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mark evans

Like many small-business owners, I always seems to have too much work to do but not enough time to get everything done.

One of the biggest and most frustrating challenges is handling the never-ending flow of e-mail. As much as it is an effective communication and marketing tool, it can also be a time and productivity killer.

The problem for many people, me included, is that while we completely recognize the monster that is e-mail, we don't seem to find any way to escape it.

I've tried all kinds of tools and techniques to be more productive and better about e-mail, but without much luck. It might be a lack of discipline or a belief that whatever hits the inbox is so important that it can't be ignored for even a few hours.

But finally, I think I have discovered the elusive secret to wrestling the e-mail monster to the ground.

It was contained in a blog post by Peter Bregman, a strategic adviser to CEOs and their leadership teams, about how to cope with e-mail overload.

Here's the paragraph that captured my attention:

"[Email]also feels legitimate, even responsible. I'm working. I need to make sure I don't miss an important message or fail to respond in a timely fashion."

What hit home was the word "working" because viewing e-mail as "work" is an easy way to justify spending way too time scouring your inbox for new messages. Like Mr. Bregman, I saw the time spent on e-mail as productive time because it was "work."

The reality, however, is that e-mail itself is not work; it's a communication tool that supports and complements work. For me, work is the messaging, content, marketing strategy and social media assignments that I carry out for clients. If I spend too much time using e-mail, the real work suffers because it doesn't get the time it deserves.

Mr. Bregman's approach to e-mail is to check it three times a day – in the morning, mid-day and at the end of the workday. He gives himself 30 minutes during each e-mail session, and doesn't check it on his smartphone unless he is away from his computer for a long time.

The result? Mr. Bregman has slashed his daily e-mail time in half. He also feels more productive and focused but does not feel as if he is missing any urgent e-mail.

I am now trying to embrace Mr. Bregman's approach. It has only been a week but it feels liberating. It provides a structured approach to e-mail, while reducing the amount of stress and time involved.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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