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Work email can often feel like a treadmill you can’t seem to escape. When you stay on top of it, you read new emails, send responses, delete spam, archive old messages… and then five new emails appear in your inbox and start the cycle all over again.

Managing email has become almost a full-time job of its own, a phenomenon which is affecting workplace productivity and employee stress.

New York Times blogger Nick Bilton writes:

Last year, Royal Pingdom, which monitors Internet usage, said that in 2010, 107 trillion e-mails were sent. A report this year from the Radicati Group, a market research firm, found that in 2011, there were 3.1 billion active e-mail accounts in the world. The report noted that, on average, corporate employees sent and received 105 e-mails a day…

A research report issued this year by the University of California, Irvine, found that people who did not look at e-mail regularly at work were less stressed and more productive than others.

The author said he has tried everything: “Priority mail, filters, more filters, filters within filters, away messages, third-party e-mail tools,” all to no avail. He suggests that there is something fundamentally broken about the system that needs to change.

It might not be feasible for you to boycott writing and managing email on the job, but there are ways you can minimize the negative effects email can have on your personal effectiveness.

Protecting Your Workplace Productivity

1. Be proactive, not reactive.

Don’t get caught in the trap of reacting to every email you receive before considering whether or not it’s a top priority. Is responding to the email more important than the task you’re working on right now? Can it wait? Better yet, set aside designated times during the day to read and respond to emails (and stick to it).

2. Think outside the inbox.

Explore other social collaboration tools or project management applications to minimize how many emails your office sends internally. Sharing ideas and resources via online software can free you from email overload and keep your workplace more organized.

3. Have a conversation.

Sometimes getting up from your desk to talk to your colleague across the hall or picking up the phone to call a client can be more efficient than sending a series of emails. If you can handle an issue with a five-minute conversation, opt for that rather than further clogging your inbox.

What are your tips for managing email at work? Share them in the comments.


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