Email is an essential business tool but it can dominate our work days. These days the volume of email seems higher than ever. Also there is an increasing expectation of instant response. We feel we need to be in touch all the time. This plays havoc with plans to get other work done. We often spend more time working on other people’s priorities than our own. So let’s look at some tips on how to spend less time on email.
The Impact of Email Notifications
Time is not the only issue. Email notifications are compelling and very hard to ignore. High email volumes result in an interrupted work environment. Studies show that this impacts the quality of our work, our ability to make decisions and to think things through. Once distracted by an email alert it can take up to 23 minutes to get the same level of focus back (Ref1).
So how can we reduce this impact on our time and performance? It is hard to consider working with email notifications switched off. But how about a strategy that allows you stay in touch throughout the day while gaining uninterrupted work time?
Manage Your Response Time
We have become very responsive, often answering emails immediately even when we don’t need to. To start to win back time, look for the opportunity to manage this better.
Firstly, think about your email statistics: 1) how many emails do you get each day, 2) how many interruptions is that?
And how important are those emails? Do they all require an instant response?
Consider each of your stakeholders. What is the agreed response time? What is their expectation? Is it: 1) Instantly, 2) within 1 hour, 3) within 4 hours, 4) by the end of the day or 5) perhaps next day is okay?
Discuss and agree this with your team leader and colleagues and stakeholders too. You can access the Stakeholder Response template in our Resources section here to help do this.
Spend Less Time on Email
To start to spend less time on email, you can interact in 2 distinct ways: 1) checking and 2) processing. What do I aean by that?
- A quick scan to check what messages have arrived and respond to any urgent ones
- Do this as many times as you need to throughout the day
- A longer amount of time responding to Emails
- Messages flagged for reply while checking
When checking email, flag the ones that require a response. When processing email, sort your Inbox by the flag so that these emails stay top of your Inbox list until unflagged / processed.
Schedule time blocks into your diary to make sure you get email processing time. Then check your email as often as required for short periods of time. But in between you have the chance to mute or close out of email. Which gives you time for other work, free of email alerts and distractions.
You are still responsive to email but in a controlled way.
Email time blocking is an increasingly common work practice that people are using to boost their productivity.
How to Break the ‘Always On’ Habit
It can be hard to break this habit. My advice is to start small and build up the habit. Figure out what checking frequency you need to stay in touch with your clients.
Pick a day when your email volume is usually lower (perhaps on a Friday). Take a morning and try to alternate between checking and processing, using a time block.
- Start small
- Pick best time to try
- Build the habit
- Until it becomes your routine
In summary, you can gain back time in your day by changing your mindset about Email. Here is a checklist of tips to get you started:
- Schedule time blocks for Email processing
- Check Email every hour, or more frequently if required
- Switch off or mute Email notifications
- Use holding Emails to respond to clients quickly
- Agree expectations for response times
- Pick best days/times to start working this way
- Use the time gained back for priority work
My signature Productivity Programme is called ‘Turn Busy into Productive’. This self-paced online course helps individuals develop lasting skills in their own time, at their own pace.
To discuss any of these options, contact Productivity Consultant Moira Dunne here.
Written by Productivity Consultant Moira Dunne, founder and director of beproductive.ie