Cut The Glut of Email

Our time study research indicates that employees spend 3.3 hours per week on miscellaneous email messages that are not connected with any of their main projects. That’s a massive amount of time that could easily be reduced. Here are some tips for handling email better.


  • If you are concerned about the volume of email you receive, remember, it’s not them, it’s all of us who are guilty. If you send out 2 emails, and copy 20 people on each, you have contributed to the glut of email by sending out 40 emails yourself!
  • Do not copy people needlessly. Ask yourself why you are copying everyone – if it is to make you look good, it probably is not necessary.
  • Ask employees who report to you not to cc you, unless they include a short note explaining why they are copying you.
  • Hire someone to go through your email when you are on vacation and eliminate what is obviously unnecessary.
  • Use the phone instead of sending an email. If you find yourself typing a lot and telling a “story”, then it is better to call.
  • It is very difficult to convince others through email, especially when you know that they already have entrenched positions. Find another way.
  • The best use of email is for short transactions: “Here is the document you requested,” “When is the meeting?”, “Can you provide an answer to a question”, etc.
  • Just say no. If you’re on a mailing list for which you have no interest, reply by unsubscribing.
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters. If you want to learn something, take a course. If you are hoping that occasionally some useful tidbit will come through on a newsletter, then you are wasting your time. Unsubscribe.



  • Check the spelling of your email before sending it. Spelling errors seem generally accepted in email. But go beyond acceptable. Aim for excellence.
  • DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is perceived as shouting.
  • Re-read your email before sending it. Writing quickly often results in awkward grammar.
  • Consider carefully what you write; it’s a permanent record and can be easily forwarded to others. Never accuse people, call them names, suggest they aren’t being smart or criticize their spelling. Assume their intentions are genuine and that they are good people. Be polite and assertive if necessary (i.e. to spammers) but not vindictive.
  • Write succinctly.
  • Write descriptive subject lines. Many busy people will only open messages with captivating subject lines. Think creatively.
  • If you must forward a message, put your comments at the top.
  • Do not keep all of your messages in your mail box folder. Create new mail folders with names that categorize your mail and move messages into them. Thus, new mail is quicker to find.
  • Create folders for : Things to do, Upcoming Events, Manager Issues, Subordinate Issues, Reading, Family, and folders for each of your major customers.
  • Be careful with punctuation. A lot of periods can separate thoughts….. but use a lot of exclamation marks and it looks like you’re angry!!!!!!!!!! How does a line of question marks look ??????? You might not intend strong emotion, but the other person might think you do.
  • Avoid cyber-speak. Not everyone is familiar with the cute acronyms used in Email correspondence, such as IMHO (in my humble opinion) or FWIW (for what it’s worth).  Performing a mental translation each time slows down the reader. Do not make reading difficult for them.

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Be Accountable and Stop Procrastinating

It is so easy to put something off that doesn’t matter. Or at least, you think it doesn’t matter. Maybe not today. But someday it will. That aching toothache you think might just go away. The overdue taxes that maybe they won’t check up on.

All of these catch up some day. That’s when the trouble really begins.

So you need to avoid procrastination in order to prevent these negative consequences. One way to do it involves adding accountability. Read more »

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Putting A Priority On Your Time

Where does all the time go? Long hours. Late nights. Snatched lunches. Some people boast about their overwhelming work schedule as if it’s a badge of honor: “I start work at 7:00 a.m. and work right though until 8:00 p.m.” Often their Herculean claims border on the absurd. “Last night I went to bed at three a.m. and had to get up two hours earlier to finish a report.”  Or, “I used to eat lunch at my desk. But I need to save more time, so I’m giving up eating…”

The problem is NOT that there isn’t enough time. Time doesn’t expand. The problem is that people burden themselves with too many activities. The key to success is how you allocate your time to the important ones. In time study research we’ve conducted for clients, average employees spend about 50% of their time on A and B priorities. But among the top performers, time spent on A and B priorities approaches 60%. That’s an increase of 5 hours per week that can make all the difference.

Here’s how to think about setting priorities. Read more »

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How to Prepare for Meetings

One reason that people dislike meetings is that they are not well planned. If you are the chair for the meeting, some preparation steps can make a big difference. And even if you are not the chair, you can ask that these be done.

Writing an agenda in advance forces you to determine which items you want to cover. You can also use the agenda to communicate to participants what they will be considering and what is expected of them. An agenda helps create order and control at the meeting. Ideally, those attending should have a copy in advance.

If you are not in charge, approach the chair beforehand to make sure there is an agenda and that your items are on the list for discussion.

The most important item on the agenda is the purpose of the meeting. You should be able to state it in one succinct sentence, such as, “To review and approve details of the annual budget.” Keep the list of items to be covered specific and focused. Ask yourself what you expect to happen after each item is finished.

Of course, the agenda needs to include the time, the place, and the names of those who will be attending and the start and end times. End times are rarely included, but when they are, you can bring some urgency to the meeting by counting down the time remaining, especially when items run long.

Consider starting meetings at unconventional times. Time study research that we conducted indicates that meetings tend to start more on time on the half hour, rather than on the hour. Also, if you want a short meeting, schedule it for later in the day. Our time studies show that meetings are shorter later in the day. Business has a tendency to move quickly as five o’clock approaches.

A few days before the meeting, send out the meeting invitation and agenda.  Some people wonder whether they should send a follow up confirmation – often this is just a waste of valuable time.

If you’re unable to circulate an agenda in advance, write it on a flip chart or white board before participants arrive. Or give everyone a printed copy.

Meetings become dysfunctional when homework has not been done in advance. Attendees debate issues back and forth based on their impressions, feelings, biases, recollections, and quite often their loud voices. Instead, they need to come to the meeting armed with reports, research, recommendations, surveys, and conclusions from prior discussions. So as chair, encourage attendees to do this work in advance. Then, the meeting agenda will accept reports and recommendations rather than trying to formulate them. “Rubber stamping” a recommendation is not a bad thing. It works effectively when adequate homework has been done.

The investment you take to plan meetings thoroughly will result in meetings that people want to attend. Your time is worth it.

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Take Control When You Can’t Say No

Sometimes it is difficult to say no. An urgent request comes your way and it has to get done. Right now. Yesterday if possible. If you could say no and turn down the request, you’d have more time for the things that count. But the situation demands action and you can’t refuse. You’re not too happy about it. In that case, you might just have to say yes. But when you do, take control of the situation rather than letting it take control of you. Provide suggestions or alternatives to the person making the request. “I can help you by finding out who really should be doing this,” or, “How about if I show you how to do that and then you’ll be all set to go.”

Or, agree to the request this time. But ask how the two of you might plan better to avoid a rush the next time.

Another strategy is to tell the person “yes”, but remind them that they owe you one. For example, if you have to fill in for them at work, they might reciprocate by covering you for a shift the next time you need time off.

You can’t always say no, but you can you can take control by setting the timetable on your own terms. For instance say, “OK, I think I can squeeze that in. I expect I’ll be able to get it to you by four o’clock today. Does that work?” Set the schedule rather than letting someone set it for you.

Finally, consider putting a tough condition on your agreement. “If it would only take an hour, I’d be able to help, but I can’t give you more than that.” When in doubt, it’s easier to say no now, and then change your mind to a yes later, rather than the other way around.

So take control and manage those interuptions.  After all, your time is worth it.

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Mark Ellwood Radio Interview on Productivity

Have you got six minutes? Here’s a punchy radio interview with some practical tips for managing your time.  Along with the tips, you’ll hear time study insights from our work measurement and process improvement projects. Give it a listen, and share it with your colleagues.  Your time is worth it ! 

(Click on the link below, and wait a few seconds for the file to load.)

The Useful Commute Interview with Mark Ellwood

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How to Delegate

Our time study data indicates that the average employee spends 19% of his or her time on administrative tasks. This increases to 25% for managers. For many of them, delegation of some tasks would free up more time for high priority activities.

But employees make all kinds of excuses for not delegating. They justify their inefficiency through beliefs that are unfounded. If you want to make better use of your time, you’ll get more done through delegation. Catch yourself when you say one of the following. Often, the opposite is true! Read more »

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How To Set Goals Using The SMART Formula

Have you ever heard of the SMART formula?

When time begins to rush at you quickly, do you know where you are headed? The goals you set for tomorrow are your pictures of success. By setting them today, you aim your activities in the right direction. But a goal should not be just, “I want to lose weight,” or “I hope to be rich someday.” Those goals are too vague. They’re like New Year’s resolutions—well-intentioned wishes that are short on substance. So use a handy acronym known as the SMART formula to clarify your goals. There are different variations on this formula. I have looked at them all and made a subtle change to the acronym that I think works better. The acronym of the SMART formula stands for Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Timely.

Read more »

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