Email Insanity and Other Neurotic Behaviors

The Boston Consulting Group gives some interesting trends. By 2016 there will be 3 billion internet users globally—almost half the world’s population. The internet economy will reach $4.2 Trillion in the G-20 economies. As a national economy it would rank in the world’s top five, only behind the U.S., China, Japan, and India, but ahead of Germany. Social networks reach about 80 percent of users in developed and developing economies alike. Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), will account for four out of five broadband connections by 2016.

And the growth is accelerating. Speed is an observation that cannot be overlooked. The growth is exponential, going back to Moore’s Law¹ five decades ago (truly an uncannily accurate prediction). The first Intel microprocessor held 275,000 transistors. Today, Intel’s core processor holds 2.27 billion transistors. That is 2¹³ times as many (that’s a 2 with 13 zeros behind it). And the growth will continue to motor on at an accelerating rate.

Exponential growth is best illustrated in an ancient fable.² A young rich ruler needs to reward a deserving subject. The subject picks the reward system. The tool is a chessboard. The ruler will put a grain of rice on the first square of the board, then double the number of grains on each of the succeeding 63 squares. The ruler thinks he’s getting off easy! But by the thirty-second square he owes a mound weighing 100,000 kilograms! Manageable? Yes. It’s in the second half of the board where the picture gets “grainy”. In two moves 100,000 becomes 400,000, then 1.6 million. By the sixty-fourth square he owes his subject 461 billion metric tons—more than 4 billion times as much on the first half of the chessboard. (By the way, that would be 1000 times last years global rice production.)

The internet is in the second half of the chess board. The point? No business, industry, government, university, or person can ignore it. Along with this will come great misunderstandings and abuses. Fast pace change does this. In fact, it has so ingrained itself into our daily lives that consumers are willing to give up alcohol (73%), coffee (69%), exercise (43%), sex (21%), cars (10%), and showers (7%) in order to keep their internet access. These statistics are global.

There are advantages technology provides – but only if we stay master and not servant. Every advantage can turn into a liability if not controlled

Here are 4 guidelines for mastering this great technology.

1. Stay in control of your gadgets. For example, email is one of the most abused forms of communication. It has become such a problem that some companies are experimenting banning email once a week. It has become a huge interruption in the workplace and an even bigger interruption in our personal lives. People must educate themselves on how to use this exploding technology. Take control of your online life. Make sure you are the master and not the mastered.

One simple thing is to learn to control your email. Try reading The Hamster Revolution: How To Manage Your Email Before It Manages You, co-authored by Vicki Halsey.³ In the story, Harold, the HR director, ends up saving two weeks out of the year simply by learning to manage his email. A must read.

2. Turn off your email notification. It’s a profound concept for some. You can dictate the appropriate time to check email. You can write emails that will eliminate getting too much back. You can set your voice message in a way that you control your phone. The addiction to technology ruins productivity and relationships. Switching back and forth to various activities involving technology has multiplied in our lives. Some call it multitasking. Yet that is a trap that must be avoided? Which leads to…

3. Avoid the trap of multitasking.Switching Costs” is a term used in finance and economics. “Switching Cost” is about the recovery time that’s involved with each switch. There is a cost to switching. In the same way let’s call it “Switch Tasking”, not multitasking. As you switch between various activities you incur lost time and lost attention. And this adds up over the span of a day. Even Superman, when switching tasks, loses time and productivity. He does it at superhuman speed, but it impacts his “super” results. When you say yes to one thing you are saying no to something else.

4. Set up guidelines that will accomplish your agenda. Try these tips.

  • Pick certain times to do your email. Don’t be a slave to the “ping”.
  • Do it or delete it on the spot. Read and act—the first time.
  • Your inbox is not a “to-do list”. It can become an “electronic pile” on your desk, and you’ll spend at least thirty minutes looking for stuff.
  • Never open spam. It comes in various forms. Withstand the temptation and delete immediately.
  • Learn how to write emails that are to the point and don’t invite unwanted time-wasters (Halsey’s Hamster Revolution).

By following these tips you will create more focused time and productivity. You are also resetting the expectations of those who send email messages. They now realize you aren’t lurking behind your computer ready to respond at their whim.

The bottom line is you are creating some margin and leaving room for potential “interruptions”. After all, much of life happens in the interruptions.

(Mick Ukleja is the co-author of the book Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce)
¹ Moore’s Law: the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months. Named after Gordon E. Moore who described the trend in his 1965 paper.
² Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines.
³ The Hamster Revolution: How To Manage Your Email Before It Manages You, Mike Song, Vicki Halsey, Tim Burress, BK Business (10th printing).

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