I have a dog named Jaws. He is constantly alert and I daresay, hyper. He goes from 0 to 10 (0 being calm and zen while 10 means crazy and frenzied) in a heart beat. A calm golden retriever he is not.
My boyfriend got him from the local dog pound (SPCA) years before we met. Apparently he was named ‘Bear’ because he does, from certain angle, looks like an Asian sunbear. But once we got him, we quickly named him Jaws because he chewed up our remote control into unrecognizable/unsalvagable bits. He is a mongrel of, to my inexpert judgement, a german shepherd and a Doberman. An aussie friend of mine said he looks like an Australian Kelpie. After checking on the internet, he does resemble that breed too.
When I look at Jaws, I can see clear intelligence behind those brown eyes. But just a rumble of a machine downstairs or a bird tweeting from the branches, and he would tear to the window to have a look. His mind is never at rest. It must be so exhausting to be a dog.
So similarly, in our working lives, we come to our work with a lot of intellect/experience and know-how. But in our various jobs, depending on the sector and turnabout time, we face a deluge of emails coming in. Typically, I receive up to 200 emails a day.
And at any one time, we are required to respond to them. Very quickly, work becomes an exhausting tennis-match of replying to emails after emails instead of focusing on the actual project at hand – what I would term, ‘hi-value work’.
We reach the end of the day, breathless and tired after reading each and every request while also painstakingly replying to each email in the right tone, with the right content and as soon as possible.
But whether any real work is done, it is debatable. Like the dog, it is hard to settle our minds and then focus our intelligence. Intelligence is like light. Scattered, it achieves nothing. But focused, and you get a light-saber (a laser-blade used in the Star-Wars).
Here are some simple tips to manage a balance between work and replying to emails:
Not all emails are the same. Separate them!
Separate emails to 3 categories:
emails that can be replied to in 2 minutes
emails that need a longer time to reply to
emails where you are ‘cc-ed’
The first category should be attended to immediately. The second category should be given a block of time later in the day where all such ‘demanding’ emails should be dealt with. It is recommended that you actually devote a period of time in the day to do so. The third, and the least urgent (since they are on a FYI basis), you can shore it up to the last.
Aim for Zero-Inbox
Perhaps I am a little obsessive compulsive. I have a desire always to clear all my inbox before I leave for the day. However, I don’t really have the time nor the patience to craft too many categories for my inbox. Hence what I do is to create 4 broad categories to make my job easier:
- Action items (emails to take action soonest on)
- KIV (emails that can’t be replied to – pending further information)
- Reference Only
Some people use these email categories as a good to-do list. I say, use whatever works for you. However for me, I tend to keep a separate WIP list (in a word document) for me to keep track of my multitudinous projects.
Schedule time to check you emails
It is easy to be overwhelmed by emails – at the expense of ignoring your own work be it presentations preparing or report doing. Or even research on data analytics. I recommend that you give yourself these blocks of time for emails:
- the first hour of work
- one hour after lunch
- before you go home, devote the last hour
This is one of the reasons why Singaporeans have one of the highest burnout rates in the world. Multi-tasking is not the most efficient way to work. We need to establish time to read emails as well as time to work – and not do the former to the detriment of the latter. We should always aim for excellence in a comfortable, balanced and sustainable way.