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E-Mail Trauma

by PeakCare on 16th August 2011

Home -> Articles -> 2011 -> August -> E-Mail Trauma

Careers are made or broken by the soft skills that make you able to handle a very large workload.

- Merlin Mann

Recently we did a quick poll about how people engage with our e-news letter. We were interested to learn that 33% of the people who receive our e-news letter, and have chosen to receive it, don’t have time to click the links. Now clicking the links on our e-news letter is pretty important, because if you don’t click, you can’t read it! We could take this lack of clicking and not reading personally, but we won’t, because we’re all in the same boat! What does it mean, when we sign on to read newsletters and such, and never have the time to read them? What does it mean when we rely on email to keep us in the loop, manage our projects and time, set up our meetings and many, many other things, yet don’t get around to opening, reading and replying?

I’ve been asking practitioners about their email boxes. I’ve been hearing stories of people who at best have a love/ hate relationship with their email but very often want nothing more than to shut it down and never open it again. These aren’t unproductive or disconnected practitioners, quite the opposite. They are generally highly skilled and committed professionals who are doing the best they can to handle very large workloads. Email, they tell me, is a help yes, but it’s also a stress!

I share their sentiments. I’ve had many moments where I thought the best thing I could do to manage email overload would be to just delete everything and start over! There’s even a term for this, “email bankruptcy”. Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig , invented the term after finding himself inundated with an average of 200 non-spam emails a day and spending 80 hours a week sorting through unanswered email. Yikes!

Doing a bit of research, we find out that we’re not alone (whew), lots of people feel just like we do, and most of them are looking for solutions. The solutions seem to land in the area of either time or systems management. Time management solutions are like these found on Penelope Trunk’s blog, 10 Tips for Time Management in a Multitasking World. Systems management solutions are aimed at finding and better using technology to well …. manage technology. These sorts of solutions are aimed at becoming more organized and learning to use technology more effectively. They include ideas like these found in the Life Hacker article, Top 10 Email Productivity Boosters.

Both sets of strategies can yield us very useful tactics for the way we use technology and manage information. However, they don’t address the emotional and psychological cost of not keeping up. People talk about approaching their email feeling nervous, heart pounding, breath held, dreading what they are going to find. They talk about postponing the moment of looking, or feeling compelled to look every 2 minutes just to make sure they aren’t missing something important. They talk about being worried that despite their best efforts they will miss or fail to follow up a critical email. One practitioner I recently spoke with even confessed that she has dreams about checking her email!

It occurred to me that when we are looking at tips to manage how we deal with email, we might also want to look at solutions like those found on this tip sheet, Managing Symptoms of Trauma

Questions! Have we crossed a line? Have we entered a place where time and systems management can’t touch the real issues of overwhelming workloads, insufficient time and the preposterous proposition of having to prioritize people and relationships into sub folders? Should we view email overload as a symptom of a greater problem? Are we willing to have strategic conversations professionally and organizationally to help us deal with the trauma of email? Has your organization already looked at these issues and if so, have you come up with any creative solutions?

Last, but not least, in the interest of doing things better, more humanely and efficiently, should we at PeakCare find alternative ways of sharing our news? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Fiona McColl – Training and Sector Development Manager, PeakCare