e-mail misery guts

Moan alert – I’ve just read back through the below article and it seems I’m a right cantankerous columnist this month!

I’m in the process of trying to reclaim some of my life back from the constant onslaught of electronic communications that take up an incommensurate amount of my time.

Over the past few months I’d reached a stage where I spent so much time trying to keep on top of irrelevant email, unsolicited Facebook requests for one thing or another, pointless text messages and other digital sundries that I seemed to have little time for much else.

I hadn’t noticed the gradual swelling of the portion of my day I had to dedicate to processing all this noise, particularly email. One recent study indicated that the use of email by “professionals” increased by 78 percent over the past five years and over half the respondents said they are “overwhelmed” by the volume. It is estimated that most office workers spend over two hours per day attending to email.

Don’t get me wrong; I think email is a fantastic invention that I would find difficult to do without for more than a few days. But even the process of opening, scan reading and deleting an email takes several seconds. Multiply that by a few hundred over a week and it doesn’t take long to lose hours.

Things reached a head recently when, after 48 hours away from a computer, I had over 400 unread personal and work emails waiting indignantly for attention on my return. Once I had spent several hours in the morning and part of the evening weeding out the 30 or so messages that were actually of consequence, I tetchily set about taking action.

Anyone who had sent a ‘joke’ or ‘humorous picture’ was emailed back, thanking them for their efforts but requesting that they refrain from doing so in future. The responses I received were mostly along the lines of “ooooh, who’s having a bad day then?!” It can be tricky to explain to people who don’t deal with large amounts of email that sending me pictures of kittens and longwinded risqué jokes is seldom appreciated – when faced with a brimming inbox the time to savour such jovialities can be scarce.

Anyone who sent an email that was irrelevant was emailed back asking to explain why they thought the email was relevant to me and to think twice before doing so again. The reasons I was given were mostly of the ‘Sorry. I just thought you’d like to know’ variety.

Anyone who had sent personal email to my work address or vice versa was politely requested to avoid such transgressions in future. No problem’s there.

Any newsletters to which I had subscribed but no longer wished to receive were un-enrolled from, rather than just deleting them from my inbox as I had previously.

Any unsolicited spam was reported and added to my blocked list. Spamming, the sending of unsolicited bulk email, is in the top 10 of things I loathe. It is estimated that about 90 percent of all email is spam, which clogs the arteries of the Internet and wastes millions of hours of peoples’ time each year. Grrr.

Perhaps the most effective, and simplest, action I took was to switch off the ‘bing’ sound that my email software made whenever a new message arrived. I hadn’t realised how distracting the noise had been, often beeping away several times a minute to remind me of all the gumph that was winging its way to me.

I now only check my email at a few set times each day rather than each time a bing bonged.

After taking the above steps, I’m delighted to report that the amount of extraneous email correspondence I deal with has decreased dramatically. I now have time to do more actual work at work, and more time to waste looking at pictures of people I don’t know doing things I’m not interested in on Facebook.

Article for Shetland Life magazine – December 2011