Every week as @SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wed on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @MarshaEgan who is a Certified Life and Executive Coach with the International Coach Federation and the author of the book, the Inbox Detox. As one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business, her passion is helping others achieve their career, professional, and personal goals. She is a professional speaker on business success topics such as improving productivity through better organization and running more successful meetings through time management. You can find more about her here: Http://MarshaEgan.com
Smallbizlady: What made you interested in email productivity and email addiction?
Marsha Egan: One of my areas of specialty has been time management and life planning. At one point, five of my coaching clients were all struggling with their inabilities to get out from under their e-mail. To help them conquer that issue, and to add value as a coach, I created a one-hour teleseminar on the subject of the e-mail productivity, and got an overwhelming response. That’s when I first started to realize the pain around all of this. To date, we have conducted 40 of these teleseminars.
Smallbizlady: When did you realize that a 12-step program was necessary and was it a conscious choice to have the same number of steps as similar addiction programs?
Marsha Egan: I developed a formula approach to helping people become more productive with their e-mail, and broke it into a number of steps that build upon each other. We consciously, but very loosely used the 12-step analogy, and called it an e-ddiction, almost as a play on words on both 12-step approaches and addictions. The e-ddiction program began as a tongue and cheek idea – a memorable way for people to become more productive—easy steps akin to a very recognizable program that people could refer to and remember to keep their email use in check.
Smallbizlady: What is the cost of email misuse?
Marsha Egan: It is absolutely mind blowing. Basex, a research firm, has estimated the loss of productivity throughout the world at over $900 billion. The average worker spends 28% of his or her day with interruptions or recovering from interruptions. By managing your email, the average person can reclaim at least an hour of productivity a day. For a 20 person office, that is 100 hours of productivity a week. The biggest culprit is people allowing themselves to be continually interrupted by the ding of a newly received email. With the average recovery time for any interruption being 4 minutes, if you’re interrupted only 15 times in a day, you’ll spend 60 minutes recovering from the interruption. Most workers receive between 80 and 150 emails a day. You do the math.
Smallbizlady: What needs to be done about email from a business perspective?
Marsha Egan: First, businesses need to “get” the fact that managing e-mail productivity can be a competitive advantage. Here’s a quick summary of major steps that can be taken… The business unit needs to stop EVER sending urgent emails. If it is urgent, or needed in under 3 hours, call or visit. Don’t email. What this does is that it allows workers to shut down their inboxes and stop being interrupted. But if they have a boss who uses email urgently, they can’t turn it off, and must handle those continual costly interruptions. Second, check for email 5 times or less per day. Third, differentiate between handling email, and sorting it. If you go into your inbox with the intention of sorting, you’ll be able to manage it much better. And fourth, empty your inbox every time you go into it. It is not a holding tank or to do list, it delivers stuff you need to sort.
Smallbizlady: What can individuals do to better manage their email?
Marsha Egan: It is not just one thing. I realized quickly that there is a stepped approach to TAKING control of your email and inbox. That’s how we came up with the 12 Steps. It starts with on the person declaring that he or she wants to change their e-mail habits, and take ownership or a proactive approach to managing their e-mail. It is focused on helping people realize that they can take control, then gives them the actual steps to taking control. These steps include checking email when it fits YOUR schedule, not when you hear the “ding” on your computer, changing your view of the inbox from a holding tank to a mail delivery receptacle, then helping them file items to be worked in separate action folders that they can grab when they are planning their days. We’ve tried this approach with over 300 folks, and have heard great comments. The biggest challenge is for people to engrain the practices, and make them “good habits.” Our website is intended to be helpful to people wanting to improve their habits: http://EganEmailSolutions.com
Smallbizlady: So, once a person decides to take control of his or her e-mail, what is the next step?
Marsha Egan: The next step is to begin a new habit of checking e-mail in the longest intervals possible. We recommend no more than five times daily for the average business. Tim Ferris, of the Four Hour Work week, recommends twice daily. What this does is it minimizes interruptions, and allows people to get other work done. This is a very big shift for people who, on average check their e-mail 70 plus times daily, or looking up any time a new e-mail is received. It also requires the person to turn off that dang ding and flash. We recommend first thing in the morning, midmorning, after lunch, midafternoon, and 15 to 20 minutes before you close out the workday.
Smallbizlady: Why is it important to get email under control?
Marsha Egan: The reason this is so important is because any type of interruption is very costly. It takes the average person an average of four minutes to recover from any interruption. We are not talking about handling the interruption, we are just talking about the time after the interruption occurs and is handled for you to get back in the work zone. In other words, if someone stops by your office to talk about your child’s birthday party, (and it takes only 30 seconds,) after the person leaves, it will take the average person an average of four minutes to get back to the letter he or she was writing, the report they were creating, or the web site they were designing. So if you do the math, if you are interrupted by only 15 e-mail messages pinging and flashing at you in a day, you’re interruption recovery time is 60 minutes, or an hour. With people receiving an average of 80-150 e-mail messages daily, e-mail has become one of the worst interrupters of our lifetimes, and saps up to 10 hours of productivity per person per week.
Smallbizlady: Once we choose to check the e-mail only a few times daily, how do we handle all those e-mails?
Marsha Egan: You have to shift the way you view your inbox away from it being a disorganized to do list and holding tank for all the messages you have to viewing it more like a U. S. Postal Service mailbox that delivers mail. I don’t know if many people who put mail back in the U. S. Postal Service mailbox, do you? Using this new approach, then, shift to a new habit of emptying the inbox every time you view it. This is why viewing it only a few times a day is important. By going into the each e-mail message briefly and determining its priority level — sort 10 rather than working — you will be able to triage your work rather than be distracted by it. And, when you do this you start at the top and one by one go down the list, or start at the bottom and go one by one of the list, rather than hunting and choosing. Don’t move the next message until it is out of your inbox. It takes a big habit change for a lot of people.
Smallbizlady: Where do we move all these messages?
Marsha Egan: First, the delete button is your friend. Delete. Delete. Delete. Second, make a choice as to whether the e-mail is a task that you need to take action on, or a message you need to save, but requires no action. If it requires action, you will drag and drop it into an Action Folder. You need only a few action folders, I suggest Action — a, action — b. Action — a is for higher priority items, and action — b is for lower priority items. This is the area where you hold anything requiring action, and it is an easy place to find things when you need them. But we are not done — for anything of importance and or with a deadline, then set a reminder. Use what ever reminder system works for you, whether it is a day planner, an electronic feature of your Outlook, or whatever works for you.
If it is an item you need to save for reference, you will drag and drop these in to a reference folder that you create.
Smallbizlady: What is the two minute rule?
This is one of the secrets to our 12 steps that gets all of this humming. It is a takeoff on David Allan’s Getting Things Done. There is an exception to all the dragging and dropping involved in sorting all of your incoming e-mail — and that is to use the two minute rule. This rule states that if you believe that the item can be handled in two minutes or less, handle it, regardless of priority. While this may appear to fly in the face of all time management theory, the need to reduce the e-mail clutter trumps that. So if it will take you three minutes, drag and drop it somewhere. If it will take you to minutes or less, handle it, and get it out of the in box.
Smallbizlady: But what if I forget to check on all that stuff that I have put in folders?
Marsha Egan: You won’t forget. Because you will start a new daily habit of planning your entire day at a specific, regular time — most people use the mornings. This is when you plan your entire day, not just do e-mail. You assemble everything you need to consider for the day, return phone calls, meetings, projects, and tasks delivered by e-mail, and this is when you set your priority list for the day. This helps you avoid e-mail messages arriving sporadically drawing you off your plan. Of course you may have some urgent items that appear, and require handling — that is business — but viewing your reminders that have popped up in the morning based on what you have dragged and dropped into folders, will enable you to go into the folder access the item and handle in its correct priority.
Smallbizlady: What is your best advice for all of our chatters to manage your e-mail better?
Marsha Egan: The most important thing to recognize is the way we e-mail has become habit, and habits are very difficult to change. Trying these new procedures needs to be focused on for at least a month. If it feels uncomfortable, power through it. If you’re having trouble changing to checking your e-mail only five times a day, start by checking it only a times a day and whittle it down. Changing habits takes focused attention, but over time it becomes the new habit. That is why my book is called Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. It is the only book on the market that deals with e-mailing productivity has a habit that can be changed, rather then just processes to do differently.
Disclosure Note: I was mailed three books to review, to prepare for this interview and give away on #smallbizchat.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
Melinda Emerson, “SmallBizLady,” is a Veteran Entrepreneur, Small Business Coach and Social Media Strategist who hosts Smallbizchat weekly for emerging entrepreneurs on Twitter. Her first book is, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, is out in March 2010.