I'm not sure it's healthy that reading email is the first thing I do in the morning and one of the last things I do at night. Those habits must have an impact on my efforts to build better work-life balance.
I hate to say it, but the time has come for many of us to admit that we suffer from the same sad addiction.
Some of us give in to it the moment we wake up in the morning, and it's the last thing we do before going to bed at night.
So let me start the healing process by confessing that I, too, am addicted ... to email
I've written before about the downsides of technology. Our smartphones, tablets and laptops allow us to be connected to work all day, every day.
I still believe that the upside of these modern marvels outweighs the challenges they create, but I do struggle sometimes with that connectedness.
It's true that the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning (to the alarm on my smartphone) is to check my email. I continue checking email throughout the day at work. And even after returning home in the evening, I take a peek now and then, just to make sure there's nothing I need to handle.
This problem isn't nearly as bad for me now as it was when I was still working as a full-time journalist. The 24/7/365 nature of the news business meant I was, in effect, always on the clock and had to check email constantly to make sure I didn't need to help with some problem or project.
Those old habits die hard. While I've made some progress, I'd say I'm still definitely a recovering email addict.
A couple of different surveys that hit my email inbox (see, there it is again!) during the last few weeks have confirmed that I am not alone in this plight.
First was a survey from Accountemps, a specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps asked more than 2,100 U.S. chief financial officers, "What is the first thing you do when you start your workday?"
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said reading email was their first task each day, followed by 13 percent who said working on a project and 11 percent who started their days by creating a to-do list. Eight percent said they reviewed the daily news or stock market first, and 8 percent said they made phone calls.
That's not too surprising, right? You would expect CFOs to be dealing with many weighty company issues and wanting to make sure they're up-to-date on the latest developments. As such, taking a look at email is a natural first step for the day.
But another survey from ccGenie — a company that tries to help people organize and structure their inboxes — shows that email is something that people who aren't CFOs also love to hate.
The ccGenie online survey of more than 200 employed Americans found that 68 percent identified email as the communication technology they relied on most, and 71 percent said they couldn't work without it.
However, when asked what their biggest complaints were regarding email, 33 percent said they received too much. Another 23 percent complained of slow replies, and 10 percent mentioned an inability to find the emails they needed. Other complaints centered on misinterpreted messages (9 percent), "reply alls" (8 percent), bad grammar (6 percent), unnecessary cc-ing (6 percent) and big files (5 percent).
Considering people felt they received too many emails, you'd expect them to think communication with their teams was satisfactory. But you'd be wrong. The survey also showed that 58 percent of respondents believed their teams could communicate, share and collaborate better.
I believe my team at work communicates quite well, but I might be guilty of sending too many emails. Sometimes these electronic missives are necessary to get a message to many people at once, some of whom are not in the office for quick face time. However, the convenience of email can be seductive, and there are times I send a message when I could just as easily walk a few steps and communicate in person.
I do try to reply to email as quickly as possible so those who are communicating with me won't be frustrated by a slow response. I know how annoying that can be. And don't get me started on how twitchy writers and editors get when they receive emails that are littered with spelling and grammatical errors.
But I digress.
The bottom line is that email is a work necessity for many of us, but that doesn't mean we always use it well. I'm not sure it's healthy that reading email is the first thing I do in the morning and one of the last things I do at night. Those habits must have an impact on my efforts to build better work-life balance.
And even at work, it's possible that our reliance on email is hampering, instead of improving, our productivity.
Abby Welch, posting on the Accountemps blog, wrote about that company's CFO survey and offered "five tips for turbocharging your morning routine." I like her suggestions, which include:
- "Pinpoint your top priorities." Welch suggests that you take 15 minutes at the start of your day to identify your most critical tasks and create a prioritized to-do list.
- "Don't let email own you." Instead, give yourself a set amount of time for email review each morning, and then proceed to other tasks. "Also, don't feel compelled to open and respond to every message the instant it arrives," Welch writes. I must confess that will be a tough one for me.
- "Be mindful of digital distractions." This means you should only spend a few minutes each morning scanning the latest headlines or checking in on Facebook, Twitter or other social media.
- "Focus on one thing at a time." Welch writes that everyone has to multitask to some degree, but a project will go better if you give it your full attention.
- "Declutter daily." She suggests that you take a few minutes at the end of each day to "tidy up your physical workspace and digital desktop." I do this, and I think it's a great way to end a day and prepare for what's coming tomorrow.
Drop me a line with your ideas, and I'll share some of them in a future column. Maybe, if we work together, this is one addiction we can all overcome.