Monica looks back on an impressive 30 years in business – come with us as we take a journey through our history and all we’ve achieved.
1989 what happened that year?
1989 was the year the Berlin Wall fell, the first GPS satellites were launched, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, ‘The Simpsons’ debuted, Daniel Radcliffe and Taylor Swift were born, and I launched Mesmo Consultancy! Email had been invented by Ray Tomlinson (in 1971) – although like the world wide web, it was just a dot on the horizon because of the lack of user friendly hardware.
My career and work experience has always positioned me as the middle-man between the IT Department and the ‘end user’ trying to help them to learn how to use technology to improve their personal and business performance. This was pre user-friendly computers and software.
In 1993 sponsored by my client PA Consulting, I conducted an in-depth study of one hundred main board executives to establish some models and guidelines on how they could improve the bottom-line of their organisations by using personal computers. This was a time when a PC could easily take up your full airline cabin bag weight allowance. Battery life was about 30 minutes, the Blackberry had just been invented but mobile devices as we know them were still about six years away. Not everyone had access to email and even if they did, they often did not deal with it themselves. Indeed in some organisations you had to be a certain level to have your own email account. The results of the study were the basis of my PhD and my first book ‘Using the PC to Boost Executive Performance’.
In the 1990’s, executives were already complaining about how much email they received and how much time they had to spend trawling through it to find the items of importance.
However, many left their PAs to deal with email. So few executives had any idea how much time their staff were actually wasting dealing with the inbox and how it was rapidly overtaking the in-tray as their main focus. While on a contract to a major Government Department, I spent many months trying to explain this to a Permanent Secretary who said this was nonsense. He changed his mind when a train strike left him working at home and he saw the hundreds of trivial emails in his inbox. My life as an email management consultant and the ‘EmailDoctor’ began with a call from his Special Private Secretary (SPS) who said they wanted me in the office at 8.30 the next morning. I was told to ‘solve the problem of email misuse’. The rest is history, three books and hundreds of articles later.
Email Management – what has changed over 20 years?
But what has changed about how we deal with email? I trawled back through nearly twenty years worth of articles specifically on email management which included five years as The Times ‘Crème’ columnist, Director Magazine IT user columnist; Huffington Post; etc. Several key themes can be identified and in particular how to:
Perhaps the last is one of the most interesting. On the one hand you have the up and coming generation of Millenials who are so technology focused that they feel it’s ‘job done’ by hitting send, and are often the most reluctant to walk and talk. Furthermore the shorter the message the better. I agree with this, but short does not always mean unequivocal and especially to a generation of who are not digital natives of which there are still many at the top of the organisation.
Although letters are still written, for many an e-communication (email or text) is now a binding business communication and so the tone and wording is important to convey the correct image of the organisation. A constant plea from senior management is therefore to educate new joiners how to write professional emails which reflect the organisations values and culture.
What new trends have emerged over the last twenty years?
The same themes are still present even now in 2019 with some even more pronounced. For example we now receive on average 121 emails per day compared to 77 in 2003. Those who are digital natives and find technology easy to use, still do not appreciate that for many, despite the suppliers claims, it is not intuitive. This makes finding budgets for email management and email software (eg Outlook) training hard. Even today, less than 50% of Outlook’s time saving features are used by the average user (eg Rules, Quick Parts and Quick Steps).
Interestingly, we think the fax is dead but it is still used and especially in the medical profession! On top of these, six new challenges have emerged relating specifically to email management:
i. Cyber crime
ii. Data protection and GDPR
iii. Social media
iv. Collaborative tools
v. 24x7x365 work ethos
vi. Impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability
i) Cyber crime was barely given a mention until the late 1980s and then only in passing. Now not a day passes without at least three cyber crime related stories/blog being published.
ii) Data protection was always an issue but organisations were not quite so obsessed about it. Not surprisingly, with the FOI, GDP and continued instances of hacking, most organisations now have a very heightened awareness of the need to be compliant and protect their most valuable asset – data.
iii) Social media wasn’t even born thirty years ago. If you wanted the latest news and gossip, it was garnered from a conversation around the coffee vending machine, photocopier, landline telephone chats or lunch outside the office. The loss of the art of conversation is perhaps one things which greatly saddens me . Especially when you hear of suicides caused by social media bullying.
iv) Collaborative tools are now seen as a way to reduce email overload but it still takes time to read the electronic notice board. If you elect for electronic updates then these of course often arrive by email!
v) 24x7x365 work ethos. Yes we worked just as hard thirty years ago but it was much easier to switch off and leave your work behind you when out of the office or on holiday. Constantly being in communication, is a 21st Century disease which is giving rise to concerns about our well-being and life-work balance. These are words which never existed in the board’s vocabulary until the last decade.
vi) Impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability. Several studies have now found that constantly being distracted by email (or social media) is significantly reducing our powers of concentration and thinking to that of a three year old child.
Good, bad or indifferent
I have been very privileged to work during the ‘white hot revolution of technology’ to borrow the late Sir Harold Wilson’s words. They have been and will no doubt continue to be exciting times. I love working with young people who tell me about the latest app or hardware device. Such things still excite and amaze me. During my journey over the last thirty years I’ve met some amazing people and made many friends. However, with the exception of the impact of digital distractions on our cognitive ability, most of the problems related to email look just like new wine in old bottles but with fancy labels. For how much longer are we going to be slaves to our inboxes rather than the other way around?
Or have I been in the business so long that mine is a biased cynical view? What is your view about how technology has changed our working lives over the last thirty years (for better or worse)? Let us know on our social media channels!
Email overload remains one of the top ten drains on our productivity and well-being. Can email management training help reduce email overload and improve our well-being and mental health? We often assume that email management and best practice is instinctive. So do we really need training to reduce email overload? After all most of us use email socially so why bother to offer training at work?
A recent survey from the Association of Talent Development found that organisations who have comprehensive training programes:
Interestingly Millennials value training more than Generation X.
Many of you will have formal training programmes in place but how many of them include email management training specifically to reduce email overload? More often than not any email training consists primarily of software (eg Outlook) training. Yes, using the software properly is important. However to reduce email overload you need to look outside the email technology and instead at the email culture, the quality of employees’s email communications and the techniques they use to manage their time dealing with email and their sender’s response expectations. After attending one of Mesmo Consultancy’s Smart Email Management workshops delegates find:
Why because they no longer feel driven by their inbox, instead they have taken back control of their inbox and day. They decide when to check for new email. Good email etiquette often helps reduce the rounds of email ping-pong and means they send the right message, right first time, thus reducing the risk of an email war breaking out.
Email dominates business life. How much time are you and your colleagues wasting through lack of proper training? Click here to check? Maybe you have had some training but chances are you are only using a small percentage of the techniques covered on the course.
We all need to justify our training budgets. An average Smart Email Management workshop costs £45 per person. If you are wasting one hour a day and can reclaim even half that then training to reduce email overload pays for itself within the first day (assuming even the median hourly pay of £14.31).
Why waste any more time? If you are serious about well-being, improving mental health and productivity, grab a chunk of that training budget now for some Smart Email Management Training.
If you need some help justifying the budget call us and we can talk through how to convince the Board that providing email best practice training will improve business productivity.
After writing about business email overload for the past decade, it still amazes me to hear executives complain about receiving over 70 emails a day but still having done nothing to identify why and what can be done to reduce email overload. This includes the whole spectrum of employees from CEOs to PAs.
Should I be surprised? After all many have suggested that email is nearing the end of its life and will be overtaken by collaborative tools and social media. Yet the data from Radicati suggests otherwise with email volumes set to rise by 4% in 2019.
Business email overload is generally a symptom of a wider personal, team or organisational failing. For example, lack of ability to focus on the task in hand, prioritise, insufficient opportunities to talk to one’s boss so instead we email, a need to cover one’s backside, no clear e-communications guidelines as to what to use when and so it goes on.
These are some of the more common underlying causes of business email overload which I have observed over the last decade. There are several easy ways to reduce the time spent dealing with unnecessary emails and these include:
Will Google Smart Reply function help us save time or waste time as it drives up email overload? Anything which can help us save time dealing with email surely has to be welcome. The idea of being presented with three possible templates of text to use to reply to an email is very appealing. It is useful when replying from a mobile device as it avoids typing mistakes and saves you time crafting your own reply.
However, either hit the wrong one and an email might ping back at you as the recipient does not understand what you mean. Or they might misinterpret your response. After all ‘Thanks’ can have many meanings from genuine gratitude to ‘so you just dumped me in it’. Result, increased email overload as we play endless rounds on unnecessary email ping-pong.
When we run Smart Email Management workshops one constant request is to educate participants to write short simple emails (responses) which portray a professional image of themselves and their organisation and communicate unambiguously what they are saying.
Why does this need exist for good email etiquette? After all most employees have had a good education and should have a basic command of the English language. Perhaps because the majority of today’s younger generation are so grounded in text speak that they quickly forget the basics of good grammar and spelling. Therefore will Smart Reply help? Or will it just exacerbate the situation?
Then there is GDPR. Forget email overload. An email is forever despite the fact you deleted the reply you sent in haste and now regret. Smart Reply might just offer lawyers a field day.
Templates of text are a great way to save time and especially when you need to reply to a stack of emails with the same response for example acknowledge an invite, receipt of a CV, invoice, revise project plan etc. And maybe, just maybe the old fashioned way of either cutting and pasting from a pre-prepared template of text is still the best option (in Word, Google Docs etc). For Outlook users you can use Quick Parts to create such templates.
This is the best way to reduce email overload and improve business email etiquette and hence performance.
How do you de-stress whilst reducing business email overload? After all it is easy to get sucked into the inbox and look up three hours later feeling stressed. What have you achieved? Maybe a clean inbox but was the time productive?
In this guest blog from Lucy Miller she provides five top ways to de-stress to improve performance whilst at the same time reducing the email overload factor.
With so many tips out there about healthy living habits, it can be tough to determine what advice is actually worth following. One key aspect of wellness that many people overlook is that it’s not enough to just be in good physical shape; you need to keep track of your mental and emotional health as well. Here are five steps you can take to make you healthier, both physically and mentally and especially whilst you deal with your email.
1: Keep a Food Diary
The problem with diets is not only that most people have difficulty following them, but many diets, even if followed strictly, won’t necessarily help you get into better shape.
A better tactic is to keep a food diary where your record everything you eat, including and especially snacks or desserts that you’re embarrassed about and want to cut out. The reason a food diary is so helpful is that it makes you acknowledge what your diet is like and identify foods that you need to eat less of, as well as nutrients you may be lacking in your diet.
Dealing with business email overload – don’t snack mindlessly when checking emails, make sure you eat what is good for you.
2: Get Sufficient and Regular Sleep
Nutritionists and health gurus are always reiterating the importance of sleep, but many people don’t realize all the aspects of your health that sleep impacts. Not only can regular sleep reduce stress, improve your immune system, and bolster your mood, but it also keeps you functioning at optimal physical and mental levels.
The key is to not only get enough sleep — at least eight hours a night for most adults — but also to keep a regular sleep schedule. Inconsistent sleep can have a negative impact on various aspects on both your physical and mental health, and will also make it more difficult to get as much sleep as you need every night.
Dealing with business email overload – set boundaries outside which you disconnect and do not look at the inbox (and social media).
3: Monitor Your Stress Levels
Stress is another factor that can have a huge impact on multiple levels of wellness. People with high levels of stress are not only more likely to gain weight and have difficulty sleeping, but are also more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional conditions.
A good way to avoid over-stressing yourself is to regularly check your emotional and mental health, which can be done many ways, including taking online mental health assessments. People with high levels of stress will almost always experience problems with their mental and emotional health, so keeping tabs on your mood, energy levels, focus and concentration, and other other factors can help you determine when you’re becoming too stressed, and what your biggest stressors might be.
Dealing with business email overload – as you feel your muscles tighten stop, take a break and exercise even if only for a few minutes.
4: Cultivate Your Intellect
Regularly challenge yourself intellectually and keep your mental skills sharp. There are many ways to accomplish this. Reading regularly is a great way to keep your mind sharp, or you can work on mentally simulating activities like puzzles or crosswords.
Another easy option is to get into discussions or debates with friends about topics that interest you both, as this will help hone your critical thinking skills. Anything that challenges you mentally will fit the bill, so find intellectual activities that you enjoy, whatever form they take.
Dealing with business email overload – set aside some me time when you do something to challenge you mentally.
5: Drink More Water
Most people aren’t getting enough water on a daily basis. Sixty percent of our bodies are made up of water. Water is essential to most bodily functions, from waste removal to carrying nutrients and oxygen through the bloodstream. We are constantly losing water throughout the day, so it’s important to replenish your water levels regularly. Experts recommend drinking at least eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day, although the exact requirements for your body can vary based on individual differences.
Dealing with business email overload – sip a drink after dealing with every 20 emails.
By following these simple steps, you can make healthy lifestyle changes starting today. So many people make the resolution to get healthier, but forget to focus on all aspects of health, not just the physical. By keeping tabs on your physical, mental and emotional health and making healthy choices, you can maximize your all-around wellness and performance.
Lucy Miller is a nutrition student, marathon runner, and a passionate writer for Mind Your Zen, a brain nutrition supplement brand. She contributes on a number of blog sharing useful health tips from her research as a nutrition student. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org