Overthrowing Email Tyranny

Sharon Teitelbaum

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Do you have a friendly relationship with email, or do you feel like a slave to your email?

Do you get a sinking feeling every time you check your email because you know there are more new messages than you even want to know about, let alone read?

Do you spend time reading “interesting” and “valuable” material that people have forwarded to you when you really should be doing other things?

Do you check your mail several times a day and feel that every message requires your response within 4 hours?

Do you feel obligated to all the chain letters you receive and the emails that ask you to “forward this message to everyone you know”?

For many of you, email is the arena in which you most need to build stronger boundaries.

The great proliferation of email that many of us receive has come upon us slowly and innocuously enough. In a short time, we have gone from being excited and delighted with this new medium to being oppressed by hours of email work to do each day. Some email takes the place of contacts that would otherwise be handled by US mail, voice, or fax, but in other cases, the email coming at us simply adds to the already roaring DIN of daily input.

Through working with clients and handling my own situation, I have come up with several tips for overthrowing email tyranny. Some of these tips are for everyone, and some are particularly for high volume email users.

Coaching tips for handling email:

1. Know what you’re reading. Determine this immediately. Is it work-related or personal? Is it essential or is it “enrichment” material? Is it a “real” message from someone to you, or is it something that’s being forwarded all around the Internet? Some of this information can be accurately inferred from the return address or the subject.

2. YOU decide whether and when you want to deal with a particular email. Some messages you may choose to address right away. Others you determine will wait til later. Still others are for leisure reading. And still others you may decide you never want to read them. The latter emails should be deleted as soon as you make that determination.

3. If you don’t like receiving “fwds” (forwarded messages) from people, ask them to stop sending them to you! There are a great many “interesting” and “valuable” emails being forwarded all over the Internet, by people with the highest intentions. But if you find these a nuisance, ask your senders to stop sending them. Tell the truth. And stop reading the ones you receive. LISTEN VERY CLOSELY: YOU GET TO DECIDE WHICH EMAILS TO READ and when.

4. Just because an email gives you the address of an interesting website, it doesn’t mean you have to take the time to visit it! I have worked with clients who feel obligated to visit every website anyone has ever told them about. LISTEN VERY CLOSELY: YOU GET TO DECIDE WHICH WEBSITES (if any) TO VISIT and when.

5. Many people love reading the jokes, stories, and quoted material that come their way by email, and find that this input provides a certain balance for them, an infusion of uplifting ideas, a sense of connection. If this is true for you, then make a conscious choice to give yourself time to read them, and don’t feel guilty about it. But be honest with yourself. Are you reading non-essential email when you need to be working? Is your leisure email habit eating up time (cumulatively) you would otherwise have for leisure activity that you enjoy more?

6. Some email programs, like Eudora Pro, allow you to set up filters for your email. Set up your filters so that certain types of email can be effectively sorted and grouped together for you. For example, I get daily updates from one of the websites where I post my teleclasses; the daily update tells me who is currently registered for my class. I don’t need to read that every day. I can have my filtering software put all those updates together, and I can read the most recent one when I choose to.

7. Your most valuable currency is your time. Email can be a black hole of lost time. Be vigilant. Be powerful. Take care of yourself.

Tips for High Volume Email Users:

1. Bring in an assistant. Many power email users live with the delusion that they are the only ones who could possibly read and respond to all their email. Examine your email this week to identify some typical types of incoming and outgoing email. Classic examples include inquiries about your business or services and requests for information, each of which have a fairly standard response. Train your assistant to identify and handle these emails. You can also train the assistant to:

a) identify and delete junk mail (of any sort)

b) determine what’s urgent and get it to you

c) determine what’s “leisure reading” and print it for you so you can read it when you’re in the dentist’s waiting room, stuck in traffic, etc.

d) respond to more complex emails

2. Don’t let yourself be driven by the real or imagined expectations of your senders. If you are stressed because you feel you have to respond immediately, take a look at your assumptions. Are they accurate? Are they reasonable? Negotiate something that will work for you. Eliminate the stress.

COPYRIGHT 2003, Sharon Teitelbaum. All rights reserved.

Sharon Teitelbaum, http://www.stcoach.com , a Work-Life and Career Coach, works with high achieving women with young children, people at mid-career, and professionals seeking greater career satisfaction and work-life balance. She coaches by phone and in person in Boston. Her newsletter, Strategies For Change , offers practical tips for work-life success.

Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance , Sharon's first book, was published in 2005.

A motivational speaker, Sharon also also delivers keynotes & workshops on work-life issues. Clients include Children’s Hospital Boston, SunLife Financial, Arnold Worldwide, and many parent and alumni groups. She's been featured in national publications including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and Working Mother Magazine.

If you're considering hiring a coach to help you with challenges like Email tyranny, contact me for an initial consultation at no charge.

Married for 30 years, she is the mother of two amazing young women.


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