Email Is Eating Our Life

The popular wisdom is that we're emailing less these days, but you couldn't prove it by most people with office jobs. A recent study from McKinsey Global Institute found that workers spend 28 percent of their week dealing with email.

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(Photo Credit: Keith Ramsey/Flickr)

"Doing the math, that comes to 11.2 hours per week, if one assumes a 40-hour workweek," writes Jennifer Senior at New York magazine. "This figure is nothing compared to the time we feel like we're spending on e-mail, either; Mimecast, an e-mail management company, surveyed roughly 2,500 of its clients that same year and asked them how much of their workday was devoted to contending with their e-mail, and the average answer was 50 percent."

Part of the problem might be that we're not necessarily answering all this email in the office. Which is probably why Senior feels the need to specifically state a 40-hour work week, above. Many of us work more than that, and even more significantly, those of us who are close to hitting the 40-hour mark might feel like we work more than we do, partly because technologies like email make it easy to blur the lines between work and home.

So, short of becoming a millionaire, buying your company, and instituting new rules about email, what can you do to make things easier?

First and foremost, set up some rules for when and how you'll deal with email:

1. Don't answer messages as they come in.

Just about every productivity expert on the planet will tell you that the best way to waste time on your email is treat every message like a siren going off. If people need you that badly, they can call. Turn off your message alerts and check your email at regular intervals. (Don't think it can work? Read the incredible story of the man who only checks his email once a day.)

2. Don't check email first thing in the morning.

"When it comes to email, ignorance is bliss," writes blogger Sid Savara. "That's why if you've got something important you want to make progress on, I have these four words for you: Don't check your email."

Savara recommends working on another project for at least half an hour before starting work -- longer "if you can stand it."

3. Let your email program do the work for you.

Lifehacker has an amazing list of all the little tweaks that can make your email program organize, prioritize, and filter your messages to make sure you only see what you want to see, when you want to see it. It even includes a tip on how to retrieve a file in seconds -- just in case you get so overzealous with your filtering, you hide things from yourself.

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