Thursday, 26 February 2009

E Mail Addiction

Try this today. Count how many times you look at your e mail , either on your PC or on your Blackberry. If you've looked into your mailbox more than at 15 different times, you're addicted !!

E Mail addiction is an under recognised problem. Yes E Mail has been an integral part of life for some time. But it has crept in slowly and virtually taken over the life of the addicts. There was indeed a time before E Mail. In a company that I worked for, the week closed on a Thursday. Nobody could really tell me why such an odd day was chosen. When I read the history of the company, I gathered that in the good old days, weekly reports had to be sent by ship to the headquarters in London. The weekly steamer sailed on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, I forget what. So in order to catch the ship, the week had to be closed on a Thursday for the sales to be collated and mailed from the field on a Friday and then the weekly report be ready in time before the ship sailed. Yes, there was a time before E Mails.

Back to E Mail addiction. You see symptoms of it everywhere.

Walk into any office and look around. You'll probably see rows of people peering into their computers. Granted that some of them may be playing games or browsing the Net. But a majority of them would be busily occupied with Microsoft Outlook. Clear evidence that the most often done activity in any company is reading and answering E Mail. Is that what a company is for ?

Take any meeting. More than 50% of the attendees are typing away on the laptop or on their Blackberry. Its impossible to hold a sensible meeting these days; people are busy E Mailing. Its amazing how people who are incredibly polite and sensitive in real life, turn into rude E Mail monsters in a meeting ; why come to the meeting and be rude to the meeting host, if all you are going to do is to watch your Inbox. Their excuse is that they are "multitasking", which I completely debunk, as its just jargon to say they are addicted to E Mail. For some tips on how to run "Topless Meetings" click here.

Worse are presentations to be made to the Board or Executive Committee or some senior executive. They are all E Mailing away and scarcely listening to you. Why travel 15 hours (in first class) to visit a country and review the business, if most of the time you are E Mailing ? The worst situation I have had was when I had to present to this guy who didn't listen to one word of what I was saying and was openly punching away at his Blackberry. I had half a mind to slip in a sentence in my presentation that he was a dumb idiot and I would have gotten away with it because he wasn't listening !

What is it about E mails that make them so addictive. Almost none of us can resist the sight of an unopened E Mail. Why ? There's almost nothing in business that's so incredibly urgent that it has to be seen in the next 20 seconds. If there was something really that urgent, we'll get a call. And yet we are hopelessly addicted. I think its got to do with a primordial instinct of wanting to know everything. And yet this seems to have been accentuated when mail became electronic. I have worked in the medieval ages before E Mail. The pile of unopened correspondence in the In Tray was a common business occurrence. Very few people were addicted to the In Tray !

The addiction is at the very least a threat to your effectiveness as a manager. At worst it can take over your life. I know of a manager who set alarms to wake up three times in the night to check on his Blackberry !

A detox programme for E Mail addiction would take the form of firstly disconnecting your Blackberry (horror of horrors). And then setting up a discipline that you'll open your inbox on the PC only once in an hour and deal with the mails that are pending in one go, after which you'll shut your mailbox and do something else. Use the time to uninterruptedly do your work for which you are paid for - set strategy, implement strategy, talk to people, read, analyse, whatever. In an 18 hour day when you are usually awake, don't open the mailbox more than 15 times. Join Emailaholics Anonymous.

A google search on E Mail addiction yields 18.2 million responses. There's lots of stuff out there on the dangers and how to kick the habit.

In the prehistoric days , when there was a whole generation of managers ,uncomfortable with E Mail, there was a venerable gentleman I knew, who was terrified of getting on to the computer. His routine was that his secretary would print all his emails, which he would take home in the evening. He would then scribble a response on them which his secretary would then type out and send as e mails the next morning. As young computer savvy kids, we used to mock at and deride this old fossil. Now I am not so sure if he was not the wiser man !


Adam said...

Good one! I have an advice for all those addicted to Blackberry: your smart phone allows you to switch off the data communication. :)

Regarding time management, I recommend Steven Covey's excellent book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", which describes key steps to cope with above described problem. I have seen it in one of the bookstores in Bangalore couple of weeks ago.

PS. Ramesh, "It ain't the same anymore" is my favorite so far. Shall you decide to write a book some day, please do it that way. I bet it’s going to sell like hotcakes!

Ramesh said...

Thanks Adam for your kind comments. Yes Covey's book is highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

I have set up a rule on my email box. Any message on which i'm marked as CC or BCC goes into a folder called LBW (Let the Bugger Wait). If I'm cc'd or bcc'd I know it is nice to know stuff. The addressee marked 'to' will deal with it. I open the LBW folder at the end of the day, glance at the latest email trail on each subject , delete and this process takes me between 90 and 180 seconds . Believe me, it has added back about 30-45 minutes a day.
PS: to all the others on this forum, the good old kiwi team is unravelling India in the cricket field. GO! Kiwi! Go!

Ramesh said...

Good idea ignoring the ccs.

Being an All Black is all fine, but supporting the kiwis in cricket is heresy. That lot can't even hold a bat properly and only win by playing in -5 deg conditions with gale force winds !!

Aashish said...

Just like at the commencement of any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting - I confess, I am an addict. Thankfully (or maybe not) the addiction is to email and not alcohol.

I did a complete email shut down during last year's week long vacation. And believe me, it was very very difficult. By the third day, the withdrawal symptoms (yes, that exists) were so strong, that I almost succumbed. I can't believe that instead of enjoying the wonderful sea and exquisite cuisine, all I kept thinking about was work email!

PS - Coincidental, but pleasant is the fact that I am reading this post on the first Saturday that I have started my weekend email shutdowns (yay).

Ramesh said...

Hooray Aashish !!

Anonymous said...

I confess that I am an addict.I have seriously implemented both suggestions of CCed and no e mail sync on blackberry.I have set a target is to look at mail box only three times a day.

Ramesh said...

Best wishes Anon. I hope this works out more productive for you.

Neelesh said...

Its so true, Will this really work these days of the e-mails unattneded for more than 3 days ??

Ramesh said...

Neelesh - that's why there's no need to look at them every 5 minutes !

ambulisamma said...

Oh how true it is?
But is it possible to get out of that addiction?if we think detoxing a large group(one company as target),its going to long time.
All the above,what SMS addiction which students even having today?

Mahrukh said...

And now we have Facebook addiction! It just does not cease -:)

Ramesh said...

@Mahrukh - Wow Mahrukh, great to see you here, but how did you stumble on to this old post !!! Yes, addictions thrive and Facebook is certainly one of them.

Reflections said...

I open my mail just twice maybe thrice....hurray I'm not an addict, not an addict;-D

Thank goodnes Ramesh didnt ask how many times I open blogger*Nancy mutters as she exits*

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - If you open EMail 20 times a day, you are an addict. If you open Blogger 20 times a day, you are a charming, lovely, wonderful, super Blogegr :):)

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