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Edition 14

Inbox tips for reducing work stress

I've got a client...actually I've got more than one client. But today I'm talking about this one particular client of mine (you know who you are!!) who says he's drowning in email.

(Let's call him) Malcolm. His inbox is a total mess since he has no system for filing emails and doesn't often delete them thinking that leaving it there will remind him to deal with it later.

Malcolm loses emails all the time and his inbox probably has about 200 emails in it. Recently in desperation he decided to start afresh with a new email address that only "VIPS" would have access to.

Course, not long after, his inbox is looking pretty much the same as before.

Now Malcolm's cranky and telling everyone not to email him. "Just call me if you want to tell me something!" he says.

Recently I met Business Coach Mark Lovekin, whose a memorable character that just about everyone calls Chook - coz he plays hockey like a headless one!

Chook helps business owners and high level executives get organised and clear their minds so they can function more effectively and efficiently.

He reckons many of us are struggling under the weight of a modern-day syndrome called Cognitive Overload.

In a nutshell, it's that fuzzy headed feeling you get when your mind is full of clutter.

Chook himself remembers a time when he was working high up the corporate ladder, putting in way too many hours every week and feeling stressed to the max.

Crunch time came when he took one long minute to answer his assistant when she simply asked him if he would like a cup of tea. Chook said his mind was just blank, he couldn't process the question or think what the answer was.

He was suffering from Cognitive Overload which comes from the sheer deluge of information we are forced to deal with every day.

Email, Chook says, is seen as a big contributor to the problem.

You can imagine how well that one goes down with an email addict like me!

Don't believe all you hear.

To all you "Malcolms" out there, read on for my recent interview with Chook on learning to love email so it can love you back.

He's agreed to share - totally free of charge - some of his hot tips on managing your email effectively - which he says is just one step on the road to Cognitive Freedom!

BROWN MOUSE - So Chook, are emails the curse of the modern world?

CHOOK - Emails can be wonderful - Don't believe the negative hype! (Okay, you can stay. Ed.)

It's a myth that workplace stress is primarily caused by emails. Emails can contribute to workplace stress, but when you see that the front page of Time magazine in June 1983 was dedicated to modern office stress, you realise the problem was around well before the Internet and Emails took off.

In fact it was the '70s when Professor Cary Cooper first discovered workplace stress causes illness. Now he says it's the "21st Century black plague".

BROWN MOUSE - Okay, so email cops a lot of probably ill-targeted flack but I know from our previous conversations that you do have one enormous gripe about email?

CHOOK - Yep, its email notifications. The beeps, whistles, voice warnings, pop-ups or whatever else your computer does to tell you that a new email has landed in your Inbox. They're poison to your mind and your time. Switch 'em off!!

One study proved we have a better IQ when we are "stoned" on weed than when we have email pop-ups coming at us every few minutes.

Another study showed it takes an average of 64 seconds for your mind to fully recover from the distraction of an email notification pop-up, and return to the original task, even if you thought you ignored it.

Unless you're on the emergency help desk, then I strongly recommend you switch off all email notifications.

You will naturally go to your email a few times a day anyway, BETWEEN TASKS ... if something is critical to be dealt with within the next hour then people will call you, if not then they need to be trained to do so.

BROWN MOUSE - What about working from your Inbox Chook? Is that a good or bad way of managing email?

CHOOK - Very Bad! ... Your Inbox should be treated like a letterbox, not an office.

I think what causes people to work from their Inboxes is this principle professed by so-called experts that we should "Touch Things Once".

This is a great principle when applied in a certain manner however it's caused many of us to work from our Inboxes. What makes that new email, which requires 15 minutes work, any more important than your existing 20-40 key outstanding issues (from phone calls, meetings, other emails, etc)?

If you accept that you cannot do everything to the extent you would like to do, then it follows that you're destined for failure if you try to do it all as it comes at you.

BROWN MOUSE - Yikes! I've got changes to make Chook. Time for my money question... what is your number 1 tip for processing emails?

CHOOK - I call it The Five-Minute Rule.

If an email is only going to take a minute or so to deal with, then it is generally best to do so immediately, but any non-critical email that will take you 5 minutes (which quickly becomes 10-20) or more, should be captured on a centralised list.

You can then better choose where to spend your time, rather than immediately spending 15 minutes haphazardly on issues just because they're new.

So there you have it folks, definitely some words of wisdom for us all to consider. Thanks a bunch Chook for agreeing to share your time and most importantly your expert insights with me and everyone reading today.

Believe me though, what Chook has shared with us here is just the beginning of what The-5-Keys system he has developed has to offer.

If you feel like you never have enough time, you're stressed and even starting to suffer the ill effects of that stress, better check out Chook's website.

Love to hear your feedback on this article, which as you know has been a bit of a deviation from my usual format. If you're keen I'll thrill you again from time to time with expert interviews like this!

Brown Mouse Communications helps small business owners build trust and win sales through high quality, individualised email newsletters.

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