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Recovering time wasted on email

One in five workers spends a month every year on email - how much of that time could be saved? What would you do with an extra hour a day?

What the recent survey by Star on employees’ problems with emails does not highlight is just how much of that time is wasted at the expense of the real job through ineffective use of email.

Most organisations lose about one hour per person per day through email misuse. This is data gleaned from working with clients in a very wide range of organisations from micro business to large multinational and central government. Based on a 46-week working year (and average rate of £20 per hour) this amounts to an additional overhead of £4,600 per year or 31 days per person per year. In austere times who can afford to lose this amount of time? 

Email overload is one of the top ten causes of stress. The source of lost time and email overload are:

  • Unnecessary email – eg who has my blue mug, ‘thanks’, the ‘All User’ and all  ‘cc’d emails’. How much of the email you receive do you really need to do your job?
  • Poorly written emails. How many emails do you read several times before you understand exactly what the recipient has asked or told you?
  • Using email when an alternative would be more appropriate. When was the last time you picked up the phone or walked to talk to someone, even sent an instant message instead of playing email tag?
  • Constantly dipping in and out of the inbox rather than focusing on the task in hand Do you peek at each new email as it arrives?
  • Lack of adequate skills to use the email software? Have you ever been trained to use the tool on which we most rely for business?

Additionally, there is the cost of resources to keep bulging servers running, toner and paper. Many still print not just occasional emails, but all their emails and in colour. There are legal costs if the content of your email is disputed in a court of law, eg for libel, contravention of the Data Protection, FOI, Human Rights Act  etc and conversely as Martino Corbelli says not being able to find an email for evidence.

However, working with my clients shows that this is time (and costs) which can quickly and easily be re-claimed (managed) and the levels of email stress lowered by enabling people to take control of their inbox rather than letting it drive them. Here are tips from my book, Brilliant email, designed to help to save up to an hour a day.

  1. Switch off all new mail notifications and focus on the task in-hand for at least half an hour before peeking at new emails.
  2. Prioritise which emails you really need and use filters to help you manage the flow of emails.
  3. Educate senders not to expect an instant reply.
  4. Write your emails in plain clear grammatically correct English, avoid text speak and sloppy grammar.
  5. Manage your attachments so that you stay within your mailbox limits.

People and information are the organisations most valuable assets: mismanage them and you have a failing business. Taking control of your email is one step in the right direction. Yes, you may also need technology like Star’s software, but as most email disasters and scandals reveal, the weakest link is usually the user (you and I).

Dr Monica Seeley is author of Brilliant Email