A quick dip into your inbox is often like wading through quick sand. The word ‘quick’ doesn’t really apply as more often than not you’ll come back out an hour later wondering what it was you went in there for. More and more correspondence is now conducted via email. It’s highly convenient for the author who can crack off an email to get something important out of their head, but to the receiver of endless emails, it’s a nightmare. Instead of being a helping hand, emails have become somewhat of a nuisance. They are highly distracting and are zapping our ability to work efficiently.
How many of you can ignore the ‘ping’ of a new email? What could it contain? Is it that highly critical email I’ve been waiting for? Chances are it’s not but you’ll go and look anyway and then get distracted by the other highly unimportant emails that have made their way into the inbox in the ten minutes since you last checked.
Emails are slowly taking over our lives and with people spending an average of 11.2 hours of their working week reading and responding to emails, we’re under a massive threat of decreased productivity, which is not what we want for ourselves and certainly not for our teams either.
We’re putting ourselves under immense pressure by feeling all emails must be addressed as quickly as possible, which obviously isn’t the reality, and this undue stress can have a significant impact on our mental health. Constantly delving into our inboxes means we are losing our ability to concentrate on the task at hand and when you combine this with the added stress, it’s clear to see why productivity is at risk. We’re losing focus on what’s important.
So how can we regain control of our time and our worklife and get the balance back on track?
Designate time – When arriving at work the first thing most people will do is check their emails, but this can often be the worst thing to do. Designate the first hour, or more if you’re able, to heads-down getting things done time. Once that inbox is opened there’s no going back. Likewise diarise time later in the day, perhaps after lunch, for the same. This may take a bit of getting used to but you’ll soon wonder how got anything done without it.
Unless your job specifically requires it, or you are waiting on something extremely urgent make sure you switch your mobile email access off when you leave the office. In order to be at your best for work it’s extremely important to get adequate downtime. Constantly checking your work emails throughout the evening can actually be counterproductive and can lead to stress. Office hours are exactly that. Evenings are for a rest and to get you ready for the next day.
Lessen distraction – This step will have a massive impact, but can you handle it? You can help reduce the addictive nature of emails by getting rid of the notifications that come with them. The obvious one is to turn off any audio prompts but you can also turn off any visual ones too. Get rid of the little yellow envelope in the corner of your screen and once you get used to it you’ll feel liberated! Look at your emails when you’re ready to, not when your computer tells you to.
Set clear boundaries – Tell your direct reports and line managers what you’re doing and why and ask them to respect your new way of working. The aim is to increase your productivity which must be seen as a good thing. Give people access to view your diary so they can see when you are not available to answer your emails. If colleagues have something critical they need to discuss with you during your ‘non-email time’ then encourage them to pick up the phone or physically come and speak to you.
Another way of setting boundaries with colleagues and contacts is by not answering emails as soon as they arrive. If you are always prompt with a response this sets future expectations of you, so do yourself a favour and hold off. Leave it an hour or more and answer in your own time.
Delegate – if you’re regularly in receipt of truly urgent emails and have the ability to do so, give a team member access to screen your emails. This will allow you to knuckle down safe in the knowledge you’ll be alerted should something require an immediate response. For this to work you need to delegate to someone you trust to be reliable, and who has the ability to differentiate between critical and non-critical business.
Speak to people – Some conversations that can take a week going back and forward over email can be resolved in a few minutes face to face or over the phone. If on the other hand the person you need to correspond with is a well know chatterbox then stick with the emails!