E-mail stole my life

Remember when e-mail was a novelty? Something you used to send jokes to your friends? Now, e-mail has become an integral part of every business day.

That bastion of in-depth business journalism, USA Today, recently quoted researchers as saying office workers spent an average of 49 minutes a day on e-mail this year (2001), up 30 to 35 percent over a year earlier. Another research company estimates that management-level employees will spend four hours a day on e-mail by 2002.

We who work at home look at those numbers and think: What a bunch of slackers. Forty-nine minutes a day? We home-office types easily can waste 49 minutes per hour on e-mail. And that's before we've had our morning coffee.

For many of us who work on computers, e-mail is our lifeline to the world. I do nearly all my business correspondence by e-mail, and most of my interpersonal relationships are maintained at the Internet level. This means that:

A) E-mail has made my working life speedier and more efficient, and

2) I waste an enormous amount of time using it.

That may seem a paradox, but let's look at a typical home-office scenario:

I want to check my e-mail to see if there's any good news from my publisher, i.e., whether there's any chance I'll get paid soon. I nudge my computer and wait for it to wake up. Then I hit the button to sign onto America Online. Because I recently "upgraded" the AOL on my antique computer, this process now takes, oh, forever. I wander around the house while the computer grinds away.

When I come back, it's time to enter my password. More grinding. Wander around some more.
Return to desk. Little mailbox icon shows I've got mail. Oh, goody. I look through the arrivals and find that most of them are spam -- ads for get-rich-quick schemes and porn come-ons and offers to enlarge/reduce various portions of my anatomy. After those are deleted, I go through various news items and jokes and private missives, reading and deleting and forwarding and replying. Once the personal stuff is out of the way, I'm ready to peruse my important business correspondence. There is none. I sigh and log off and find that I have spent 49 minutes on-line.

I repeat the above process several times a day, usually with the same results. Hours vanish. Where did that time go? Into the ether. Is there any way to get it back? No. When I'm on my deathbed, will I say, "If only I'd spent more time on e-mail . . . " Probably.

That same USA Today article quoted unnamed "experts" as saying, "Unchecked use of e-mail can waste time and interrupt workflow." Gosh, we all hope those experts got paid tons of money to do that research. They show an innate grasp of the obvious. And there's no such word as "workflow."

The article said some companies are fighting back by discouraging e-mail use or conducting classes to teach employees to manage e-mail more efficiently. Best of luck to them, I say. Must be like telling a junkie, "Try managing your heroin more efficiently."

Surely there are ways to overcome this addictive demon in our midst. We must learn to control our unchecked use of e-mail. Here are some suggestions:

--Delete everything unread. This takes only minutes, and soon you'll find that you get much less e-mail from friends.

--To reduce the amount of stuff arriving in your mailbox, "unsubscribe" from distribution services and "remove" your address from mailing lists. Diligently report spam advertisers to your Internet server. This will take 49 minutes a day.

--Don't e-mail animated birthday greetings to all your friends and relatives. Get off your duff and go buy a bleeping card and mail it.

--Download nothing. Ever.

--Don't blindly forward every joke that comes your way. Only pass on the really good ones.

If you follow these suggestions, you can get the e-mail monkey off your back. You'll waste much less time and your "workflow" won't be interrupted and spilled all over everywhere.

You can use the hours you save being a more productive worker or pursuing a new avocation, such as chat rooms. I plan to devote mine to Free Cell.

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