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Emails, emails, and more bloody emails. If you’ve ever worked in an office you’ll know the familiar battle which takes place…
A battle of simply treading water and attempting to clear your email inbox as quickly as they flood in every day. And don’t you dare think about taking a holiday, otherwise you’ll come back to a huge pile of unread emails that’ll take you your full first day to get on top of; with the only silver-lining being that small humble-brag you can do to the rest of the office where you exclaim “172 new emails! Geez I was only away for a week” - pretending to be really important whilst most of them are simply pointless notifications or admin.
When running a business (or working in one [or actually, screw it, in life in general]) time is the number one commodity. We all strive for more time in our day, be it to work*, or to spend with loved ones.
*Side-Note, even when we use our time to work, we’re wanting it to reward us with more free-time in the future… more work = more money = more choices = more freedom (time).
Out of the many things you’re doing in your day, constantly checking your emails, and your resultant actions, may well be the biggest time waste.
Why are emails so bad?
- Time Sap - The very act of checking though emails takes time. At the very least, you have to skim-read to see if the content is either relevant, interesting or required, and then decide whether a response or action is needed, and if so, whether to do that now or later. One main issue is that ‘later’ is usually the choice (as you were probably meant to be doing something at the present moment you checked your emails), and you’ll just end up re-reading it and dealing with it all over again.
- Emails illicit ‘Reactive’ Behaviour - There are 2 main ways of working during your day. Way 1 – Proactively, Way 2 – Reactively. Absolutely everyone who is “effective” works proactively; that is, they actively set out what they need to do that day, and work their way through without letting anything distract them and take their attention away from completing the list. Reactive workers are ‘fire-fighters’ who turn their attention to whatever needs to be done as it pops up through the day. Getting an email (with a request for action), will often knock you off your main work task, meaning by 5pm you will have spent the day feeling very busy, but ultimately won’t have achieved your main objectives.
- Emails are a major Distraction - Linked with the Reactive v Proactive way of working comes the distractive nature of work emails. Emails often land with a nice ‘ping’ sound and a flash in the top corner of your screen; giving just the subject to whet your appetite… science has shown that this notification form plays on the same brain functions as crack-cocaine in terms of addictiveness – meaning that not clicking on an email when presented in this form is damn near impossible to do! However we all know what happens… we click to read just one email, then go on to another, then click a link to a website, and pretty soon it’s 45 minutes later and you’re watching a video on YouTube which really have nothing to do with anything… It’s so scary how distracted we can get!*
*I won’t ask what it is you’re supposed to be doing whilst you’re reading this blog…
What can you do about it?
- Schedule in Email Time Once a Day - Only check and deal with your emails once a day. For some this will be easy, others will sit there thinking “are you crazy?”. To start with it may feel wrong or weird, but honestly, nothing is that important that you must constantly be checking it. It’s very rare that an urgent email will arrive at 9.13am and need a response or action before your allocated time. Chances are, if it’s a mega urgent meeting request or something, that at least 7 of your colleagues will come up and talk to you about it anyway.
As a note, I personally schedule email checking at around midday or 1pm (and allocate a full hour), rather than the morning. DO NOT CHECK EMAILS IN THE MORNING and especially not before work. If you do, you’ll be letting other people dictate how you spend your day, and will have a load of ‘responses’ and ‘tasks’, which are ultimately less important, which clutter up your most productive time. Do your core, objective-achieving work first, then check your emails.
- Deal with each email straight away - And by straight away, I mean immediately in your scheduled time. Within your one hour to do emails, actually do your emails. No flagging for later or marking as unread. Start at the top, and work your way through. If they require a response or action then respond or act then. If the ‘action’ is something huge like ‘write a 30 page report’ then add the action to your to-do list and get rid of the email.
- Turn off all notifications - Seriously do this now. No notifications on your phone and no pop-ups on your computer. Sign out of email completely and just do your damn job! Again, this will feel weird initially, however you know that you’ve set a full 1 hour period to deal with it all in the afternoon lull, so can just focus on real work now.
- Vocalise your new email protocol - Any change often meets resistance. Your team, clients or bosses may be used to getting instant replies from you, and now they will have to *shock horror* wait a few hours. Explaining that you’re doing this (such as mentioning in your signature that you check emails between 2pm and 3pm on work days and will reply then) will help, and especially explaining why – “so I can focus more of my time servicing my clients…”. If you are in a position of authority (such as the business owner or manager) then implement this protocol for everyone in your office, and you’ll see a significant rise in productivity and KPIs
- Stop using email to chat - If more than 2 or 3 emails have gone back and forward then stop, pick up the phone or book in a meeting. Email is 100% not the tool for conversations, and it never was meant to be. Use Slack or another chat tool if constant communication is part of your day to day job, as all internal staff conversation should really take place on such a dedicated platform.
N.B. Of course there are situations where someone needs to be on their emails all day every day. If you work in customer email support, of course you need to… but you could still limit your internal team email responses. The point here is to give you more time to proactively do your real work during the working day.
”But if you’re going to check them all in one go anyway, why not do them as they come in?” is another resistance I often hear to changing email protocol. And the key here is to batch tasks and achieve ‘flow’ (where you are working effectively at one task with maximum efficiency). From a productivity point of view, swapping tasks is very inefficient, whereas doing similar tasks all in one go maximises efficiency.
So go on, give it a go. Turn off those notifications and check once a day, every afternoon… you’ll soon find that nothing is that urgent, interesting or exciting to stop you doing your real work, and your responses and actions from the emails will actually be better for it when you dedicate a set time.
Feel free to send me an email to let you know your thoughts on this post... Or maybe leaving a comment below is the best bet!