ETHRWorld | December 13, 2022
It is a known and obvious fact that emails are an inevitable part of communication at work, especially in white collar jobs. But have you ever calculated the time you spend on an average on emails? A study by Adobe says that an average person spends as much as three hours a day managing their work email. When compared to the total work hours, three hours is not a small number!
Sometimes clearing all emails and achieving ‘inbox zero,’ is a kind of mental relief. But considering the incessant flow of messages these days, is spending that much time on emails really fruitful? It is understandable that not every email benefits the work. Wisely managing insignificant mails that drain one’s workflow and attention span matters, as it can in the long run affect one’s productivity to do other value driven tasks.
According to a study by the University of California Irvine, it takes workers almost 24 minutes to get back to their previous level of focus when faced with an interruption. So, every time you interrupt your work to check your email, it takes you nearly 30 minutes to get back in the groove and back to your original level of productivity, attention and focus.
In this context, ETHRWorld interacted with HR leaders to know how they manage their emails and understand what are the ‘dos and don’ts’ practices they follow to effectively manage the time and productivity.
Average time spent on emails
Jharna Thammaiah K, Director – HR, Intuit India, says she checks mails at regular intervals throughout the day, even in her meetings. Though she hasn’t calculated the average time she spends on emails, it differs from day to day, depending on the type of work week, meetings and travel schedule.
Punitha Anthony, Senior Director – HR, Movate, spends around 2 to 3 hours on emails. Checking and clearing emails is the first thing she does in the morning when the work starts. Anthony says that this helps her to prioritise matters that need immediate attention. She also does the same thing at the end of the day to ensure that nothing is pending.
Even Amrit Jaidka Arora, CHRO, Digit Insurance, starts her day by checking emails, as this helps her to set an agenda for the day. “I keep a tab of my mails every 30 minutes to ensure prompt replies and spend about five minutes each time. So, roughly around 1-2 hours are spent on reading mails,” she says.
Will emails drain productivity?
Anthony of Movate says, “Though emails are the most effective way for communicating important information, giving praise, sharing positive news or documenting the details for future reference, we often tend to get so absorbed with emails that we lose focus on the personal connect needed.”
According to Anthony, personal conversations, connecting with employees, picking up the phone and speaking to them directly often work better, faster and have a greater impact.
Arora of Digit Insurance shares that they, as a company, take pride in the quick turnaround times for their customers. Hence, it is imperative for them to ensure that the same trickles down to all employees too.
“You have to ensure there are no unnecessary delays, especially in cases where teams are awaiting final sign offs. One needs to manage time efficiently and make it a part of the routine. That way, one won’t spend a lot of time on emails and can ensure productivity doesn’t get affected,” Arora points out.
Thammaiah of Intuit is of the opinion that if emails are managed with discretion and the right balance, it helps in improving productivity and enables positive collaboration. At Intuit, they deploy many collaboration tools for varied functions.
With everyone experiencing meeting overload and exhaustion, Intuit is gravitating towards asynchronous ways of sharing information, enabling collaboration and decision making wherever possible to support employee wellbeing.
Thammaiah says in that sense, emails do come handy and help productivity without adding the pressures of excessive meetings, even if it is only used for the first or last mile of any collaborative assignment.
However, she adds that there are certainly some productivity challenges that come with emails being used without discretion, especially when one feels compelled and stressed to constantly stay on top of ‘all emails’.
How do HR leaders prioritise emails?
Anthony of Movate sorts out her emails on two parameters, such as urgency and importance. She creates a mental 2X2 matrix and categories her emails based on these.
Urgent emails are responded first, followed by the important ones, which necessarily has a time allotted.
As an HR leader, employee grievances are the top listed emails which Anthony responds to instantly. And, similarly, emails from the leadership team are something she keeps on the radar.
Arora of Digit Insurance has set certain rules in Outlook to categorise mails into different labelled folders. For example, anything to do with skip-level discussions, car lease, ESAR etc are automatically tagged to a different folder.
Thammaiah of Intuit says that prioritising emails is still an area of improvement for her. “I have a long way to go in getting better. Currently, I try to scan through my emails first thing in the morning. So that I am mentally aware of what came from the previous night and if anything is still pending in my inbox,” she says.
Thammaiah then colour codes them to be able to differentiate her mails based on priority and importance like mails that can be addressed later, ones that need an immediate response, work that requires deeper research, etc.
She tries to get the emails that need further delegation or quick responses out of her way by acting on them immediately so that she does not become a blocker to any further action needed.
“Something that also helps me is deleting emails that are clutter or move out mails that I have already acted on to the respective folders so that my primary inbox only has emails that need action from me,” she says.