Bill Dalton, CEO of HSBC, has a plea: ‘I don’t want to discourage young people from feeling they can copy me in on emails, but I wish people would use it a bit more responsibly.’ Maybe he’s suffering the inbox overload that so many managers get dragged down by.
On a purely emotional level, Seymour Pierce chairman Keith Harris is even ruder: ‘I’m not a big fan of email, I’ve always been averse to screens, I’ve got a beautiful antique desk and I don’t want some poxy screen on it.’
Some organisations, like Nestle, have tried ’email-free-Friday’. Others have attempted to ban it altogether, but as is often the case, it’s not so much the tool that’s at fault as the way we use it.
The starting point is to ban any ‘casual’ use of email, like informing the entire organisation that you are selling two tickets for the opera on Friday, or copying everyone in on the latest jokes. If that approach seems heavy handed, get your IT team to set up some special intranet pages where these items can be visited by those interested in them.
Next, take time to audit your incoming mail and don’t be afraid to be brutal. If you’re being copied in by all and sundry on things that aren’t relevant, then tell them to remove you from the circulation list.
Try to chunk up your email time and set aside specific periods to deal with it. By using the theory of repetitive tasking employed on many production lines, you can get faster and faster at dealing with it.
And finally, turn the sound off your computer, so you are not alerted every time a message arrives – it only tempts you away from what you’re doing. Besides, if the message is really urgent, it’s more likely that the sender would ring you for an instant answer.
Once everyone in the organisation is doing this, you’ll save so much time you might even browse the intranet to see if there’s a bargain to be had or an after dinner joke to pinch!
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