Email is an addiction and a major time waster. Here are 6 tips on how to break the habit.
Checking email is a dopamine-releasing addiction. The type that has ever-decreasing highs and pain-causing lows. The highs are those “pings” of anticipation when a notification comes in, followed by disappointment when the anticipation isn’t realized. And the lows are the constant battle between the in-box and productivity, focus, and quality of work. In other words, email is a distraction, not work.
“I’ll be in a one-on-one meeting with my boss and she’s constantly responding to emails. If she’s not at her desk she’s responding on her phone or even her watch. It’s incredibly distracting and our meetings are rarely productive or useful,” shares Jenny, a marketing director. “What’s worse is she works about ten hours a day, then more on the weekends. She rarely has focused time and as a result, as a team we seem to take two steps forward and one back.”
While your habits might not be as extreme as these, a quick scan of your day and how much time you spend on email can tell you if you might benefit by refocusing your email habits.
Six tips for better focus
First, set boundaries. Schedule key emailing times. For example, first thing in the morning (over coffee!), mid-day, and in your last hour of the day. If you need to send a message, try waiting until your regularly-scheduled email time.
Next, close out of email. Yes, literally shut down Outlook/Gmail/etc. Set an auto-response so people know you received their message and will respond within a certain time frame. You can share how they can contact you immediately, if they need a response. As a result, you won’t be compelled to respond the instant a message appears.
Thirdly, never waste others’ time. We all have a co-worker who responds “Thanks!” to every message, replying to all. Don’t be this person. One-word replies, replying to all, copying people who needn’t be copied is a time waster–in other words, just don’t do it.
Fourth, set up separate accounts for newsletters & signups. Set up a Gmail account for newsletters, etc. You can read these when you’re on hold, having coffee, or, not at all. If you’re forced to enter a business email address, create a folder and rule to re-route those newsletters from your main in-box. If you can get along without reading them, unsubscribe altogether.
Fifth, respond when you read the message. With so many people connecting work accounts to their mobile devices, the amount of messages stating “sorry, I thought I responded” is on the rise. Don’t look at email on your mobile device unless you’re prepared to respond immediately. Reading email twice is a big time waster!
Most importantly: don’t let email pull you from your day’s tasks. Does the message create a task for you? Let the sender know that. “I need to look into this and will get back to you tomorrow mid-day” works well. You’ve acknowledged their query and let them know your action plan.
Of course, sometimes urgent requests require your immediate attention. But remember, those are the exception to the rule.
Remember, email is a tool for correspondence, nothing more. Many times people say they spent half their day “doing email” but didn’t get anything done. That’s because they allow email to distract them from the real work at hand. If you put the five strategies we’ve shared into action you’ll have more time to focus on the real tasks at hand: work!