What if you checked email only 3 times a day?
Check and handle email upon arrival then check and handle email at lunch. Check and handle email after 4 pm. At home, check it all you’d like (but hopefully that won’t be more than once a day).
Here’s what we’ve learned so far…
- We recognized our addiction to checking email.
- We identified how it’s become a default task (automatically checking it when returning from a discussion, meeting, trip to the bathroom, etc.).
- We saw how we sometimes use it to hide out from our more important work (“If I’m addressing email, I’m doing something. It may not be important in the long term but at least I’m of use at this moment.” – Do you see the problem with this thinking?).
- We learned that our email could wait* and that as the day came to an end, we were more productive and happier. (Although the first few days were very uncomfortable and had us oddly distracted by our lack of distraction.)
Why is it that we would allow ourselves to be distracted from what we rationally know to be our more important work that gets us closer to our goal of making good things happen?
Our next step here… Drop the morning check and look at it only twice a day. A few people have already passed out by thinking about it.
“The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions. The door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed. Or that lovely poem that didn’t get written because someone knocked on the door.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968)
American civil rights leader
Nobel Peace Prize recipient
* Our customer service people check email hourly in order to be sure we’re addressing customer needs quickly. We don’t believe we’ve lost any sales and we’ve had no negative feedback on our response times.
** And if we still have your attention… This spelling of the word indicates a deeper level of crazy – so cwazy that we’d spell it cwazy. You think that’s crazy?
This assumes you’ve already bought into the value of focusing on what’s most important to you and your people.
- Turning off email alerts – audible and visual – for each time an email arrives
- Turning off automatic send and receives
- Setting up your email client to open to a page other than your inbox (e.g., in Outlook you can go to the “Outlook Today” page)
- Open email
- Hit send and receive
- Address what must be addressed
- Move or delete emails as appropriate
- Hit send
- Minimize or close email until next check
If you need to communicate or delegate something by email before your next check, this is where you can get tripped up.
If your email program allows it, open 5 – 10 blank emails during one of your email checks. When you need to type an email do it and hit send (sending it to your outbox). If you feel it really needs to be sent immediately, go in and hit send and receive and minimize the window quickly without giving attention to your inbox (we said it’d be tough).
Now, if you want that email addressed immediately, call the person who’s also trying to focus with you and let them know you’ve sent them an email that needs their attention now. (Of course, then they’ll need to be disciplined and focused in giving only your email attention when they hit send and receive.)
“Then why not just tell them over the phone instead of adding the email step?”
Good point. Perhaps you should have. It may have saved you the time of writing the email and been quicker for all involved (better chance to fully communicate through a real-life discussion rather than having something misinterpreted, which of course can happen in a discussion too). At the same time, maybe having to call and interrupt someone might keep you from doing it because you’re more apt to be giving care and attention to their time.
The big picture goal here really has nothing to do with email. It’s all about minimizing distraction, focusing, and helping all of us get closer to our goal of making good things happen (which is what you want).
Expect and enjoy more from your work. Make a decision to hold yourself to a standard that’s not standard at all.