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How Much Time and Money Do You Spend on E-Mail Each Day ?

When I first entered the world of work over 30 years ago, e-mail was just a dream in someone's mind. In talking with people who exist in today's work world, I am finding that e-mail is the second leading cause of management waste (meetings still hold the number one position).  In some of the companies I work with, people spend as much as 2-3 hours a day processing e-mail. This daily time investment adds up to 4,000 hours a year or $14,000 a year not counting benefits, if a person makes $70,000 a year.  Some people spend even more time and money on e-mail processing each day.  I have also seen companies that have had to upgrade their hard disc storage simply because people were not keeping their folders clean of junk (especially the ‘Sent’ folder). If you are struggling to find time for improvement in your organization, as many are, I suggest that you direct your process excellence skills and efforts towards the e-mail processes that a high percentage of your people are using each day.

How to Reduce E-Mail Waste

Won't simply sending my people to a time management course solve the 'e-mail waste' problem?
Eight ways to reduce e-mail waste
How do I get my people to follow the defined e-mail process rules?
What's the bottom line?
How can Great Systems! help you reduce meeting and e-mail waste?






Won't simply sending my people to a time management course solve the 'e-mail waste' problem? Back to Top

I am hesitant to recommend that anyone attend a general time management course to fix this process problem because in general, most people talk too much about time management concepts and not enough about specific changes that need to be made in order to begin fixing the problem.  The Covey stuff on ‘First Things First’ is one of the best approaches as far as general time utilization goes, but it does not get at the specifics relative to the e-mail usage rules that need to be adopted AND the types of personal accountability system changes that need to be made in order to make sure the rules are followed.

The true challenge lies in setting up a system that holds people accountable for following the new e-mail process rules that the group establishes (and that I would suggest).  The same issue applies to meeting waste, with meeting waste covering a wide variety of meeting types, such as telephone, one on one, and group.  By the way, some companies are really great at (1) not having too many meetings and (2) not really wasting meeting time.  Unfortunately, these companies only make up a small percentage of the total.

Eight Ways to Reduce E-Mail Waste Back to Top

Here are eight simple ways to reduce e-mail waste:
  • Use subject lines effectively – Make each subject line specific in terms of what the message is about AND what action needs to be taken with it. For example, "Go Fast Foods Draft Capital Budget - Please Respond by the End of the Week!"
  • Use distribution lists effectively – Don’t use ‘Reply All’ as a matter of habit, make multiple lists that are project specific, and keep lists up-to-date. A lot of people don't know how to set up distribution lists, but it is more often the case that people fail to manage their lists.
  • Define when to use e-mail - Remember, a lot of businesses were successful in the past when e-mail did not exist. I know that times have changed, but there are still cases where picking up the phone or going to see someone are more effective communication mediums – use specific examples of regular communications that belong in each category (e-mail, phone, or face-to-face).
  • Measure and trend your e-mail process - Measure daily the number of e-mails sent and received, along with the time spent processing e-mail – also, keep track of ‘waste’ or ‘defect’ e-mails. This can easily be done in a spreadsheet (one row per day), and given the time and money being invested, it is a task that all e-mail users should do each day, at least until the process waste is reduced.
  • Use folders effectively – Identify specific folder types that people should have, and keep the in box clean unless action is still needed on a message. Pack rats must be managed as well.
  • Use technology to minimize spam – Track spam until it is minimized. This is best done by (1) requiring each person to track key daily e-mail use parameters, (2) rolling up these individual totals into a department or site total, and (3) communicating key spam sources to the IT folks.
  • Regularly review e-mail process, and process waste, trends - Require each person to trend their key e-mail measures and share them at leadership meetings, along with actions that have been taken to reduce e-mail waste (each person should be able to prove they are doing something to address the problem).
  • Be specific about when e-mail should be processed each day (time of day and number of times per day) – DON’T stop other work to respond to an e-mail whenever it comes in (in fact, I recommend that you turn off that feature).

How do I get my people to follow the defined e-mail process rules? Back to Top

People break the rules because they can. If you ask them why they are breaking the rules (if you can catch them doing so), they will usually give you what appear to be good reasons for doing so (rationalizations). If you want people to follow any rule, you have to (1) define the expectation (the rule), (2) why the rule is important, (3) the consequences of breaking the rule, and (4) enforce the rule. Doing these four things does not automatically guarantee that all rules will be followed, but covering these four bases does significantly increase the probability of a given rule being consistently followed. Most people fail to define consequences and enforce the rule more than they fail to define the rule itself or why it is important, but sometimes they fail in all four areas.

Think about your own organization. Do people know what rules they should be following as they process their e-mail each day, and what actions they should be taking to track and reduce e-mail waste? Probably not - they probably see e-mail waste as a necessary evil of being a manager or supervisor - it is just something we have to live with each day. As with meetings, they blindly spend their time and money doing these things each day with little regard being given to how much those actions are costing, how much waste these processes contain, or what their personal accountability towards fixing the problems that are inherent in these two processes might be. No process can be improved without defining it, measuring it, analyzing the root causes of process waste, and taking action to improve the process and remedy those root causes. We may know this is needed, but we still don't do it.

Define your e-mail process rules, using the eight steps provided above to get you started. Require your people to give you measurable results specific to their daily e-mail usage, along with actions they are taking to reduce that waste. Make e-mail process performance reviews a weekly habit, and I guarantee that you will see improvements.

What's the bottom line? Back to Top

The bottom line is to realize that a large percentage of the $14,000 or more a year each manager spends on e-mail is waste – what is each person personally doing to minimize that waste and what best practices can we share with each other and adopt as leadership practices?  Also, if people are using Blackberrys and/or texting each other, the problem and cost could be worse.  We need to find a balance – a lot of us were successful before e-mail even came along.  It is good for some things, but not for everything!

Finally, I work with so many organizations that are struggling to get going, let alone sustain, their process excellence efforts. One of the key reasons they are struggling is that they simply do not have time for improvement - they are wasting too much time each day in meetings and processing e-mail. Some meetings and some e-mail is necessary, and even recommended, but a very high percentage of this time is waste. If our front line people wasted this much time each day, what would our reactions be? Why is it okay for us to spend this much time and money each day, without any evidence of time investment effectiveness being demonstrated? I don't have a good answer for this question - we need to get rid of the waste!

How can Great Systems! help you reduce meeting and e-mail waste? Back to Top

As you might guess, I have developed my own workshop related to this topic.  In this one day management system waste reduction workshop, I include the reduction of e-mail waste, but I also go after meeting waste.  The processes I teach for reducing both meeting waste and e-mail waste are the same.  In essence, I send the message that people who make $70,000 or more a year need to be able to demonstrate how they are using their time effectively just as we would expect a driver to do.

If you are interested in learning more about this onsite workshop, please send me an e-mail or give me a telephone call (the number is provided below), and we can go from there. I promise not to spam you!


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Last Revised - March 1, 2015
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