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How to Loosen E-Mail's Grip: One Man's Odyssey

E-mail has become one of the greatest time-sucking tools of nearly everyone's workday. Do you dare calculate how much time you spend every morning reading and responding to the myriad of messages that have flooded your inbox? Not to mention the incessant messages that pop up throughout the day. One man decided to fight back.In The New York Times, Luis Suarez writes how he was "spending hours catching up on e-mail" every morning.

He realized that "the more messages you answer, the more messages you generate in return. It becomes a vicious cycle. By trying hard to stop the cycle, I cut the number of e-mails that I receive by 80 percent in a single week."

How Suarez drastically reduced his e-mail use should be of interest to anyone looking to increase productivity and manage their time more effectively. Granted, Suarez is a "social computing evangelist" for IBM, but his tools of choice to combat e-mail overload -- IM, blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and, believe it or not, the telephone -- are available to all.

For Suarez, who lives in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain and reports to managers in the US and the Netherlands, using his time effectively was of particular importance.

He writes that he likes IM for collaboration, "knowledge sharing", and the fact that it's in real time but he uses the tools well: "If an instant-message exchange lasts more than three minutes, I usually move the discussion to the telephone."

Suarez blogs and will answer questions there and the comments allow for participation. He has an alert system for to-do items and participates in online communities -- IBM uses Beehive which is similar to Facebook. He has a file sharing system for collaboration

But what if, as Suarez asks, "your business does not have blogs or wikis or whatever else? What can you do to help repurpose the way you process your e-mail?"

This is where it gets good: "You can do something as simple as calling people instead of e-mailing them. If you work on the same floor, you can even walk over to their desks and talk to them!"

Of course, he points out that creating a blog, a wiki, or getting a Twitter account is open to anybody.

The key really is to figure out which tools will work for you -- and which won't.