Maybe it’s anxiety about e-mail that causes this form of communication to create so much stress? The sheer volume of messages piling in our inboxes begs us to sort through them first thing every morning to feel like we’ve made some progress. What starts as an innocent peek into Outlook can end up devouring an hour, a morning, and, in some cases, a whole day.
MSO.net, a UK and Australia-based web agency, reports:
“As the quantity of e-mails in workers’ inboxes increases steadily, productivity suffers as people spend less time doing the work for which they were employed and dedicate too much time dealing with the unwelcome e-mails. This increases anxiety since office hours may increase and thus the work/home life equilibrium is affected – ultimately more stress is heaped on the individual.”
How about setting periods of time when you’ll sift through e-mails and then let them gather again for later? For some, especially in the high-tech industry, this might seem impossible. But, getting a handle on e-mail time has its benefits. MSO’s study revealed that people underestimate how often they check e-mail, which potentially amounts to more wasted time.
“Of those surveyed, 34 per cent said that they thought they checked their inbox every 15 minutes. However, monitoring software reported a different story when fitted to those users’ PCs. In reality, many were viewing e-mails up to 40 times an hour. The burden to respond quickly to e-mails appears to be partly to blame and when combined with the volume of e-mails being received, stress is the outcome for 33 per cent.”
It’s true that wanting to reply quickly to e-mails is part of the culprit. However, when we’re compulsively clicking on our inboxes 40 times an hour (unless you’re in a job that warrants that amount of e-mail checking such as customer service or tech support), productivity declines.
E-mail can be used to keep busy, deceiving us into thinking we’re getting important work done, when half of the stuff we open is a YouTube forward. There’s some funny footage out there, but it seductively steals time.
And, when you’re already stressed–a looming deadline, an important interview–e-mail is as easy a distraction as turning on the TV at night.
Unless I’m meeting with a client or have an early appointment, I check e-mail in the morning. As a small business owner, I like to be responsive.
Keeping it under control
When I start working for the day, I first check my calendar. Then, I write down on paper my top three priorities for the day. (I don’t want my e-mails influencing these priorities just yet.) The act of putting pen to paper helps me concentrate and hone in on what’s important for my day.
If I have a morning meeting, then I’ll head out the door. If my schedule is clear, it’s then that I will quickly dip into e-mail. If my e-mail unveils something urgent, I might replace one of my priorities on my top three list. Then, I draw a line under the top three and put other to dos there, in case I have extra time.
Throughout the rest of my day, I only check e-mail once every few hours. I get more done that way and my focus stays sharper. Every once in a while, there are a few important e-mails that sneak past me, but not many. If an emergency arrises, people will find me if they need me.
What helps you stay on top of e-mail enough without too much time loss? What strategies do you use to focus, block distractions and make the most of your time?