Undoubtedly we spend too much time on e-mails of which 80% are probably of no value whatsoever. Some experts say we spend 36 days a year at work answering them and that there are 2.4 million sent every second.
Some companies have already starting to fight back against this insidious menace. Atos, a French company, has promised to end the use of e-mails by next year.
The Halton Housing Trust in Cheshire is coming to the end of a two-year programme to wean staff off them because staff were spending 40% of their time e-mailing. I actually like their approach limiting “reply to all” and using “cc”. Even better naming and shaming the most prolific e-mailers!
Procure Plus, a property service company, has also introduced e-mail etiquette after finding that staff couldn’t be bothered leaving their desks to speak to colleagues. Now they have to phone or visit in person before they are allowed to e-mail.
Volkswagen turns off its server at 1730 and Daimler stops staff getting e-mails when on holiday. Sensible Germans.
A media management CEO says the problem will resolve itself anyway as use by millennials has declined 50% since 2010 as they are using social media networks instead. And why is that an improvement? I’d suggest getting all staff to lock their smartphones and tablets in a locker when they arrive at work so they can actually do some! It also sounds a bit ageist to me. Do only older workers use e-mails now?
Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School who has spoken about the stressful effects of e-mail overload in the past, is working with a number of organisations on e-mail projects. He said “The UK was quick to adapt digital technology and the World Economic Forum says the UK has the highest digital use per capita of the major economies. Smartphones have just made things worse with people constantly checking their inbox wherever they are – during family dinner, on holiday, everywhere. It’s affecting everyone badly, their health and happiness and also their productivity”
He says the problem has got so bad that people think doing e-mails is a good day’s work!
FYI there’s a new term for people ignoring you to answer or check their smartphone: it’s called phubbing (i.e. snubbing by phone).
David Burkus, associate professor in management at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma agrees with professor Cooper. “Clearing out your inbox can make you feel like you’re ultra-productive but unless your job description is solely to delete e-mails you’re just fooling yourself”
So do you want “e-mail deleter” to be your job title or do you want to take control? How about leaving an auto-message when you go home or on holiday saying you won’t be able to deal with any e-mails and ask them to contact you when you are in work?
And that backlog in your in-tray? Declare a moratorium and tell people you’re deleting them all. If that seems too drastic do what some people do and ignore e-mails that you’re only copied in to. If it’s really meant for you they should have sent it to you directly.
Source for main story The Times
You might think you are good at multi-tasking (you’d be wrong by the way) and probably don’t think of the effect it has on your colleagues.
Researchers at Harvard found that checking your phone, e-mails or social media is more distracting for your colleagues than it is for you.
In fact they blame our obsession with our devices for the unproductive meetings taking place everywhere. I don’t necessarily agree with that having attended my fair share of useless meetings long before we had smart phones and tablets.
But there’s no doubt it’s worse now with the “always on” mentality many people have.
People were asked by Francesca Gino how they would respond if a friend or colleague checked their e-mails or posted on social media during a meeting.
She said “The results suggest that we feel distracted and annoyed when others are checking their phone rather than paying attention to what we have to say in a meeting. Yet we fail to realise that our actions will have the same effect on others when we are engaging in them”
She also confirmed that multi-tasking is a myth because other than simple tasks we can’t perform several action at the same time. When we try it takes 50% longer with 50% more mistakes (our brain is switching from one task to another and takes time to recover its earlier position).
Banning phones from meetings might help but also organising the meeting better.
Patrick Lencioni, author of “Death by Meeting” estimates that professionals spend 31 hours each month attending unproductive meetings and almost three-quarters of attendees say they take other work with them. (Professor Gino thinks people take their phones and devices as a back-up plan in case the meeting gets boring or ineffective).
Lencioni says bad meetings not only exact a toll those who suffer in them but also cause anguish in the form of, anger, cynicism, lethargy and lower self-esteem.
The HBR suggests the following rules to get the best out of meetings:
- Keep it small i.e. no more than 7 people to ensure everyone can pick up on NVC and other nuances
- Ban devices as unacceptable distractions
- Keep it short i.e. less than an hour (I remember meetings in the public sector lasting 6 hours)
- Stand up. Meetings where you’re not allowed to sit down ply last 2/3 as long
- Never just update. That can be done outside the meeting by e-mail, otherwise it’s a time-waster
- Set an agenda and be clear about the purpose of the meeting and that there will be a plan of action
FYI Lencioni is also the author of “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams” which is well worth a read
Young people apparently avoid using e-mails if they can preferring to communicate via Facebook, through texts (SMS), Twitter, or other social media. And some companies encourage their employees to do that.
It seems that e-mailing is only considered suitable for the older generation , the silver surfers.
So just when we’ve all got used to working on the internet something else comes along. Now I know what the Post Office must have felt like when people stopped writing letters that had to be sent in envelopes.
And then there is e-mail etiquette to consider.
There’s a lot to be said for e-mails which you can print off if you need to. However the downside is the fact that some senders feel the need to copy everyone into this missive. Personally I would ignore an e-mail if it wasn’t addressed directly to me. And some companies, in Germany for example, have banned e-mails outside working hours or when people are on holiday.
Let’s face it a backlog of e-mails can be stressful so I like the idea of all e-mails sent during holiday periods being automatically deleted. You have to start somewhere.
We might be living in an “always on” culture with a global 24/7/365 approach but you can always turn off your smartphone and ignore your in-box – if you’re brave enough!
There’s evidence that the over-use of modern technology only adds to the stress in our lives.
In snow bound conditions this might be a no-brainer but generally speaking most people seem to prefer to go out to work rather than work from home.
Even though in Britain this increasingly means longer commuting times, getting stuck on concrete car parks known as motorways, or crushed like sardines in overcrowded commuter trains or metro/tube trains in uncomfortable not to say sometimes unhygienic conditions.
Experts suggest we lose many millions of pounds-worth of business each day due to bad weather in the winter and the country’s lack of preparedness for it.
So what happened to the technology revolution? Surely with lap-tops, wi-fi, smart phones, VOIP (like Skype)and video conferencing, file sharing and cloud technology, more of us should be able to work from home – or from the local coffee franchise. Or does that just apply to the so-called “nomads“: consultants of various kinds forever destined to travel the highways and by-ways, to whom e-traffic is just another hazard to navigate?
There are approximately 25 million people working but well under a million of those work from home. Leaving aside those working in production, manufacturing or retail, there are plenty of service and professional jobs you might think would be suitable for home-working,
One problem might be the slow inter-connectivity over the internet. The UK might have the most users of the internet per capita in Europe but we also have the slowest broadband speeds although ironically BT is one of the few employers which has experimented with home-working.
But it seems most employers like to see bums on seats and managers worry when they can’t supervise (from the latin to “over see“) and, some would say, micro-manage people.
Some research suggests that people are more productive at home – provided they can separate their work zone from their private zone and manage those boundaries to maintain work-life balance and confidentiality – because they don’t waste time commuting. In fact they might actually work harder so as not to be seen to abuse the system.
However we are social animals and it seems that we really need to have interaction with our colleagues – especially if we work in real teams, to enjoy those water-cooler moments, and, at this time of year particularly, the social activities which may be the high point of our work lives and the source of gossip to keep us going for months to come.
60 years ago Carlson carried out the first empirical study of what managers actually do but it was another 20 years before Henry Mintzberg’s study of Chief Executives, published as: “The Nature of Managerial Work“, made people realise that, among other things; “managers’ jobs are characterised by brevity, variety, and fragmentation”.
And from that study came the message that managers rarely spend more than 15 mins on any one task at their desk before being interrupted. A finding that has been more or less replicated by other researchers since then.
However back then there was no internet, no e-mail, no social networking sites. In his latest book “Managing“, Mintzberg again examines the work of senior managers (he eschews the notion of leaders) and comes to much the same conclusion with e-mails etc just being a means of reinforcing the characteristics of what managers do anyway – and they were already spending 40% of their time on communication back in 1973.
Office workers however may only have 3 minutes on a task before they are interrupted by e-mails or callers. It can actually become quite addictive e-mailing and texting and waiting to see if people have replied – almost like playing a slot machine, and 15% of people even admit to checking for e-mails in church. And according to John Freeman, author of “The Tyranny of Email“, because we spend so much time checking our inboxes or refreshing Twitter pages, we are less productive because our attention spans are shattered into tiny fragments.
Microsoft found that it can take 25 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an e-mail even though it might only take your brain a minute to recover your train of thought. We also get anxious thinking through the consequences of sending a message and waiting for a reply. We may not realise that checking our e-mails every 5 minutes adds up to over 1 day a week but we end up juggling at least two things at once. On the phone whilst checking e-mails, checking messages in meetings, tweeting during union negotiations, driving whilst texting (resulting in over 6o0,000 crashes a year).
It wasn’t that long ago that women claimed they were better at multi-tasking, it was their natural skill set. Now we are all at it. And some of us feel if we aren’t we are wasting our time. But how annoying is it when you are on the phone to someone and you can hear them working on a keyboard.. I recently had a conversation with a NatWest business advisor on the phone and his mobile phone went off 3 times but he wouldn’t turn it off even when I asked him to.
Yet it turns out that multi-taskers are less effective. According to research at Stanford University they focus on irrelevant information and everything distracts them. They remember nothing and get less done. They actually take longer to switch between tasks because they think about what they are not doing. They like to be scanning for and flooded with new information rather than deal with what they already have.
It’s estimated by the University of California, San Diego, that we receive 100,000 words, plus images adding up to 34 gigabytes of information a day. The result of this is that our attention span is being chopped into smaller pieces and we are losing the ability to think more deeply. It may even eventually change the structure of our brains. Edward Halliwell, a New York psychiatrist, believes that people have never had to process as much information as they have to nowadays.
He has coined the term “screen sucker” to describe people who spend so much time in front of a computer screen, mobile phone or Blackberry (which used to be referred to as a Crackberry because of its addictive nature) now replaced by smartphones. One study showed that when knowledge workers were interrupted by e-mails and phone calls their IQ dropped by 10 points – twice the drop reported for marijuana users. And he too thinks people are so busy processing information at a superficial level that they are losing the ability to think and feel and are losing the ability to connect with other human beings.
Times columnist Sathnan Sanghera was moaning about the difficulties of working from home with all the inherent distractions – although spending 3 hours on social networking couldn’t have helped. He then found the same problems working in the office but some of that was down to actually having social interactions with colleagues. But that can only be a good thing!
Originally updated and posted on SGANDA 23 August 2010:
However the number of countries in which my lists were read more than doubled to 85 countries, mainly the USA, the UK, and Brazil but also in Suriname, Belize, Lebanon, Qatar, Algeria, Sri Lanka, the Faroe Islands and China. So thank you for such an international interest.
For what it’s worth the most read posts on this blog in 2014 were:
- Thinking outside the box – literally
- MBTI typies – for the believers
- Empathetic introverts make the best carers
- Learning to become an optimist
- Using social media impacts on academic performance
- Mentally challenging jobs are good for you
- Can scientists really change your memories
- Were the Victorians really smarter than us?
- Your partner’s personality adds value
- End of the road for Positive Psychology at work? jointly with Gender differences in responding to stress
This entry was posted in Emotional Intelligence, Health & Well-being, Psychology, Work and tagged cognitive ability, creativity, empathy, gender differences, introvert, IQ, MBTI, optimism, personality traits, positive psychology, social media, Victorians.
Researchers at the Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral & Preventive Medicine in Providence R.I. surveyed 483 female college freshmen about their use of 11 forms of media: television, movies, music, surfing the internet,social networking, talking on a cell phone, texting, reading magazines, newspapers and non-school-related books, and playing video games.
Participants also reported their grade point average (GPA) and completed surveys about their academic confidence, behaviour, and problems.
On average the women spent nearly half their day engaged in some form of media use particularly texting, listening to music, surfing the internet and social networking.
Media use was in general associated with lower GPAs and other negative academic outcomes.
Newspaper reading and listening to music however were linked to positive academic performance.
Source: Emerging Adulthood reported in APA Monitor on Psychology June 2013 Vol 44 No 6.
I can’t help thinking that if they spent less time on using media and more time studying….