How to tame the email dragon

Enter “how to tame the email dragon” in the Google search engine and about 2,300,000 results are available (in 0.50 seconds).

Fact.
The average length of an email is 50-100 words. Most emails are longer.[1]

Fact.
You spend at least 13 hours a week at the office[2] reading and replying to emails.
That is 650 hours a year![3]

Perspective.
It takes 12 to 13 hours to read John Updike’s Rabbit, Run.
Or (for non-readers) that is equivalent to a ten-episode Game of Thrones binge watching marathon.

Fact.
Most full-time employees work 1700 hours per year.[4] That means nearly 40 percent of your work life is engaged in reading and replying to emails.

NOTES:
[1] The Muse, Are Your Emails Too Long? (Hint: Probably), Forbes, March 11, 2014, accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2014/03/11/are-your-emails-too-long-hint-probably/#7e9f22965400
[2] Jordan Weissmann, Re:Re:Fw:Re: Workers Spend 650 Hours a Year on Email, The Atlantic, JUL 28, 2012, accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/re-re-fw-re-workers-spend-650-hours-a-year-on-email/260447/
[3] Megan Garber, You Probably Write a Novel’s Worth of Email Every Year, The Atlantic, JAN 8, 2013, accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/you-probably-write-a-novels-worth-of-email-every-year/266942/
[4] Joe Weisenthal, Check Out How Much The Average American Works Each Year Compared To The French, The Germans, And The Koreans, Business Insider, Aug. 17, 2013, accessed December 18, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/average-annual-hours-worked-for-americans-vs-the-rest-of-the-world-2013-8

Quote: yet we cannot look away

“With e-mail, which is checked minute to minute… All day long, light is being beamed into our eyes…. accelerating change in how we read has enormous physical and behavioral consequences…. yet we cannot look away…”

—John Freeman

Write now, set writing goals

...any road wil get you there.[1]

“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.”[1]

Is it writer’s block? Procrastination? What’s keeping you from completing that collection of poetry or that novel you started years ago and you can’t quite get around to finishing it?

A few years ago I sat in a writing workshop and noticed that I was the only member of the group under the age of 50 years old. Further, most of the students at the workshop had been working on a memoir or a novel or something that began at a university. Now enjoying their retirement, the nostalgic desire to complete these literary works grip those writers who had been dribbling out small passages of poetry and prose for what seems to be my lifetime.

I determined at that time to set writing goals and not let time slowly bleed me of creative efforts. So, I adapted some of the productivity and time management skills I use at work to my writing life. Here’s some productivity, or time management, habits I practice at the office.

1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning.

At the office, I schedule two times a day were I read and reply to emails: once in the morning and then again in the afternoon. If I reply to every email that lands in my inbox at the moment it arrives, I would spend more than half the work day reading and replying to emails. I found that if I batch tasks, like emailing, I can maintain focus on accomplishing those tasks more efficiently.

2. Make a list.

First thing I do when I get to the office is make a list. This is a combination of project management and mind-sweeping. This activity allows me to organize and prioritize large and small tasks for the day and week.

3. Declutter the desktop.

This is something that is both on- and offline. And by “declutter” I don’t mean empty your desktop of everything. Declutter has to do with a collection system. How do you collect the papers or files? Years ago I began the practice of collecting items in folders based on the 43 folders system. Here’s how it is presented by Merlin Mann:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly[2]

Again, the goal of this practice is not to have a clean, empty desktop, but a productivity system in place to help get things done.

4. Plan. Revisit the plan. Stay on task.

Your co-workers and supervisors think every task is an emergency and everything is a priority. Planning and staying on task is one of the most annoying practices my co-workers and supervisors must endure. Yet, unless I identify the goals and chart a trajectory to hit those goals, I’ll never me able to meet deadlines on time or successfully accomplish projects. How does the old adage go? If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Let’s do this!

Avoid waiting until you retire to complete that novel you’ve been working on, or that collection of poems you’ve been tinkering with for years. Find a writers group that can help you with accountability and encouragement. It is written that no one knows the number of his or her days. Our life is a shadow.[3] Whether it is writer’s block, procrastination, internal or external distraction, find that writing project you’ve been working on and commit to finishing it.

NOTES:
[1] Source: This Isn’t Happiness, accessed May 8, 2013 http://thisisnthappiness.com/post/48296644589/any-road
[2] Merlin Mann, “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’,” September 8, 2004 accessed May 4, 2013 http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done
[3] Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, 2010), 271.