Email may not seem as much of a habit as butts, booze or Ben & Jerry's but it's a cybermonkey on the backs of thousands upon thousands of people afflicted with in-box overload. That's why Shani Magosky, a Fort Lauderdale-based productivity consultant and business coach, says a "12-step program" may be required for recovery. "It's a hard habit to break," said Magosky, who wrote an article on email addiction for the monthly client newsletter distributed by her company, McGhee Productivity Solutions in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Magosky weighed in on whether you have a problem, and some ways to fix it.
Are you an email addict? Magosky poses four questions in her article on email addiction: Do you ...
• Jump right to your in-box every time you hear the chime?
• Feel the compulsion to reply to emails as soon as they arrive?
• Frequently feel as though you accomplished nothing in your workday besides email?
• Use your email as a to-do list, storage area and/or reference system?
A "yes" to any of these questions may mean you have a problem, she said.
"Email often generates action items for the recipient," Magosky said. "This is why gaining control of email truly involves also developing a thoughtful system for capturing and managing all of one's to-dos and follow-up items."
Four-step solution: Here are Magosky's "Four D's for Decision Making" when coping with email:
Delete it: Don't need it? Trash it immediately. While this may be the easiest "D" to do, Magosky said that although most people delete junk mail when they see it, some hold on to them and allow these emails to grow into the hundreds or thousands. "That automatically causes stress," she said. "It creates a sense of being overwhelmed."
Do it: If the email will require a short amount of time to respond to or act on — say, 2 or 3 minutes tops — she recommends tackling that email immediately.
Delegate it: Forward the email to the appropriate person to handle. But "cc" yourself so you remember to whom you sent it; keeping a copy means you won't forget to check in to make sure the delegated task has been completed.
Defer it: This doesn't mean forgetting about the email; rather, turn the email into a calendar appointment that will allow you to complete the task of the email on a specific date at a specific time. Or, route the email into a task list (like Outlook Task Pad) where all your to-dos are kept.
Other tips from Magosky to consider:
Turn off all of the signals that alert you to a new email message. Set aside a specific time or times during the day to go through your new emails in batches.
Work to reduce the number of emails landing in your in-box by sharpening what flows through your outbox. "Write more thoughtful, complete emails that answer questions and clearly identify the next steps," Magosky said, adding you should also be sure necessary attachments are attached to the email you're sending so people don't have to write back looking for them.
Be selective in hitting the "Reply to All" button. And, sending out a "thank you" to everyone is a time-waster for everybody, she said.