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E-mail and the busy manager: A mobile strategy for a mobile world

Olmstead, John MBA, RN, CNOR, FACHE

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000430413.18948.53
Department: Performance Potential

John Olmstead is the director of Surgical & Emergency Services at The Community Hospital in Munster, Ind.

The author has disclosed that he has no financial relationships related to this article.

Manager's diary, February 2008

Inbox: 28 e-mails

Frustration scale: Nil

I dedicate a little bit of time each day to keeping up with the e-mail inbox, which has a small enough number of e-mails that I use it as a to-do list, keeping e-mails alive in the inbox that represent items I need to remember.



March 2009

Inbox: 57 e-mails

Frustration scale: Climbing

E-mails are starting to roll in at a pace of more than 20 per day. Often, my inbox swells to more than 100 e-mails, sometimes going unanswered for over a week. Luckily, I gained access to e-mail from home and can sign into work on nights and weekends, clearing out the backlog to keep up.

October 2009

Inbox: 75 e-mails

Frustration scale: Moderate

Clearly, I need another answer. After some wining and dining with the IT department, I obtained iPhone access to my hospital e-mail account. The ability to provide instant responses 24 hours/day will eliminate any concerns about e-mail backlogs.

April 2010

Inbox: 12 e-mails

Frustration scale: Life is grand

See? Told you!

February 2011

Inbox: 35 e-mails

Frustration scale: Life is still pretty grand

Still working, for the most part, I just need to be more disciplined.

October 2011

Inbox: 57 e-mails

Frustration scale: Climbing…again

Note to self: I've got to try harder!

March 2012

Inbox: 128 e-mails

Frustration scale: Mind your own business

I'm getting more than 50 e-mails a day. What's going on?

November 2012

Inbox: 257 e-mails

I can't catch up…help!

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Is there a solution?

Although mobile e-mail access was a bonus in late 2009, it seems to have become an industry standard. Unfortunately, a side effect of the greater ease of e-mail access has been the exponential increase in e-mail traffic. A daily trickle of 20 e-mails has risen to a steady stream of more than 60 e-mails a day. Many of these e-mails are “spam,” such as daily alerts about cafeteria specials and support services' housewide assignment lists; however, this “noise” can bog you down and keep you from addressing pertinent e-mails that deserve serious attention.

What if there was a more refined approach to dealing with this onslaught of electronic communication? In a nutshell, a mobile e-mail problem demands a mobile e-mail solution. While reviewing different types of e-mail, I realized they fit into clearly delineated categories. (See Table 1.) After I realized this, I was able to develop a plan to handle each category of e-mail. (See Table 2.)

Table 1

Table 1

Table 1

Table 1

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Categorize to maximize

The trick to keeping up in a mobile e-mail environment is to “fight fire with fire.” The days of scheduling 30 minutes or so a day to dabble in e-mails are gone. I've found that when I wait to answer e-mails, I open up the inbox to an insurmountable mountain of 37 e-mails. A few vacation days equals 150 e-mails or more to sort through. If this is happening to you, try the following strategy:

  1. In downtimes, use your mobile device to check and file e-mail appropriately. Examples of downtimes include 15-minute gaps in between meetings, 10-minute breaks in longer meetings, longer elevator rides, and short time periods that open during the day (not long enough to start another project, but too long to spend walking around the department checking in on people). When filing e-mails to clear out your inbox, use the following guideline:
    • —Quick e-mails: Answer immediately and delete.
    • —Action e-mails: Place into a “to schedule” folder.
    • —Project e-mails: Place in a folder labeled appropriately if needed for use in filling an agenda or for reference in a continuing project.
    • —”To file” e-mails: Place any e-mail containing an attachment that needs to be saved into a “to file” folder.
  2. Set a daily goal of your inbox being 100% cleared out. The downfall of all e-mail traffic tricks is the clogged inbox. E-mail “noise” gets in the way of important e-mails and, ultimately, you fall behind. So, make every attempt to set a goal of not leaving the workplace until the inbox is empty.
  3. Set a weekly goal of clearing out the “to schedule” folder. The nice thing about the “to schedule” folder is that if you fall behind, you'll quickly be reminded when you fail to meet a timeline. Clearing out this folder and scheduling time to complete the needed tasks are extremely important.
  4. Set a weekly goal of clearing out the “to file” folder. If this folder gets too full, you'll have trouble finding files that you know you have but can't locate using the computer's search function. The frustration of wasting time looking for files usually provides sufficient impetus for keeping the “to file” folder clear. Plus, when there are only six or seven items, it only takes 2 minutes to file them away in long-term storage.
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More in less

A big part of modern nursing management excellence is timely and accurate communication. This process has helped me complete more work in less time at a higher quality level. (See supplemental content on the Nursing Management iPad app.) Processes like these will most likely become mandatory in our increasing complex and fast-paced future.

© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.