Ray Tomlinson sent the first email—to himself—in 1971, and the world hasn’t been the same since. It is estimated that today more than 100 billion emails are sent and received each day, and this number is expected to grow to 132 billion a day by the end of 2017. While email is an effective means of communications, it is has become a time-consuming black hole. If time sheets included a “Reading/Responding to Email” line item, the number of hours would most likely be 95 percent of the average office worker’s workweek. Throw in how often people check email during weekends, holidays and vacations on their tablets, smartphones and laptops, and the black hole just expands exponentially.
Admit it: When you’re getting ready for work in the morning, sometimes you wonder exactly what you’re going to do that day. You get to the office, open your email … and that pretty much wraps it up. First, you delete the spam. Second, you look for that email your boss swears he or she sent to you. Third, you try to figure out where you might have filed it. Fourth, you give up and sheepishly ask him or her to resend it. Fifth (yes, fifth), you look for the responses to the emails you sent yesterday. Sixth, you check the updates from your social media platforms. Seventh, you compose 10 emails. Lunch. Upon returning from lunch, and assuming you didn’t read email while eating, you look at your inbox only to find that the number of new emails has not decreased since this morning. In fact, the it has increased. So you repeat steps one, five and seven, except in the afternoon, you compose 20 emails. The next day, the cycle starts again, but on day two, you have twice as many emails to read because you sent 30 new emails yesterday, so step five takes you three times longer than it did yesterday.
And so it goes. Email eats time. How many times do you check your email when you’re away from the office? The reality is that you must continually check it, because if you don’t, you won’t want to open your email when you get back into the office.
But one day, you take a chance. You put your foot down. You say you’re in control. You say you’re not going to check email while on vacation or over the weekend. However, as soon as you return to the office, you realize you’ve made a mistake … a big mistake … a 343 unread messages mistake. (And don’t you love it when a coworker asks why you weren’t at this morning’s meeting, and you say it’s because you didn’t know about it and he replies, “I sent you an email.”)
All of this said, most agree that email has benefits that outweigh the drawbacks when, like any tool, it’s used well. In mass communications (like the e-newsletter you may be reading right now), email is an effective way of sharing information on a large scale. For organizations like AFCEA, it enables the distribution of important news and information quickly while giving recipients the choice to read it at their convenience. It allows all of us to multitask in the information age. And, to the dismay of some, it creates a “paper trail.”
The bottom line is that, like it or not, email is here to stay. But it is a communications tool, and it’s up to everyone to take control. Be novel and pick up the phone instead of emailing, and ask others to do the same. Let organizations you belong to know what you want to hear about so they can design their communications programs to meet your needs. Don’t let email hijack your awareness: Pay attention to the people around you and deal with the blizzard in your inbox later … trust me, it’s not going anywhere.
Tell us about how much time you spend reading and responding to the emails you receive. What are some effective ways you’ve found to tame the email beast?