WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb

I feel I am drowning under emails. Last week I had 379. I can't cope with this - how do I make them go away?

Get a grip! Emails should be a tool for communication, not a weapon of oppression.

According to the Institute of Personnel Development, managing email is now a major cause of stress. Apparently, today's business people receive an average of 64 emails a day. So you are only just over the average - unbelievably!

They say (and I am sure it is true) that only half of these are necessary.

It sounds that in your case the ratio of 'noise' to information is just too high. It is clearly having a major effect on your productivity as well as causing stress, so action is needed.

You must discuss the problem with your manager and agree how you are going to tackle it. If you have a mentor, they are good sounding boards for this type of circumstance. Review how you use your emails. Are a lot of those you receive 'copies' that you do not need to spend time on?

Do you sit glued to the screen waiting for the 'ping' of the next email?

If so, you should be less of a slave to the machine and sort out times of the day when you will access your emails. Try to treat them like letters - reply reasonably quickly to the urgent ones but others should wait.

Check your organisation has invested in anti-spam software and a mail preference service.

You should also question whether the organisation needs an email policy.

The recent Hutton Inquiry, not to mention the effects of the impending Freedom of Information Act, should make all third sector organisations sit up and take note.

Let us remember that effective email use is behavioural rather than technological.

Let's be practical. How can you go about drawing up an email best practice code?

- Get together a small group to look at the issue and outline the objectives - e.g. reducing the overall volume, improving content, cutting out excessive copying and banning abuse

- Sign up commitment from everyone - management, staff and volunteers

- Consult your IT people, if you have them, or seek out some friendly IT advice

- Seek out examples of best practice elsewhere

- Once you have implemented these, build in mechanisms to monitor and review them

Let's hope your manager sees that you are drowning, and not just waving!

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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