Most of us are checking their email more or less permanently. By switching to your email inbox all the time permanently interrupt your other work. You become highly inefficient in processing your email as well as in your other work. I once heard a manager say “you work or you email”. This of course it not an option and we have to learn to take most benefit from email by using it effectively.

The underlying problem for this is our perception of communication via email. Face to face meetings, instant messaging or phone calls can be categorized as synchronous communication. All participants in the communication are present at the same time physically or remotely. 

In contrast to this asynchronous communication does not require all involved parties to be present at the same time. This is obvious for postal mail but also applies to discussion boards and email. 

The problem is that many people perceive email as a synchronous communication tool and therefore believe that emails need to be answered instantly. I once even met someone from a Korean consulting company where an internal rule stipulated that emails had to be answered within 15 minutes unless you are in a meeting.

Once you understand that email is asynchronous communication you can radically change the way you are dealing with your email inbox. It might sound uncool but the following habits with regards to email will significantly boost you productivity:

  • Define a fixed time during which you will go through your emails. Ideally you set it at the same time every day. (e.g. 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon or evening). 
  • Inform people around you when you deal with emails and that they should give you a phone call when something is urgent and requires immediate action.
  • When you work through your emails you start with the one in the top and work yourself to the bottom in SEQUENTIAL order. If you do cherry picking and open those mails first you are most interested in, you will have to deal with those you don’t like at the end which increases the risk of procrastination.
  • Take an action on each email once you opened it. Think about how much time you are wasting when you open and close mails dozens of times over a week or longer without taking action. If you are not sure immediately rather keep the mail open and take the time to think about it thoroughly. In the end it will save you time and you feel much better after you solved the problem on what to do with this mail.
  • If you have difficulties in really focusing on one thing only during that time you can use an egg-timer or sand-clock. It is a strong symbol and it will help you to stick to your plan. This also works for other areas too of course.
  • When you are on the road and using your mobile phone or blackberry  these tips do not apply. Here you are using time which otherwise would be idle. You will not have to deal with those things you cleared on the road during your email hour.

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8 Responses to “Restrict your email time”

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