If you’re spending too much time each day sending, receiving and replying to emails, you could be suffering from email overload.
This malady makes you less efficient and productive. It also creates stress.
Here is how attorney Jay Harrington describes his experience with email overload.
“Early in my legal career, I assumed that ‘being responsive’ meant that I needed to respond immediately to emails from clients and colleagues,” he writes in this blogpost for Attorney at Work. “As a result, I spent a significant amount of my normal working hours in my inbox playing digital ping pong. The more responsive I was, the more email I seemed to get — one reply sent begetting another received — leading to a vicious cycle of distraction and unproductivity. This caused a lot of stress, and, as I later learned, it wasn’t necessary to work this way. In most cases, clients and colleagues aren’t looking for an instantaneous response. They simply want a clear understanding that their message will be responded to in a timely fashion. And ‘timely’ rarely means instantaneous (unless that’s what you’ve trained people to expect).”
One solution: set reasonable expectations on what “being responsive” means (i.e., by the end of the business day; within 24 hours).
Another tip: block out time each day to manage your inbox.
“This was an important revelation for me,” writes Harrington. “It allowed me to start scheduling set times during the day to check and respond to email instead of monitoring every message that came in like an air traffic controller. During the interim periods, I could tackle more important-but-not-urgent work, which meant fewer late nights, less stress, and higher quality work for clients.”
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Three Cures to Email Overload
Here are three takeaways from Jay Harrington’s blogpost for Attorney at Work:
1. Schedule time for email maintenance. “It is, of course, impossible to get by as a modern-day lawyer without email,” writes Harrington. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t get by without it for significant periods of time each day. While your needs may be different, a 30-minute block each morning and afternoon is plenty of time for me to stay on top of my messages. And because I know I have allocated time toward email each day, I don’t have the constant urge to check my inbox—I know that time is coming soon enough.”
2. Cut down on your emails. “The more emails you send, the more you’re likely to receive in return … which you’ll be forced to reply to … and so on. Think twice before initiating an email exchange. Only copy others when necessary. Look for opportunities to replace unstructured email exchanges with scheduled conversations.”
3. Create an email protocol for your office. “Because most of us never take the time to think about what it means to be responsive to clients, we default to thinking that faster is always better,” according to Harrington. “But … getting tagged as someone who is hyper-responsive can actually harm one’s reputation. The other problem is that we train our clients and colleagues through our actions to expect rapid responses from us. It’s not reasonable to expect that a lawyer can or should respond to every email within one hour, but if that becomes the norm, then anything beyond the one-hour threshold seems tardy in comparison.”
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