Email Stereotypes - Which one are you?
I hate to stereotype - except when it provides a learning opportunity! I have recently been struck by the fact that I tend to see people managing their email in just four strikingly different ways. I could not help but label them and dig deeper into the characteristics of each style, and of course the impact that each style has on their productivity. Which one are you?
The hoarder basically uses their inbox as a one-stop shop for everything. They receive email into their Inbox. They also use it as their filing system, and will then use it as their action list for emails. It is not unusual for them to have 1000's of emails in their Inbox. Now, they will defend their organising style vehemently, and suggest that is it just more efficient to keep everything in the Inbox. That way they always have their information close at hand. I don't agree. My belief is that the hoarder is at risk of living in chaos. Research shows that stress levels rise when you have more than 50 emails in the inbox, and hoarders are definitely at risk of having important actions slip through the cracks, or become urgent before they get to them.
The Spring Cleaner
The spring cleaner can often be found on a long-haul flight cleaning out their Inbox. They operate like hoarders, but are uncomfortable with this fact, so every now and again they will do a massive clean out and get their Inbox back in control. These are the people you often receive a reply from 3 months after you sent the original email! They do file emails into folders when they have time, but this is inconsistent. They also tend to use their Inbox as their action system, but can fall behind on their action list very quickly. A spring cleaner will usually have 100's of emails in their inbox at any one time. The problem with the spring cleaner is that they live most of the time in confusion - only ever feeling in control a couple of times per year.
The Screen Saver
The screen saver has a definite line in their mind which indicates if they are in control or not. It is usually when they can get their emails down to a screen full of emails. Once they can see all of their outstanding emails in one screen, they feel OK. This gives them a sense of control. They will usually have just 10's of emails in their Inbox at any given time. I believe it is certainly a much more effective way to manage email than our previous characters, but they are still not going far enough for me.
The Zero Hero
The zero hero's are my type of people. They are not obsessive about their email, and certainly do not achieve a zero Inbox every day. But they do ensure they get to zero at least once per week. They have a healthy relationship with their Inbox and email. They delete decisively, file what they need to keep in a simple filing system, and manage their email actions in a prioritised action list or in their calendar. The benefit - they achieve clarity about what needs their time and attention. They feel in control, and actually get their head out of their Inbox and into their more important work more of the time.
The world needs more hero's. Step up and take the challenge!