Thursday 22 March 2018

Mindful matters: Is email ruling you? Learn to declutter...

Many of us receive unsolicited emails
Many of us receive unsolicited emails

Patrica Casey

I recently spent five hours one Sunday afternoon dealing with emails. I had received 60 new emails in my inbox over a 24-hour period. Understandably I felt under pressure to deal with them and by the end of the afternoon they were all cleared. Only to be followed by a similar number the following day. As my workload has increased, so too has my email load. And burdensome it is.

The foremost expert on email as a source of workplace stress is Professor Tom Jackson from the University of Loughborough, England. He has identified the link between the way in which workers use their office email and their levels of stress.

So, for the sake of my health and my Sunday afternoons, I've resolved to shape my email practices based on the information I've gleaned from several sources in the last few days, along with what I had worked out for myself through common sense and intuition in recent years.

I'm not a computer whizz kid and so as a neophyte on all matters technological, I thought my own experience might help my readers.

Here's my new and updated list of email tips for your consideration.

The first is not to check the inbox every hour but do so in chunks once or twice every day at set times. This will result in fewer instant replies. The difficulty with being a prompt responder is that because you are speedy, the volume will also increase in parallel.

So, delay for a few hours before you press the send button. This may leave the sender in a limbo of uncertainty as to whether the message was actually received, but a response within 12 hours seems reasonable.

If the sender has asked you to confirm receipt or to confirm that you've read it, please do this (the prompt will come up on the screen) and it will take the sender out of their misery and stop him harassing you. You can then respond in detail later. The golden rule is, if you want to get fewer emails, send fewer emails.

The golden rule also applies to "thank you" messages. There is no need to say "thank you" when somebody kindly thanks you for a favour. These will clutter your inbox and may cause you to feel overwhelmed.

Also, declutter your inbox regularly by either deleting unwanted/irrelevant emails or creating folders for various topics and filing the emails there. This will also speed up searching for individual emails that you need at some other time.

Prioritise your emails into those that require a prompt response and those that can be deferred or that require some thought. The one-minute rule is helpful here - if you can do it in this time then reply, if not defer it.

Deferment can be done in two ways - either marking the email as unread by right clicking on your mouse (the simplest way and so my favourite) or using the coded flagging system at the top right hand corner of your email screen. But, never let darkness fall without having cleared most, if not all, of your unread or flagged messages.

You don't need to respond to every email. If you are copied on emails you can just glance at them, especially the last sentence which should indicate what specific action is required. If it involves you, then go to the top and read the email in its entirety; otherwise delete it or file.

Some very diligent people copy you on everything, especially if you're the boss. Identify who these are. This knowledge will help you to instantly identify the email that has come from them. You will find your email address or name in the cc (carbon copy) line. More often than not the subject will not be directly relevant to you. These can usually be deleted after a brief check of the content and this should take no longer than 20 seconds, I reckon.

However, being bcc'd (blind carbon copied) is different; you need to read the email in its entirety because the sender clearly believes you need to know about its content without revealing this to the other recipients. You must appreciate that this is a secret between you and the sender. You will know because your email address will appear on a line headed "bcc".

Keep it very safe by storing it in a folder and if you feel you must respond, do NOT click "reply to all", just "reply to sender". I was once the recipient of an email bcc'd by one colleague to another who in turn made the mistake of replying to all. The reply confirmed my belief that I was not his favourite person.

Many of us receive unsolicited emails. In my case these are notifications about various conferences on psychiatric issues unrelated to my practice. Be assertive in unsubscribing to these. It means clicking on the highlighted "unsubscribe" text located at the top or bottom of the message.

Occasionally you may be asked why and just click on the relevant link. You will receive a message telling you how sorry they are to lose you. Don't reply!

Notwithstanding the pressures of emails, none of us in medicine or in most other professions could function without them. The issue is whether they rule you or you rule them. I've decided that my Sunday afternoons will be free again.

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