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Have a question about the approach of checking mail 3 times a day (on a schedule).

What do you do when the slot isn't available? Skip the check, or move it?

I like the idea a lot, but find my schedule moves around a lot - my hours are different on different days, and while mainly desk-based, I do have a lot of meetings etc.

So eg. if I wanted to use the 1st half hour every day, that's not always going to be possible. If it isn't, or an urgent meeting comes up - should I move the check backwards and still go for 3 per day, or just ignore it and wait until the lunch check?

I'm not obsessed by having EXACTLY THREE!!! (right now I'm in email slavery mode by comparison), but just curious how this would normally be dealt with by senior managers, given their schedules would be crazier again.

Thanks,

Chris

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I suspect that it depends on your email load and the specific situation.

In my case the first check of the day is the most important as the bulk of the important mails (around 40-50 of the 400+ mails a day I get actually need some action) I get are either sent late in the evening or early in the morning. If that's the case for you and you regularly have meetings first thing then perhaps you need to look at if you can get in earlier or check them from home. Personally I check my mails on my crackberry whilst watching the Breakfast news on the BBC, I can quickly clear out the dross then deal with the ones that just need a quick answer and schedule the ones that need more indepth treatment for when I get in.

I suspect that the three times a day is one of those 'for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools' things and I certainly wouldn't reccommend less than that but if you have a really good argument for why you need to check more often then I can't see any reasonable person telling you that no, it must be three times. I think it's more important that you're checking at regularly scheduled times (rather then constantly) than getting hung up on the exact number of times you check. If the schedule on one day is different to the schedule on the next due to different demands then so be it. I tend to check at 07:30, 10:00, 12:30, 14:00 and 16:00, maybe again at 18:00 or 19:00. If I leave it longer between checks then I tend to get phone calls from people who have emailed me asking why I haven't responded.

I do kinda half disagree with M&M on one point about email, I believe there are urgent emails. I do however believe that the reason there are important emails is that people often use email where another communication medium would be more appropriate. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen emails flying back and forth between two or three people (and I've been CCd in) and thought "Just pick up the damn phone or set up a meeting and talk to each other then one of you send the rest of us an email to tell us what you've decided!" or read an email and phoned the sender because I felt that was the more appropriate way to handle the subject matter.

Stephen

arc1's picture

Thanks Stephen.

Agree actually - there are "urgent emails" these days, because there are people out there who feel it is an effective strategy to deal with something genuinely urgent by sending an asynchronous communication.

You got to wonder really.

Chris

jhack's picture

There is a difference between 'important' and 'urgent.' An email which announces an organizational change is important, but not urgent. An email saying that the building is on fire is urgent.

I've found that most folks will change over time if you fail to get caught up in their email frenzy. It helps to call them when you finally look at see their 'urgent' email. (you can't change your boss's behavior, though, so that might be a different issue).

John

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="jhack"]There is a difference between 'important' and 'urgent.' [/quote]

OK, I changed 'important' to 'urgent'. That's probably closer to what I meant in the first place any way.

I would suggest, however, that an email telling you that the building is on fire (there was a joke in the UK channel 4 TV series "The IT crowd" where an IT support tech, being so immersed in email as a communication tool, emails the fire brigade to tell them his office is on fire, that level of obsession with email is not that far from the truth) could be considered both urgent and important.

Stephen

ccleveland's picture

BLUF: The number of times isn't as important as the quality of the time spent.

The point on the "guideline" is to concentrate your time.

During "e-mail" time, spend time processing e-mail and just e-mail. [i]Getting Things Done[/i] by [url=www.davidco.com]David Allen[/url] suggests that you can process each e-mail within 10-40 seconds (most of mine go a lot faster). If there is a response that you can provide in less than 2 minutes, go ahead. But if you spend 10-15 minutes answering many, many messages, you're going to get into serious time trouble.

During non-email time, [u]don't do e-mail[/u]! How much time have we wasted opening/closing, reading/re-reading the same messages over and over again? How much do we lose when we get side-tracked from a more important task?

One big side advantage, this actually [u]reduces[/u] the amount of e-mail you get daily. Just today, I was cc'ed on an exchange by one of my team members as they had a conversation back and forth via e-mail with another person outside our group. 15 e-mails in 10 minutes. Delete...delete...delete... Time for some feedback... Checking less frequently, means that you keep asynchronous communication asynchronous, reduce "interruptions", and improve both effectiveness and efficiency.

As far as urgency...people will learn that they need to use other methods to get in touch with you or an urgent issue. E-mail is the worst possible method to get in touch with my boss about something important or urgent. I know this, and we get along fine! My favorite story (I've been on both sides of this...) is when someone sends an e-mail and can't wait 5 minutes before calling or stopping by and asking, "Did you get my e-mail? What do you think?"

In short, Chris...schedule e-mail time that works for you. Put time as it fits in your crazy schedule so that you aren't being ruled by e-mail.

CC

P.S. If you use Oulook, I’ve heard good reviews from a [url=http://www.manager-tools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1441&highlight=]tool... that Cédric has that may help you[/url]. I don’t use Outlook, so I don’t have experience with it personally.

Mark's picture

Sometimes I just skip it, sometimes I reschedule. Just depends.

My belief that there are NO urgent emails cannot be trumped by your mistaken, however culturally supported, use of email as an urgent communication device. Just because you think email is good for talking to me about urgent things doesn't mean I have to validate your view.

Most managers talk about urgent email to avoid admitting that they are afraid of being out of the loop. Most of the GREAT managers I know aren't worried about that at all.

And, urgent emails would transcend the schedule anyway, right? If someone says they get several urgent emails a day, how do those who travel deal with it? Are they never on a plane, fearing losing their job for being unavailable? Does every meeting break up into email sessions because urgent emails trump everything?

Mark

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]My belief that there are NO urgent emails cannot be trumped by your mistaken, however culturally supported, use of email as an urgent communication device. [/quote]

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who think that email is a good tool for urgent messages and some of those people are our bosses (one is definately my boss and another is my previous boss). It can be difficult to communicate to them that email possibly isn't the best communications method for urgent messages.

As I indicated in my earlier response, I frequently find myself getting an email and picking up the phone to speak to the sender as that's a better way of dealing with the communication. Increasingly I'm finding that I don't have any choice in the matter though as many people have stopped sharing their phone number and one quite senior manager has gone so far aa to have his phone number changed and removed from the company phone directory on the grounds that he "... [doesn't] want to be bothered by people phoning [him]." I think that this is, in part at least, due to the fact that he used to have an admin to screen his calls but then lost her in a lateral move to a department where managers at his level don't get admins, he lost his private office at the same time and now has to sit out with "the plebs" (his terminology, but only in private).

[quote="mahorstman"]And, urgent emails would transcend the schedule anyway, right? If someone says they get several urgent emails a day, how do those who travel deal with it? Are they never on a plane, fearing losing their job for being unavailable? [/quote]

True story. In early October I had to fly Birmingham (UK) to Dublin (Ireland), a total flight time of 45 minutes, say an hour including time to board, get to the runway then get off and clear customs at the other end. I turned my phone and my crackberry off just before boarding and back on again whilst I was waiting to pick up my bags at the carosel. In that time I had recieved 7 emails and 4 voice mails from my boss (who knew when I was flying) asking why I hadn't responded to his emails. My travelling companion (who was with a different company but heading to the same event so we'd agreed to keep each other company) had a similar situation with her boss. I suspect that many of us will have similar stories.

Picking up John's point about urgent and important being different, none of the mails were that important. Indeed my response to 5 of the 7 mails could be summed up as "I covered that in the mail I sent you at 8am." and the other two were about things he wanted me to bring back for him from Dublin.

[quote="mahorstman"]Does every meeting break up into email sessions because urgent emails trump everything?[/quote]

Not usually, phone calls tend to be more of a problem. Although, the last few meetings I ran I asked people to leave their phones with admin who would take a message or come and get them as appropriate. That worked quite well but might not be workable for large meetings and obviously relies on there being admin staff available.

Stephen

jhbchina's picture

Did I miss a new cast somewhere. I listened to the calendar, which said there would be a part 2, but have not seen it released.

Could someone please let me know which cast you are talking about in this thread.

Thank you comrades!

jhack's picture

Part 2 of calendar will be published next week.

The Email podcast was from Sept 12, 2005 - check the archives.

John

arc1's picture

... and it was one of the good ones! Hence getting re-listened to and discussed long after the event.

Mark's picture

Oh, they're all good. ;-)

Stephen-

What am I missing about folks not answering mail in the meeting where the phones were confiscated? What repercussions were there of that brief experiment?

Mark

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]What am I missing about folks not answering mail in the meeting where the phones were confiscated? What repercussions were there of that brief experiment?[/quote]

I don't think I understand that first question.

As for repercussions, none that I'm aware of. It's only been a handful of meetings so far, all of which finished within 5 minutes of their planned finish time (largely due to having times on the agenda, I believe). No-one got called out of the meetings to take a call but a few people did have messages waiting for them, but the admin assistant who was looking after the phones each time is really good at dealing with crabby, demanding managers and managing their expectations.

Stephen

LouFlorence's picture

Urgent e-mails . . . harrumph. (Although I have to admit that if my boss demanded I monitor my e-mails constantly, I would).

My company also has the usual Blackberry-toting slavish devotion to email. People talk about urgent e-mails all the time.

First I turned off the noise maker on my desktop machine. Next, I turned off the noise on the Blackberry. It doesn't even vibrate for mail.

I tell people that if they want to contact me urgently I carry a phone and I will answer it when called (unless I'm driving -- then you have to wait until I stop).

Results so far:
I have not missed any critical messages or tasks.
People don't call my B'berry unless they need me right now, then they do.
I do e-mail 2-3 times daily (up from twice 6 months ago).

It is a very liberating feeling to take control of the e-mail.

Lou

Mark's picture

Harrumph indeed. Thanks Lou.

Stephen - what I meant was, if you had a meeting where phones were taken away, apparently no email was answered, and yet nothing terrible happened. I think this proves my theory - urgent emails are an oxymoron.

Mark

eagerApprentice's picture

I like this rule - one of the things that always distracted me when I was working was the constant "ding" of either a new Sametime or e-mail on my computer.

I told my friends in finance about this idea however, and they seemed to disagree. Their job is to rate companies who want to issue new bonds. They said that when they get a new request, they need to get the work done sometimes before the end of the day, and those requests only come as e-mails.

I challenged this several different ways, but they were pretty adamant. Is it possible that in the i-banking industry this e-mail rule isn't applicable?

maura's picture

If the only inbound channel for new work is email, and the work needs to be done (sometimes? often? with bad repercussions if it doesn't get done?) within the same business day, then that probably qualifies as a slightly different animal.

Based on the above, they could probably make a case for checking inbound email a bit more often - say, every two hours or so, rather than three times a day.

But I think the overall message still stands - those new requests are not likely to be much more important than the requests they are already working on. Rushing to read the new stuff every time they hear the chime, will only distract them from their current work and make them less efficient.

bffranklin's picture

I'd like to note that part of my job entails certain tasks that are time critical and submitted via email. That being said, in my case they are all submitted through an automated system. I have an outlook rule set up to forward any emails from this system to my phone via SMS messaging, and the phone set to "wiggle" mode for SMS receipt. Great for letting me unplug without worrying about "urgent emails".

tcomeau's picture

[quote="bffranklin"]I'd like to note that part of my job entails certain tasks that are time critical and submitted via email. [/quote]

I used to do that for key automated notifications. Problems with the spacecraft are often (though not always) urgent, and the word goes out via email through an automatic process. Several components of the ground system are handled the same way, usually a bit less urgently. But while email reaches the entire building, some of our conference rooms are behind radio-loud rooms where cell reception is nonexistent.

On the other hand, I don't hate email. I do a quick check-and-triage whenever I have a spare minute or three, like between meetings. I ignore everything but the urgent stuff when I'm in meetings or focused on a task, but I don't find it annoying or intrusive. I just blast through them.

Urgent is defined by me, not the sender. Ops Problems, school closing notifications, and mail from my wife to my work address are probably urgent. Mail from my boss, while possibly important, probably isn't urgent.

So I've never quite appreciated why people hate email.

tc>

jhack's picture

Having worked with automated messaging systems, I highly recommend systems that use email for urgent messaging should have mailboxes set up for that purpose. It's a role, not a person, that handles the email. When Robin goes on vacation, Tracy monitors the mailbox. If the mail is directed to someone in particular, how do you handle sick days, emergencies, etc?

Tom, I think the reason people hate email is that there are often negative consequences to those who go against the culture of their organization. If your firm treats all emails as instant messages to which you must respond asap, then "slackers" who only get to their email "when they feel like it" are treated as substandard performers. You'll be more effective in the long run if you refuse to let it run your life, but there can be short term consequences.

John

tcomeau's picture

[quote="jhack"]When Robin goes on vacation, Tracy monitors the mailbox. If the mail is directed to someone in particular, how do you handle sick days, emergencies, etc?
[/quote]
In our case, it goes to a mailing list. The ones I usually focus on are the HSTARs (HST Anamoly Reports) and the Safing List (when a failure puts the observatory into safemode.) The critical people are on the list twice -- once for the actual email, and a second address for a pager, so they are alerted to read the email. The worst part is, usually things aren't time-critical, but when they are, they really are.

[quote="jhack also"]
Tom, I think the reason people hate email is that there are often negative consequences to those who go against the culture of their organization.
...[/quote]

Going against the culture is always more effort, and can be like pushing a rock uphill: Lots of work, and you're the first to get crushed if you slip.

I also think there must be something about the cognitive experience of handling email that upsets people. Mark mentioned in one of the 'casts that a lot of younger people are maybe too comfortable with email, and use it far too casually, in a business-inappropriate way. Certainly I hear the most complaints from people my age or a little older, either that they don't like email, or "kids these days" don't use email correctly. I got lucky, and got my first wide-area email access at work, just as I was starting my career, with good guidance about how to use it as a business tool.

I've opined before that I expect implants to be common within my daughter's lifetime. When always-on is also in-your-head, some kind of cognitive adaptation will be crucial not just for success, but for survival. Will the rest of us just be left out?

tc>

Mark's picture

No it's not possible that this rule doesn't apply to I-bankers.

What do they do about email that comes in at 430 p.m.? If urgency is an issue and they want to start working on a mail that comes in at 9 because it might take all day, that proves that you couldn't get a mail processed that came in at 430.

Or, let's be more charitable. We don't say that some mail doesn't get handled differently. Put together a rule on those types of mails, and action those more frequently - but not as they come in - than other mails.

Mark

arc1's picture

Maybe it's reasonable to say that the rules being laid down here are for managers, not processors.

In retail banking there are plenty of people who do have to respond to emails within a fixed time, and the work only comes by email. It is no different to eg. a call centre, where the calls must be answered after a certain # of rings.

Point is, they're not the managers, they're in a processing role.

Each such team would then have a manager who needs to apply a whole different set of skills - coaching, feedback, delegation, QA, etc. That's the person who I think would be benefiting from scheduling email 3 times, not the poor bods who are manning the terminals, so to speak.