Get more done with 3 simple ways to curb your e-mail
Hidden in plain sight, e-mail is one of the worst productivity offenders in the workplace. Professional culture dictates you check – and respond – to it frequently, if not continuously, which is detrimental to actually getting work done. Here’s how to conquer your Inbox.
All things equal
The first rule of e-mail is to remember that it is, essentially, an electronic version of crack. Getting involved with it has a tendency to avert your attention from everything else, and cloud your judgment with regard to what’s important or not. As a result, there’s really only one way to get a grip on your Inbox, and that’s declaring a state of attention independence: every single notification or indicator, audible or visual, that indicates you have new e-mail or that one e-mail is more significant than the other (read: unread), must go. That’s right: all of them. The lot. The whole kit & kaboodle.
Depending on your e-mail client of choice, hit up Google for advice using phrases such as ‘remove notification’ and ‘mark all e-mail as read’ in conjunction with the name of your e-mail client, and you’ll be on your way in no time.
And how, exactly, will I keep track of what I’ve attended to now, you might ask? That’s easy: you use productivity software or services, since your e-mail inbox is just one of the many places people communicate with you. Instead of trying to keep track of a myriad different inboxes, using productivityware lets you gather everything on your plate on… well, one plate, making it easier for you to choose the right things to work on.
Bonus points: as a side effect, this is one of the best starting points for removing your stress goggles.
In the zone
The next step is to set up a routine where you prune your e-mail for 15 minutes in the morning to remove the usual garbage and spot anything that needs to be handled immediately. The next 90 minutes should be spent working on something important, and although it’s preferable to simply close your e-mail client to avoid distractions, you may have to keep it open to retrieve reference information; at any rate, having taken care of the notification and read/unread issues will nonetheless have minimized it’s pull on your attention in order for you to improve your focus.
Incidentally, this is the challenging part, where you have to excercise willpower in order to keep from delving back into your e-mail. You’ll want to do so for a number of reasons, including being anxious about missing something important, procrastinating when the task at hand is something you don’t want to do, or diverting yourself if you hit a creative roadblock. If you feel the onset of any of these, just get up and move around a bit. The alternative is to pretend you’re doing something important, and fall further behind on things you should already have done or should be doing.
Also, depending on the nature of your workday, you could be well served by repeating this exact pattern after lunch; your mileage may vary and soforth.
Cut the copy
Last, but not least: stop copying people unnecessarily. Nobody likes a copier. And, more importantly, you’re aiming a metaphorical shotgun at your foot if you want to get proper work done. The more people you copy on an e-mail, the more people will reply to you. You know it, and I know it. That means more e-mail for you to handle. And what happens when more people join the discussion? Well, they either tend to prolong or complicate it, or delve into fragmented subdiscussions – quite possibly because they’re using their e-mail in the exact manner you’re trying to avoid.