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Drowning in E-Mail? A Few Tips for Staying Afloat

— by Meghan Bender

You’re sitting down to type up your big report, which is due by the end of the day. Ping! An e-mail pops up. Ping! Another one. Neither are particularly important. But somehow it’s just impossible to start working without checking them first. Fine. Back to the report. Ping! Another e-mail.

Clearly, e-mail is a staple of the modern office. But for all its benefits, it may actually be hurting your overall productivity.

According to a survey conducted by CRM mogul Salesforce, 70 percent of office workers read e-mails at work that are of absolutely no relevance to their job. And besides just being annoying, those little email blasts actually add up to a lot of time lost: A study by 4imprint found that on average, it takes between three and eight minutes to “recover” from an e-mail interruption and get back to work. That “dripping faucet” of e-mails, the study says, quickly becomes an e-mail flood, drowning you in news alerts, birthday party reminders, and spam.

By leaving their inbox open at all times, employees basically invite these interruptions. Rather than checking their inbox every time a message is received, employees should keep their e-mail client closed and choose when to open it and be interrupted. Also, workers should avoid e-mail in cases where they’re discussing minutiae or technical details that can be better hashed out over the phone, or — heaven forbid — in person.

That’s why at least a few companies out there have begun toying with “email-free” days, or banning e-mails outright.

Avoiding distractions on the Internet comes down to having control and limiting your surfing. There are tools to help track your Internet use that could curb time wasted on those distracting social networking sites, and show you just how much time you are losing.

Companies that have tried cutting down on e-mail clutter say productivity has gone up, along with office cooperation, and general problem-resolution. Short of actually banning e-mails, workers should focus on writing fewer, but more effective, e-mails. Include clear and detailed subject lines that are brief, and include a phone number.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user Gideon Tsang.

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