Email is a hungry monster

nighthawk309 —  September 20, 2013 — 3 Comments
photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc

photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc

Email can gobble up loads of time (if you let it). Prior to my departure from my previous job, the library director asked me to create a list of key duties and associated time estimates so that he could get a handle on how to best fill my position. I went to work listing out various tasks and time estimates but found that I was coming up short. I racked my brain and then realized I hadn’t jotted down email and the time I spent with it.

Email and online communication turned out to consume a significant chunk of time each week. This was an alarming realization to me. If I was spending major parts of my day reading, writing and managing email, that meant I was spending too much time parked in front of a screen rather than getting out and interacting with people (both public and staff).

Can you relate to this factoid? “According to a 2012 study from McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker in the knowledge economy spends 28 percent of his or her time reading and answering e-mail. Doing the math, that comes to 11.2 hours per week, if one assumes a 40-hour workweek.” (See this article for more details.)

Once you realize how much time you sacrifice to the email monster, you can make changes to save your workday.

– Rather than staying glued to your monitor throughout the day, schedule times during the day that you’ll be at the computer. Use non-computer times to get out of your office, get around the library, do work with the collection, talk with patrons and interact with staff.

– If you need to respond to an email that really warrants a discussion with someone, pick up the phone or walk to his or her desk. Just because you receive an email doesn’t mean you have to respond with an email. Voice conversations may be the more efficient response.

– If you can’t pry yourself from the computer, try this one. Hold office hours in public spaces. Take your computer, sit at a public table and get to work. Tell people where they can find you and encourage them to stop by. Talk to people around you. See what it’s like on the public side of your library.

– Find periods of time that you disconnect from email entirely. Don’t check email on your computer or phone. Use the time to clear your head and do something productive. If you’re concerned people won’t be able to reach you, make them aware of your email vacation in advance.

– Take a look at the Email Charter.  It contains some superb suggestions to make our email lives more sane.

Email can be a useful tool for communication. You can accomplish a lot with it. It can also be a constant distraction. Don’t let it become your job. Keep your goals and duties in perspective. Make sure the time you’re dedicating to tasks is an accurate reflection of who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.



Matt Church is the library director at the Berkley Public Library (Berkley, MI). He was previously associate director at the Baldwin Public Library (Birmingham, MI). He's all about libraries, Tom Waits, coffee, trekking and family adventures.

3 responses to Email is a hungry monster


    Your suggestion about bringing your computer to a public space reminds me of Work Like a Patron Day! You’re not only more likely to connect with people, you see what your facility is like for users (“Ooh, this chair is hard. The glare from the window is too bright. The coffeeshop smells really good!”)

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Librarians, Let Go of Emails: 3 Steps to Empty Your Inbox and Do Work that Matters « Library Lost & Found - February 18, 2016

    […] can flag things. But all of that is so much easier when there are about ten emails in your inbox. It saves you time and it sets you up nicely for when you are going to be out of the office for an extended period […]

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