by Marsha Egan
Email Noodling?!!! Watzzat? Chances are, you know exactly what it is, although you may not recognize the name… We call it E-Noodling, for short.
Email Noodling is the pervasive and time wasting practice of looking at all the subjects in your inbox, scrolling up and down, opening one every here and there, closing them without working on them, marking them unread” to make sure you read them again, scrolling up and down some more, lamenting about all the work you have to do, then getting up and going for a cup of coffee.
We’ve all done it. Most of us still do it.
It is a habit that has evolved with the growing use of email. It costs organizations and you a ton… in lost or misused productivity, and perhaps even stress.
Prior to the advent of email, our work and projects were delivered to us by mail or by voice. We received US Postal mail once a day, and company delivered mail only a few times daily. And it wasn’t that much. Our bosses and colleagues may have also delivered to do’s for the task list by phone, personally or in meetings. Most of us remember the day when we actually planned our work, and felt good about the numerous things we accomplished each day.
Enter email. In addition to all of the sources listed above, the free convenient email delivery system has just added a minimum of 30-50 more tasks to the average worker each day. Even though there may be some spam in there, it is still a task.
The clincher is, because there is so much email, and the inbox is right there staring you in the face, most people leave a majority of the delivered messages in their inbox. So even if you clear out 20 of those 30 emails daily, over ten days, you can have 100 items hanging in that inbox. Yikes.
Then what do you do with all those items?!! You “e-noodle.”
You search and sort, answer a few, file a few, delete a few. You re-sort, hoping you’ll be able to delete 10 at once. You look at all those items, get exasperated, and get up and take a walk!
The challenge with e-noodling is that most people confuse activity with results. They are drawn to knocking off items, rather than working on the most important priority. Give me just 10 minutes, and I’ll clear out 30 pieces of mail. Soon that 10 minutes grows, and you get entangled in the task related to one of the items, while you were just trying to clear it out, and oops, you’ve just started working on a not so important item. Confusing activity with results.
Occasional e-noodling is ok. We all do it. Sometimes we need those mindless times of the day to stare into space or e-noodle.
The biggest challenge about e-noodling is that people are engraining e-noodling as a habit. It has become the way they handle their email, and has become a big part of how they manage (or should we say mis-manage?) their time and their work.
It is reactive, and, done habitually, it can become extremely unproductive and stressful. The cost is not only in the time spent e-noodling, but in the resultant time spent working on the items that are no where near the top of your priority list, and ultimately the stress related to not getting the “right” stuff done.
The cure? Empty out that inbox. Move those emails to another holding place that allows YOU to decide the priority rather than getting romanced into working on the wrong stuff. Avoid skimming subject lines in hopes of clearing out a few items. Work your email from the top down, consistently. Stop surfing. Focus.
And to get there, you’ll need to e-noodle one more LONG time. E-noodle until every item — every item–is out of the inbox. Then keep that inbox clean. And start managing and enjoying your e-noodle-less life again.