For many of us, it’s hard to resist checking email every few minutes. A survey last year found that 70 percent of employees reported checking their work email in the early morning hours before work and the same percentage report checking it during the after-work evening hours.
If you’re finding that you’re checking emails as soon as you wake up, before going to bed and constantly during the day, it’s a sure sign that you’re driven by your inbox. Not only can this prevent you from enjoying a fulfilling personal life, but like the many other internet-enabled distractions that exist in the modern workplace, it can make you significantly less productive.
Here are a few ideas on how you can kick the habit.
Don’t check email first thing in the morning
There’s so much potential at the beginning of your workday. You can do great things. And then you open your inbox. The unopened messages beckon your attention. You dutifully begin responding to each one. Of course, as you’re dealing with the first batch of emails, new ones appear. Those who you’ve responded to send you back a reply. You start typing out a response to their response to your response. It never ends!
How about not dealing with email for the first hour or two of your workday? That’s what Scott Meyer, founder of 9 Clouds, a digital marketing firm, does to keep himself from being consumed by emails. A large percentage of emails, he notes, come from people requesting favors. You might decide to do them, but don’t let them distract you from doing your own thing: “If you wait to check email....you have the first minutes of the day to work on your most important tasks before you are called upon to extinguish other people's fires.”
Do schedule times for email
Not starting your morning with email is the first step, but you might need to put in place additional prevention measures so that you don’t spend the rest of the day consumed by electronic correspondence.
One strategy is to schedule specific time periods for checking and responding to emails. For instance, you could resolve to spend 40 minutes of your workday on email, broken into four 10-minute periods (i.e. 10 a.m., Noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.).
Limiting your time will force you not to dawdle with emails. You will only write responses that are absolutely necessary. You will get to the point quickly –– a characteristic that your colleagues will appreciate.
Don’t answer emails immediately
Here’s an idea developed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh: Don’t respond to emails that you get during the day unless they absolutely call for an urgent response. Instead, reply to them tomorrow. The idea is that if you are replying to emails as they come in, you’ll likely get drawn into what Hsieh calls the “never-ending treadmill” of messages. If Hsieh determines that an email does not require an immediate answer, he puts it off until the next day, when he spends the morning replying to emails from the previous day.
The beauty of Hsieh’s idea – which he dubs “yesterbox” – is that it allows you to plan for the time you will spend on emails, since you know that tomorrow you will only be responding to a certain number of messages.
Do turn off alerts
If you respond to every email that pops up on your phone, you’ll never get back to work or life. But even if you’re more disciplined and resist replying until later, the email notification is still taking your attention away from whatever you’re doing at the moment. The more frequent the notifications, the more your mind will be on the emails – and not on the business at hand. That’s not a good frame of mind for any company owner or employee, for that matter.
Do whatever you can to minimize alerts on your computers. If you use a desktop-based email, fix the settings so that you aren’t notified every time a message comes in. Similarly, don’t keep your email open on your browser at all times.
Do take advantage of time management tools
There are a number of apps geared towards time management that could be put to use in an effort to reduce the time that you and your employees spend on email. Productivity apps that monitor what websites you are visiting and how much time you spend on them, for instance, can help you understand how much of your day is lost navigating your inbox.
At Timesheet Mobile, our employee time tracking app gives company owners and managers the ability to accurately monitor on the clock employees. By doing away with traditional timesheets in favor of an employee punch clock app, mobile workers no longer need to constantly check emails to receive job information and exchange communication. Daily schedules, jobs and tasks can easily be viewed and organized on their smartphone – and managers can readily locate and communicate with their crews. When companies can easily account for their mobile employee hours and locations, they instantly start saving both time and money.
Track your time and you will likely be surprised to see how much of it you are spending on email, as well as discouraged by how little time, comparatively, you spend on other job functions that are arguably more important. With this information, you can then try to set realistic goals to reduce the amount of time you spend on email and increase your attention to other tasks.
Do recommend phone calls for urgent matters
Tell your professional associates that if they absolutely need to reach you during non-work hours, they should call you. You could also implement an at-work policy letting your associates know that you only check email sporadically. For instance, tell them that if they need a response from you in under an hour (or two), calling is the best bet.
When people know they can’t count on you to respond to emails immediately, they will send you fewer emails. In particular, they won’t send you emails seeking information that they can probably track down on their own because you are no longer a “shortcut.” In some instances they will call, but in many others they will figure out the answer to their questions on their own.
Don’t send emails you wouldn’t want to receive
If you want to receive fewer superfluous emails, then set the example. Try to be more efficient with your messages. Don’t send clients or colleagues questions that you could easily find answers to yourself. Try to consolidate your thoughts into one email, rather than a stream of short ones. And perhaps most importantly, make it clear to people whether you need an urgent response.
In addition, consider that in some instances, email is not the most efficient way to communicate. If there is something that is difficult to explain or will demand a lot of back-and-forth, consider a phone call, face-to-face meeting, or even using instant messaging.
Do keep email in its place
If you plan on succeeding in the 21st century economy, you can’t simply go back to the way things were before computers and smartphones became integral parts of the modern workplace. But what you can do is remember is that much of what you need to do to run a successful business still takes place outside the realm of your inbox. If you allow email to monopolize your day, then you’re not allowing yourself enough time to do all of the other things that are key to creating a thriving business.
The path of least resistance these days is to let technology dictate your behavior: an email or text comes in and you immediately respond. The key to developing a more productive workday is to actively take steps to resist this dynamic. There are different ways to do it, and depending on your personality and style, some will work better than others. What the different strategies do have in common is that they can help you use digital communication more intentionally and thoughtfully.
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