One of the more common behaviors I run into when working with audiences or individual coaching clients is the “ureading” of e-mail. Now here is a Top 10 contestant for insane things we do simply because we don’t know what else to do!
Unreading e-mail involves selecting and reading an e-mail, then right clicking on it and marking it Unread. The purpose is, of course, to make it appear bold again because it’s important and needs our attention.
Let’s review this behavior. It is the functional equivalent of opening a piece of physical mail, reading it, then putting it back in the envelope and returning it to the inbox! For many, given the amount of time it will take to get back to that item, you might as well put a stamp on it and mail it to yourself (again and again and again…). Net result: Lots of Activity with no corresponding Productivity!
We all know the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Unreading e-mail fits squarely into that definition. This behavior exacerbates the current sense of hamster-on-the-wheel syndrome we all experience.
The solution is to treat e-mail like the correspondence it is. If it’s junk delete it. If it’s archival or reference information, file it away either in your e-mail sub-folders or DMS system or, using File, Save As, as a document on your hard drive. If it contains an action item, either adopt/develop a workflow management method (like QuietSpacing(tm)) or drag and drop it to a new Task. Just don’t Unread it and come back to it again and again hoping that either (a) you will now have time to do it, lest you need to Unread it again, or (b) it has magically done itself or is no longer ripe for execution!
Approaching e-mail like regular old-school correspondence provides a number of ready solutions to the never-ending stream of information that comes our way through this valuable, but overwhelming, form of communication. It really is up to each of us to find a way to command this particular method.