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How can you stop wasting time on emails and still be seen to be a productive member of the team?

You waste 1.5 hours a day on email. Here's how to curb the habit

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The flashing red light of doom in the corner of the Blackberry is something that keeps investment bankers awake at night. Yes, it might be 2am, but perhaps that email is important – maybe it’s an urgent request from the MD or a small detail the client forgot to mention. Probably best to check and, while we’re at it, why not fire off a few emails on things you missed during the day?

Investment bankers, along with BBMing teenagers, may be one of an increasingly select group of people persisting with Blackberry usage – even if, as Morgan Stanley’s reticence to renew its contract demonstrates, they’re considering their options – but emailing is one of the easiest ways to waste time during the working day.

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The problem is not the device, but the fact that a lot of emails are unnecessary and mobiles enable this. Recent research by Modeuro Consulting suggested that emails took up around 1.5 hours a day among executives, which in turn prompted employees to send more emails and reduced productivity across the organisation.

So, how can you stop emailing becoming a huge time suck? We spoke to David Allen, a productivity coach who works with some of the leading investment banks, and some banker themselves on how to curb your Crackberry habit.

1. Get to a zero inbox

Rather than persistently diving in and out of emails and firing off notes as and when the need takes you, Allen recommends allocating some time each day to really sort through your inbox. “If you’re waiting on a client response or some crucial piece of information then fine, but you shouldn’t be compulsively checking your phone at all hours as a matter of course.”

2. Keep an agenda

“A good idea is to keep a running 'agenda' list of people you intersect with regularly,” said Allen. “So then you can accumulate and coordinate numerous agenda items and handle them very efficiently, and often with more clarity and decision speed, with a face-to-face or voice/video meeting.”

3. Stop the paranoia

One investment banking associate working in Canary Wharf tells us that when she first joined her firm, her MD made point of emailing late at night, and she would be expected to respond. Now, there’s a new person managing the team who thinks it better to actually speak to his team. “The hours haven’t reduced, but we know that when we do go home, we can relax,” she said.

4. Have a digital detox

It’s Friday afternoon, you’re gearing up for the weekend, so why not sign off for at least a few hours in the evening and try to keep any emailing on Saturday and Sunday to an absolute minimum. “Some people tried that and expected colleagues to be annoyed, but in actual fact it removed the pressure to be constantly connected,” said Allen.

5. Get the meetings right

The most likely period for an email deluge is immediately after a meeting where people are left with questions. “Terrible meetings encourage follow-up emails, which require replies and being cc’d into this just creates a flurry of emails,” said Allen. “Define goals, have clear action points and accountability during meetings to avoid unnecessary follow-ups.”

6. Just get organised

“Workplace productivity is enhanced by keeping a thorough and clear inventory of all projects and outcomes to which you're committed, in some trusted system or list (and not your head),” said Allen. “Review that list regularly, and ensue that you have defined at least one very next action for each one.”

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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