and email priorities is making use of Covey´s Time Management Grid. Simply structure your mailbox in the same way.