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How Email is Killing Your Productivity and Tips to Beat It

How Email Contributes to the Illusion of Productivity

Email is a bottomless pit where productivity goes to die.

The bottomless pit of email

Don’t believe me? Consider this example: It’s common in the workplace to hear the phrase, “Let me email that to you again so it’s at the top of your list,” from a coworker who needs something from you. The problem with this phrase is that email won’t be at the top of your inbox list for long. Your current top priority might not be their top priority and, even if you do see the email, it probably won’t go to the top of your to-do list. So, the email request will either get forgotten again, buried in a mass of other emails, or you’ll have to interrupt the other important work you’re doing in order to fulfill the request.

Like I said, email = bottomless pit of lost productivity. A recent poll of top marketers confirms this claim by revealing that 63 percent of marketers consider overflowing email inboxes one of their top four work inefficiencies.

Email has Fallen from ”Miracle of Technology” to “Necessary Evil”

Once upon a time, email was a great miracle of technology with its ability to allow us to communicate quickly and send documents to people miles away without having to lift a finger. However, it has now become one of the most overused, unproductive, and deceptive ways to manage your work.

Important information on projects gets lost in the piles of overlooked and unnecessary emails, sending a project request over and over again won’t ensure that a request is seen and, at the same time, sending email requests only adds to an already full-to-the-brim inbox. In fact, a Yahoo! survey found that overflowing email inboxes are so daunting that one third of people would rather clean their toilets than clean out their email inboxes.

One of the biggest problems with email is that it takes any communication about work completely out of context. Instead of quick and easy collaboration, you get:

  • No document version control (how was I supposed to know there’s a newer version?)
  • Communications lost in mile-long email chains that take 30 minutes to navigate
  • Emails with too many people CC’d, just in case
  • Vague subject lines, which often lead to accidentally deleted information
  • Information about work, but no information about which project its for, dependencies, or next steps

Most people mistakenly believe that email is the best and/or only way to effectively communicate about work. But the reality is, email has become such a recurring nightmare for requestors and resources that 62 percent of people admit they regularly check work email over the weekend and 50 percent have admitted to checking it on vacation. Rather than relaxing and unwinding from the chaos of work, they’re essentially addicted to checking their email, either out of habit or fear of falling behind.

Author Jonathan Spira found that 100 emails can occupy over half of a person’s day. It’s certainly not uncommon to receive that many emails during a day in the office, even a slow one. Because of this, it’s hard to get any real work done when you’re spending so much of your day grazing emails.

How Do You Escape Email Hell?

Email is a great way for your crazy aunt to still send you cat pictures and motivational quotes. However, it is no longer a viable workplace communication tool. Having to navigate through email chains at work can get far more confusing than trying to figure out why a cat hanging from a branch is telling you to “hang in there”. So, what is the answer, the solution to the madness?

1. Realize that email hell indicates a bigger problem.

First, recognize that if you’re living in email hell at work, the real problem is that your team has serious request management issues. You can help solve both of these issues by designating one place for receiving, accepting, and managing work requests. One example is developing a dedicated email address. That way, all requests go to one email address. Then, designate one person (usually a manager or senior manager) to be the gatekeeper of your team’s requests. They will be able to strategically decide which requests get done now, which wait until later, and which won’t bring any value to the company.

If coworkers or clients send requests to your personal email, either forward them to your request email, or respond back and ask them to use your email request queue from now on. If they don’t, their request will not be recognized. With this process in place, you can detach yourself from the chaos of email work requests and focus on what you have to get done now.

2. Implement a request management tool.

You can dispel the illusion of email productivity in another way by implementing a marketing work management system that has a request management tool. With this approach, you can direct everyone who needs to make a request to the tool where all requests will be collected in one place rather than getting lost in emails. As a result, you’ll be able to reserve your personal email for other things as well as reduce the amount of emails you receive.

While email probably isn’t going away anytime soon, there are ways to cut back. When you find a way to introduce and enforce a request management process, you and your team will save time, feel the burden lifted from your shoulders, and notice your email-induced headaches subside. Once people start requesting through the standardized system, the illusion of productivity given by email will turn into a more productive reality.

What methods are you currently using to manage your influx of requests? Are you interested in more ways productivity could be an illusion where you work?

Watch the on-demand webinar series, “Dispelling the Illusion of Productivity: 5 Unproductive Phrases Creatives Say and How to Avoid Them.”


10 Thank You Notes From Your Marketing Creative Team

In-house creative teams have an often thankless job. Based on requests that come to them in every medium, they’re charged with organizing and coming up with brilliant, original, clutter-piercing material quarter after quarter. While they’re juggling all that, they also have to absorb the ad hoc grenades thrown their way—requests for Sales team t-shirt designs, an exec’s kid’s birthday party decorations, that sort of thing. And they handle it all with grace and skill.

But even the most seasoned creative team has a few changes they’d love to see made. They wish they had a better way to communicate their issues, needs, and victories. They wish they had a better way to track and prioritize all of those requests. They wish they could cut down on all the distractions and meetings and spend more time doing what they do best.

To finally give these creative teams a voice—and in celebration of Jimmy Fallon’s move to The Tonight Show—we’ve assembled 10 thank you notes that could’ve come from your very own creative team.

To learn how you can turn these challenges into strengths for your in-house creative team, download our new ebook: The 5 Most Dangerous Creative Productivity Myths.



AtTask Security Update: Heartbleed

heartbleedIn response to customer inquiries we’ve received about the recently discovered Heartbleed Internet security vulnerability and how it might affect security on AtTask, our Chief Technology Officer, Ted Hoy, has published this statement:

You may have heard by now about Heartbleed, which can create vulnerability in information that is typically protected by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet.

First, please know that, based on testing performed by the AtTask Enterprise Security Office, the certificates issued for the AtTask on-demand platform are not vulnerable to Heartbleed. The Enterprise Security Office has updated to the latest patch level and has run 4 evaluation tools to ensure that there is no vulnerability. While our results are positive, we will continue to monitor this issue vigilantly over the coming days and weeks.

For those unfamiliar with the Heartbleed vulnerability, we’re happy to bring you up to speed.

Heartbleed should be considered a major security concern for anyone using the open-source cryptographic library OpenSSL. If a system is vulnerable to Heartbleed, it may allow an attacker to read the memory of the system, which can disclose its secret keys. This can allow the attackers to decrypt and eavesdrop on SSL-encrypted communications and to impersonate the entity that owns the vulnerable system. In addition, other data that resides in memory may be disclosed, which could reveal the usernames and passwords of users or other data stored in the memory of the vulnerable servers.

Fortunately, despite the risk that Heartbleed poses to Internet users at large, we have at this point found no vulnerability between Heartbleed and AtTask. We will continue to monitor this situation to ensure that things stay that way.

If you have other questions about how your AtTask instance might be affected by Heartbleed, you are encouraged to contact your AtTask customer support representative directly.


5 Huge Time Sucks and How to Show Them Who’s Boss: Part 2

project management software

Welcome back! This is the second post in a two-part series (if you haven’t, go back and read the first one). We’ve already detailed how email and ad hoc work can suck incredible amounts of time from your day. Now, it’s time to wrap up this list with the final three time sucks we all encounter and how to show them who’s boss.


project meeting software

The Problem: Not only are workers faced with mountains of email every day and sideswiped by random work requests in the elevator; the number one time suck for employed individuals today is too many meetings. It’s consistently mentioned as the largest hurdle to getting the real work done. Plus, over 50% of workers claim that the preparation for the meeting can take more time than the actual gathering.

With the average time spent in status meetings hovering around 2 hours per week, and 67% of workers spending up to four hours per week preparing, status meetings are a huge time suck. And it’s not just team members who feel status meetings eat into valuable work time—45% of senior execs believe that if meetings were banned one day a week, their employees would be more productive.

The Fix: Take the executives’ advice and ban meetings at least once a week. Make it Fridays or Mondays, or whatever day works for you. If you have control over other employees’ schedules, take note of this idea and employ it posthaste.

Now, not everyone has that control and for the rest of us, there are a few other simple changes: reduce the length of time of each meeting, start meetings on time, and establish a system that enables real-time status updates.

Schedule shorter meetings. Just as you’ve shortened the amount of time on email, you can reduce the amount of time in each meeting. If you’re working against the clock, you will only discuss items that pertain to that meeting—and you should table irrelevant topics. Starting meetings on time, even if people are late, will set a standard for meetings you lead. And finally, create a status-update system that allows your coworkers to stay up-to-date on project and task progress in real-time. With a central location for project updates, colleagues can check in at their leisure and you won’t have to spend four hours preparing to update them.


project management software

The Problem: The to-do list you wrote last week isn’t any shorter and now you have to rewrite it—adding requests you found by sifting through your email and the last-minute fire drill your boss handed you on your way out the door last night. Whether organizing your list is your problem, or you have too many lists, or you simply can’t keep a list up-to-date, to-do lists (or the lack thereof) can cause problems. They also add to the pain of preparing for those nasty status update meetings. If your list isn’t even up-to-date, how can you update everyone on the status of your projects?

A Boston Globe article stated that 43% of workers describe themselves as disorganized. And, 21% of workers miss important deadlines for work projects. This feeling of disorganization can lead to breakdown, so much so that 94% of workers surveyed by BaseX felt so overwhelmed with information and work that they were incapacitated.

The Fix: Tackle the to-do list problem with one central list for both ad hoc work and long-term projects. Combine all the sticky notes and tear pad scribbles into one ongoing list that you frequent and update as work is requested. Prioritize your work by due date and stakeholder and delegate the tasks that can be completed by others on your team.

Schedule time for those hard tasks that keep taking up space at the top of the list. Those assignments aren’t going anywhere and by tackling smaller tasks, you’re prolonging the madness and making stakeholders anxious.

Reevaluate yourself as you work. Did you schedule an hour to review those documents? Was that enough time and were you productive? Be honest with yourself and be flexible with your list. Managing all your priorities (fly-by requests and month-long projects) in one location will ease your stress, give order to chaos, and empower you with visibility.

5. YOU

project management software

The Problem: You, yes, you. Do you proclaim your busy-ness every chance you get? Are you saying that you’re busier than you really are? It’s a growing phenomenon and people are taking notice. Tyler Ward notes on his website:

“Though we all have seasons of crazy schedules, few people have a legitimate need to be busy ALL of the time. For the rest of us, we simply don’t know how to live within our means, prioritize correctly, or say no.”10

Tyler also notes, “It can actually be a sign of inability to manage our lives well.”

Slate.com writer, Hanna Rosin, also wrote about this topic, reviewing Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Hanna writes:

“…if the time squeeze is so miserable, why do people brag about it? This is the curious thing about this particular disease—and the first clue to recovery.”

The Fix: How much time do you spend talking about how much work you have to do? Is it excessive? The culture of busy needs to change to a culture of productive. Take control of your time and apply the steps to fix the email problem, the ad hoc work problem, the meeting problem, and the to-do list problem.

In Schulte’s book, she references an interview with Ann Burnett. Burnett studied the language of busy and found that it often has great impact in creating our reality of busy. Tyler Ward found the same thing after a yearlong experiment of not using the word busy. He writes:

“Busy, it would seem, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we said it—the more we felt it. The more we felt—the more we acted like it. The more we acted like it—(well, you know the rest).”

The quick fixes to this problem? Change your language around busyness and tackle the things that actually make you busy (email, ad hoc work, meetings, disorganization). What’s the takeaway? Workplace time sucks are all around and it can be hard to dial in on what you can do to find more hours in the day. Take these tips and tricks and apply them to your workplace. Show them who’s boss.


5 Huge Time Sucks and How to Show Them Who’s Boss: Part 1

project management software

The workplace is riddled with distractions that keep you from staying on task and knocking out your to-do list (see our new infographic “Marketing March Madness: The Top Marketing Inefficiencies”). These time sucks come in many shapes and sizes—everything from the guy who’s walking around the office on his phone to the growing number of emails in your inbox. The workplace is a noisy, busy, distracting place and it’s hard to get things done if you don’t know how to tackle these interruptions.

This two-part series will detail five common time sucks and simple fixes you can use to show them who’s boss.


project management software

The Problem: Email is an inescapable, necessary time suck of the workplace. It’s generally the primary communication tool for projects, work requests, issues, etc. On average, workers send and receive over 100 emails per day (81 emails received and 39 emails sent) and spend an estimated 28% of the entire workweek on email. That’s a whopping 11.2 hours every week—almost two full workdays (based on an eight-hour workday).

This massive amount of email consumption, and the imbalance of in vs. out can lead to a mountain of email waiting for you, every day, day in and day out. The quest for the zero inbox (if ever realized) is very short lived. It’s a guarantee that you’ll find more email waiting for you tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

The Fix: Feeling blue about the staggering stats of how much time we waste on email every week? No wonder we can’t get our top projects done and we feel like we’re failing at the inbox game. The fix is simple: set a schedule for dealing with email, and create a separate place for work requests and project collaboration.

Schedule time on your calendar for email and stick to it. Two or three 30-minute windows per day can help you tackle the never-ending supply of communication from your colleagues. If you get in the habit of checking email as it comes in, you’ll be spending more time getting back on track and refocusing on the task at hand. By scheduling “email time” you can read through and answer emails faster and with more attention to detail.

Create a separate space for work requests and collaboration on projects. With all of our communication in the form of email, we end up spending more time in our inbox searching for specific project information or following up with colleagues that can answer questions. It’s estimated that we spend an additional 20% of our time searching for information and tracking down coworkers. By creating a separate location to collect work requests and project communication, your new location will become searchable, organized content that is easy-to-navigate. You will spend more time on projects instead of answering email. And if you implement a social approach to project communication, you can reduce the time employees spend searching for content by 35%.


project management software

The Problem: Fire drills and last-minute requests can quickly fill up your day. In fact, workers report that they spend a staggering 28% of the day on these distractions and the recovery time to refocus after the task is complete. A quick “pop-in” from your colleague down the hall can lead to hours of wasted time. The hallway conversation after lunch can drain your afternoon.

Workers claim that they are interrupted seven times EVERY HOUR. That’s an average of 56 interruptions per day and nearly 400 interruptions per week. And, 80 percent of those interruptions are categorized as trivial. Ad hoc work is necessary, but if 80 percent of our interruptions aren’t crucial, there’s a problem.

With all of these interruptions, workers complain that they don’t have enough time to get work done. A 2010 BaseX survey discovered 66 percent of workers felt this way while 50 percent of workers were interrupted or presented with information that was detrimental to completing tasks. Detrimental. Their word, not mine. This is serious.

The Fix: With the main complaint of not enough time to get work done (especially with nearly 400 interruptions per week), a fix is 100 percent necessary. It’s simple: schedule time to deal with ad hoc work. Just like the email fix, you must plan time to deal with this workplace time suck. It’s not going anywhere and you must learn how to conquer the chaos.

Look at your calendar and anticipate these fly-by work requests. Schedule time for people to ask questions and to work on requests you’ve received throughout the day. Those hallway conversations won’t stop, but you’ll have time on your calendar to address those last-minute tasks, time that won’t interfere with your priority projects. Let your colleagues know that you have this time set aside with a simple, “I’d be happy to do that. I’ve got some time later this afternoon to tackle new requests. I’ll plan to get back to you then.”

Stay tuned for the next post in this two-part series that will detail three more time sucks and how you can show them who’s boss.