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Escaping the Email Avalanche

It’s there anything better than email? Is there anything worse than email? The answer in both cases is yes.

You may not understand this dichotomy, because you are one of the fortunate people who only get positive, life-affirming email. (You are also one of the fortunate people who have no idea what a dichotomy is, but we’ll deal with that next week.)

For the rest of us, getting buried with mountains of email is one of the biggest problems of our working lives. The only problem that could be worse is not getting buried with mountains of email, since this means you are so far out of the loop that even a bunch of stray electrons cannot find you.

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Of course, most of the email most of us receive does not contain information that can be considered vital — and yes, bra-bonanza.com, I’m talking about you. Still, other emails are very important, like the avalanche of emails I personally receive from lonely supermodels in the Balkans who want a relationship with a loving, sensitive man who will appreciate the artistry of the totally nude photos they have accidentally posted on the Internet.

Whether your emails are good, bad or indifferent, you do need a strategy to manage your electronic correspondence. This is where Preston Ni, Master of Science in Business Administration and author of “Communication Success with Four Personality Types” arrives in your inbox.

In a recent article on PsychologyToday.com, Ni offers “Seven Tips to Successful Email Management.” Here is my top five of his top seven:

“Establish a regular block of time each day to answer emails” is tip No.1. Ni believes that “the amount of time spent on emails should not exceed, at the very most, twenty-five percent of your workday.” It’s a good idea but not very practical. After all, you don’t spend 25 percent of your workday working! And it’s very unlikely that you are going to cut back on the time you spend gossiping, complaining and playing Bulletstorm. As a compromise, I suggest that you do block off a regular time to answer emails, but make it from 5 p.m. to 12 p.m. This suggestion should be quite effective, considering that you usually slip out the fire door every afternoon at 3:30.

“Prioritize your emails and answer only the most important” is tip No. 2, and I do think this tip can work. Ni recommends a system in which you divide your emails into either “A: must answer, B: should answer and C: could answer.” I would add some other categories under the heading of Never Answer. These include U: Urgent request from boss, N: Nasty complaint from customer, and I: Idiotic message from HR. If you want to be a happy person at work, all such emails must be ignored.

“Let your colleagues know you only answer emails during a certain time of day” is tip No. 4. The idea here is to discipline co-workers who “show a disregard of your time.” If your colleagues respond to this assertion of your importance with uncontrollable bursts of laughter, you can explain why you are ignoring their emails with Preston Ni’s quotable quote: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Say this, and you won’t get belly laughs. You’ll get belly punches.

Tip No. 5 is to “save and review your most important messages before clicking ‘send.'”

I think this is a fine rule — if you are what we call in business, a big chicken. True, “messages that contain multiple spelling, grammar and other writing mistakes can create the perception that the author is careless, impulsive, or simply a poor writer.” But it is even more true that writing blunders can show that you are creative, inventive and because you are not tied down to ancient, archaic rules of “proper English,” a real free spirit who operates outside the box. This strategy works especially well if “box” is one of the words you can’t spell.

Tip No. 7 is to “consider a branding statement as part of your email.” This means adding to your signature a “short statement, which represents your vision and values.” I know you don’t have any values, but if your vision includes an end to spending endless hours answering emails, how about this for a branding statement — “I have absolutely no interest in anything you say”?

If that doesn’t work, you’re on your own. Right now, there’s an email I simply have to answer. You know how impatient those Balkan supermodels can be.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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