productivity tips

To Remain Productive, Email Management is Key

email producitivityLong gone are the days when work email stayed at work, where the only way to check it was to log into your desktop. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, it’s easier than ever to check email or to respond to that ‘ding’, whenever and wherever. IT solutions provider, GFI Software, sponsored a blind survey of 503 employees in small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. to gauge work-related email habits and to assess how much email plays into our work and personal lives. It found that 90% of respondents considered email a blessing, despite its ubiquity and the stresses associated with the influx of information.

“It’s a blessing because you fell connected. It’s about being available and having more flexibility in the workday,” said Sergio Galindo, global head of product management at GFI Software, which conducted the survey. “You don’t have to be at a desk and you can still be productive.”

More than three-quarters of respondents (81%) said they check their work email on weekends, 55% check email after 11 p.m. and 59% keep on top of their work email while on vacation. It would seem from these statistics that email is getting in the way of the distractions that may be help us to be more productive when we return to the office, but Galindo says that keeping email productive is a matter of good use and prioritization.

“Giving the volume of email [we receive every day], management is important,” he said. “The iPhone has the ‘do not disturb’ feature. Prioritize emails by subject line, and [letting other emails wait] by setting 'me' time. Our consumption rate of information has gone down because there’s so much.”

Our consumption rates are also at risk when you consider that we aren’t just checking email during our off hours, but during other events as well. One in 10 respondents admitted to checking work email at a child’s school event, 9% at a wedding, and 6% at a funeral. An additional 6% said they logged into their work email while they or their spouse was in labor. Productivity is much tougher when your child is being born, or when a friend or family member is getting married.

Email management isn’t just managing your use and restraining yourself from responding right away, (76% of respondents, according to the survey, said they typically reply to emails within one hour during work hours), but it’s also looking at how email is used to conduct day-to-day activities. It’s here that businesses could improve productivity by looking at how email is integrated into sales processes, finances, human resources etc.

“Email is a huge repository of information,” Galindo said. “You can see how people are interacting. For example, with sales you can see how often emails are sent and how you can improve the process. Are people sending too few emails, and do they need to be more persistent?”

Another good productivity example is from an IT perspective, where those with large inboxes often have the slowest loads times and sync times for their email. These employees complain about the slowness, or waste time waiting or trying to find something, when simple organization would fix the problem.

“Technology has improved. We are more engaged and we can respond quickly,” Galindo said. “As the main communication format [for employees], it’s important to businesses, and it’s important to learn how to use email.”

What You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Productivity

productivity tipsA lot of times, people want to do something but don’t take the time to do that something or to change what’s necessary to get that done. Productivity is one of those things, where people want to be more productive but never actually do anything to become more productive. Cathy Sexton, a productivity strategist and coach and founder of The Productivity Experts, says that this is the case because people don’t take the time to recognize the benefits of doing something and of being more productive. “People are just overwhelmed today. They don’t see an end and they don’t know where to start,” she said. “There’s value in thinking about what things would look like if they were different.”

Sexton started her business in 2003, coaching and speaking to folks about reducing stress and frustration in order to live productive, peaceful lives. She said that one of the most common problems she addresses with her clients is learning what to control and how to control those things.

“We can only control four things: time, money, energy, and our attitude or behavior,” she said. “People try to control others or try to control the situation, when we just can’t. [Recognizing] this optimizes our time and energy while reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed.”

Sexton said that one of the biggest myths about productivity is that it’s all about time management, when it’s much more than that. Productivity includes emotional intelligence, being organized, taking action, and working naturally. She said that everyone has a productivity style, which is essentially how we make decisions and pace ourselves. By understanding this, we can get more done, have less frustration, and be better equipped to handle what’s going on.

“It’s about understanding who we are and working with that,” she said. “For example, if you need structure, then you need to be in a [work] position where you can follow a structure and go from step A, to B, to C.”

Not everyone is in a place where they can change jobs and find a position that suits their productivity style, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that can be done to improve your productivity. Sexton said that one thing anyone can do today to be more productive is to make a decision, and then take the next action. This moves yourself forward, allowing you to plan what you are doing instead of reacting or spending time getting the wrong things done.

In fact, there are four things that need to happen in this decision making process to ensure that the process is productive, but also that the decisions made and the tasks completed were also worthwhile. The four things are:

  1. Plan – This is more than just reacting to events, but strategizing what you’re going to do and how you are going to handle a situation.
  2. Eliminate – Productivity is more than getting things done, but getting the right things done. You need to take the wrong things out of your day, those tasks that don’t really move you forward or accomplish anything.
  3. Prioritize – Organize those ‘right things’ that you need to get done.
  4. Take Action – Do what needs to get done.

“Productivity is an ongoing process. You must work at it,” she said. “The time you take to set up these processes will come back 100-fold.”