It is common to hear colleagues despairing at the volume and demand of email traffic to their inboxes – even using auto rules to weed out the scams and unwanted promotional and sales messages seems an inadequate defence to keep this vital but at times overwhelmingly communication medium under control.

The receipt of constant email updates, requests or queries are a source of stress to many credit professionals. This is not to mention all the promotional emails and unsolicited emails that infiltrate most inboxes. A recent report by researchers argues that to manage the stress from a constant flow of incoming emails people should consider doing without emails but in this day and age, such a recommendation is pretty well unrealistic and unachievable.

The report from the London-based Future Work Centre which conducts psychological research on people's workplace experiences included a key recommendation to not have your email app running at all times. Understandably, many in our industry would find this hard if not impossible to implement.

The psychologists in their report following a survey of almost 2,000 workers in the UK across a range of industries and occupations, were urging users to seize control of their email instead of being ruled by it and suggested "you may want to consider launching your email application when you want to use email and closing it down for periods when you don't wish to be interrupted by incoming emails... use email when you intend to, not just because it's always running in the background."

Interestingly, the researchers found two of the most stressful habits of those surveyed was leaving emails on all day and checking emails early in the morning and late at night. They concluded that "higher email pressure was associated with more examples of work having a negative effect on home life, and home life having a negative impact on performance at work".

The report's lead author Dr Richard MacKinnon said: "our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. While it can be a valuable communication tool, it's clear that it's a source of stress or frustration for many of us. The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure. But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing."

Heavy traffic

A report "Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019" prepared by The Radicati Group provides some context as to the extent of email traffic and usage: in 2015 worldwide email users numbered nearly 2.6 billion, with the average number of email accounts per user being 1.7 accounts whilst the number of emails sent and received per day across the world was a staggering 205 billion! The same report details that in 2015 the number of business emails sent and received per user per day totalled 122 emails. How does your inbox traffic stack up against that average rate? Quite likely given our industry's reliance upon emails, your inbox traffic will be much higher.

Manage the traffic

Getting serious with managing your emails. The first step will be to recognise how you respond to incoming messages. The sad reality is it is now common place that email has imposed upon many of us, a form of business attention-deficit disorder, such that whatever comes into your inbox trumps anything else you're working on! If managed effectively, email doesn't need to be a burden. Management requires some strategies such as those suggested by Steuart Snooks, the Email Strategist & Productivity Expert who presented sessions at the 2014 IMA National Conference: Snooks advocated a www strategy to take control of email traffic – the www representing WHEN, WHAT and WHERE. We have reproduced the outline of his strategy below.

WHEN

1. Controlling when you will look at your email
(a). Schedule times to check email (rather than reacting as they arrive). Efficiency experts
suggest restricting looking at emails to just 4 times per work day, such as:
- Early in the day z About 30-45 minutes before your lunch break z Any time that suits during the afternoon z About 30-45 minutes before you finish for the day

2. Turning off all Outlook email alerts. Such alerts typically are any one or combination of a sound, a change to the mouse pointer, displaying an envelope icon in the taskbar or displaying a desktop alert – all of them are a distraction to your efficiency.

3. Managing the expectations of those who email you – this can be achieved by a simple message above your signature block on ongoing messages advising you only check emails 3-4 times per day but if an urgent response is required to telephone you directly.

WHAT

1. Handle each email only once by adopting the proven 4D method: 
- DITCH/DELETE 
-DEAL (immediately handle any email that you can read and respond to in two minutes or less) 
- DELEGATE
- DECIDE { Where – file/move to a Folder { When – convert to a Task or Calendar item { Wait – add to a Watch List (pending a reply)

2. Use Outlook rules to automate processes such as moving messages to specific folders eg Newsletters/ezines, personal emails and Google "alerts".

Clarify expectations and parameters in the messages you send:
(a). No question = no reply
— Send a one off notification
— Add a PS to signature that a reply is not required
— To reduce unnecessary email
(b). Establish thresholds
— To allow for independent decision making
— To reduce back and forth emails
(c). Use if/then instructions
— To prevent follow up questions
— To speed up decision making
— To reduce back and forth emails

WHERE

1. Reduce mailbox size

2. Use document links in your messages rather than adding attachments – not only will it reduce the size of your message but it will improve the speed of the transmission whilst improving the version control, security and compatibility for the documents shared with the email recipient

3. Simply your email folder structure in Outlook:
(a). Separate "finished" from "unfinished" work;
(b). Create 4 or 5 primary folders to sort and store your messages.

Adapted from an artice in The AGENT February/March 2016

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