Has technology created a monster? E-mail–once a breakthrough in silent, speedy, low-cost communication technology that so seamlessly fits into the information worker’s day it barely goes noticed in 2008–is starting to get a bad rap.
A typical office worker checks e-mail more than 50 times a day, IMs 77 times and visits more than 40 Web sites a day, according to a study by tracking-software maker RescueTime cited in a New York Times article published June 14.
According to Basex, a company that researches workers’ efficiency, e-mail is part of the 28 percent, or largest segment of an employee’s day that is spent dealing with interruptions that aren’t urgent or important. It takes time to get back on track afterward, at a cost of $650 billion a year in lost productivity.
Microsoft, Intel, Google and IBM are trying to fight this, forming a nonprofit group to study the problem and devise ways to help all workers cope with the “digital gluttony.” The Information Overload Research Group, which will hold its first meeting in July (which will hopefully not be coordinated with two cans and a string), hopes to come up with solutions for information workers and the companies that employ them.
But why wait for these tech giants to feed you a solution? Here are my three failure-free tricks for not letting e-mail take my day off course:
1. Turn off all e-mail notifiers. If you’re facing an uninteresting task that must be done, they’re impossible to ignore.
2. Respond to all e-mails that can be answered in less than two minutes as soon as you read them. There is no reason to let these get buried beneath actual tasks.
3. Empty your in-box–down to zero–once a week. If you don’t want your in-box to be a sinking hole of lost workday focus, you’re going to have to clean the lost causes out of it. Archive everything you might need in the future.