Friday, March 12, 2010

The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You

The Hamster Revolution book cover

A man who's spending so much time on e-mail he's actually turned into a hamster turns to an info coach for help. That's the story line of this thin volume - and while it may sound too cutesy, the book is actually packed with good advice. And the hamster part isn't so overdone as to be annoying.

The book focuses on three things:

1. How much time we actually spend on e-mail, and why it's worth doing something about it.

If your e-mail volume (sent and received) is 75 messages/workday, that comes to 18,000 messages per year, assuming 240 workdays/year. If it takes an average of 2 minutes to process each message, you're looking at 36,000 minutes/year - which equals 600 hours, or 75 workdays. If you could reduce that by even 20%, you'd save about 15 days - time you could spend on personal and business priorities.

2. How to reduce the volume of e-mail, and improve the e-mail you get.

Volume reduction involves asking whether each message is necessary, appropriate, and targeted to the right people. It all boils down to this: Will getting this message actually benefit the recipient?

The quality part involved both subject lines and the way the message is structured. Tom's post on the Rapid eLearning blog has a great e-mail before and after example, based on the principles taught in this book. The subject line changes from the meaningless "quick note" to "Action: Call those bozos at the circus to get the safety report." The body of the message is substantially improved, too - making it much easier to see what's needed.

The book also includes a section on how you might coach the people who send you e-mail, so you can all improve - to everyone's benefit.

3. How to file those e-mails (and your bookmarks, electronic documents and paper documents, too)

The book suggests a simple way to file your messages, with 4-5 top-level folders that the author says work for people in all lines of business. These seem to be for filing reference materials, not action-item related messages - so you might want to add to the list, if you don't want to use your inbox as a to-do list.

I got the book at my local library, and it was a quick read. If you want something even quicker, that covers much of item 2 (excluding the coaching), read Merlin Mann's Writing sensible email messages.


Anonymous said...

At work I keep my inbox and sent items empty. Each project I work on has it's own folder. I also use Outlook's categories to label my mail by project.
If an email can't be actioned immediately I create a task for it and then move it out of the inbox. If an email is information that I might want later I save it to an "information only" folder; which I have to regularly clean out because information so quickly becomes obsolete.
I also turned off the automatic notifications on my email. I get a little envelope on my status bar and that's it. When I finish my current task, I check whether I have any new emails. Otherwise, I'm constantly stopping what I'm doing and checking what that new email is. And like phone calls at dinner - most of them can wait another 10 minutes. I figure if people need me urgently - the phone still works :-)

Greg Spears said...

The Hamster Revolution changed my life! It saved me so much time -- I had my whole team go through training. More info here: Great review Jeri! Greg Spears