Video: Managing e-mail overload

By Dawn Fratangelo Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/21/2006 4:32:57 PM ET 2006-06-21T20:32:57

Remember when e-mail was romanticized by Hollywood in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie "You've Got Mail?"

The love affair is over.

Take Bryan Mason. He starts his work day at home, just to get a jump on e-mail. On a recent morning, he had 295 messages in his in-box, with 160 of them unread.

It's not surprising he gets a lot. He runs a Web site design company in California. But it's getting out of hand.

"No one wants to be a professional e-mailer, but a lot of us feel like it," says Mason.

After a recent vacation, Mason returned to find 2,000 e-mails. 

"Everybody does everything through e-mail and that is not always the best choice," he says. "Phone calls can be quicker, face-to-face meetings can get more done."

E-mail is overloading so many workers.

To get an idea of the volume, consider what's now known as "snail mail." One-hundred billion items of standard mail were delivered last year. But that's nothing. There are more e-mail messages sent worldwide every day. Break that down to the average corporate e-mail user who sends and receives 133 messages a day. 

"We have TiVo, we have satellite TV, radio; all these things that are constant demands on our attention," says Merlin Mann, founder of 43 Folders, a family of Web sites about personal productivity. "And e-mail just ends up being like this little stick that just keeps poking us all day long."

So much that we feel compelled to answer every one. Just like Bryan Mason, who recently received 50 e-mails while out to lunch.

And with portable e-mail devices, like BlackBerries, we're always on call.

So consultants like Stever Robbins are offering solutions. He helps executives, and their employees, deal with the information overload.

"The first way to manage it is to say, 'I am only going to check e-mail when I have time to think about it,'" says Robbins.

Other advice:

Send fewer e-mails: Some executives are charging $5 for every unnecessary message.

Keep e-mails more focused so the receiver knows if it's really important.

And when all else fails, pick of the phone or even talk in person.

As for Bryan Mason, his workday ends when he's read his last e-mail.

"I'm done," he says. "Going to get dinner."

Until tomorrow.

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