Email is helpful, but it can also be addictive. Here are some ways to be properly mindful of your work email so you’re free to do more important tasks.
It’s true that emails are extremely useful and practical means of communications. But it’s also true that it can actually be addictive. It’s possible that whenever you get an email message, your brain releases a dose of dopamine that makes you “feel good”. After a while, you get used to the sensation and not having that feeling can make you feel lousy.
Email addiction is so pervasive these days that an estimated 11 million people in the US suffer from this malady. Emails can take up a disproportionate amount of anyone’s time so that a person may not even have enough time for more important tasks.
However, this problem is treatable. You can adopt the following habits to help wean you from your email obsession so that you have enough time for more important tasks.
1 Don’t Do Emails as the First Task of the Morning
It’s very common for people to get to the office and then the first thing they do is check their email. On the face of it, this makes sense. Some messages may have come overnight and the information might be crucial. Others like to ease into their work schedule for the day, and dealing with emails is easy enough. It’s like driving a car—dealing with email is like getting on first gear.
The problem with this approach is that most people are more alert and focused during the first half of the morning. At this point, you’re at the very height of your concentration and creativity. So you waste all that potential by dealing with email, which in general aren’t all that crucial for the work ahead.
So when you get to the office, don’t open your email inbox right away. Instead, postpone it to about an hour after you arrive.
2 Turn Off All Email Notifications
One of the advantages of email notifications is that you’re immediately made aware when you get an email. If you’re waiting for an important message, then you’d certainly want to be notified right away.
However, it’s not as advantageous as it may seem at first glance. That’s because if certain messages are crucial enough, then there are other ways to get the message to you—like a phone call.
So instead, your work is constantly interrupted by generally unimportant chitchat. You get jarred from your work by the alarm or the popup, and then you waste time dealing with the message.
Then you waste more time trying to get back into the flow of your work. If you’re regularly bombarded with emails though, then getting into your proper mental workflow can be impossible.
So instead, turn off all your email notifications. Kill all the popups and alarms. More likely than not, you’ll be better able to concentrate on your work because your emails aren’t ruining your focus.
3 Schedule At least an Hour a Day for Focused Work
First, you need to identify the part of the day during which you’re at your peak when it comes to being focused. For most people, this is at the start of the workday early in the morning.
Now you need to schedule an hour or 90 minutes for this focused time period. During this time, you have to eliminate all distractions. Find an isolated place, or close your office door. Put your smartphone away. Avoid online chats and emails. Avoid internal distractions too, so stop thinking about what you’ll have for lunch.
Instead, clearly define what you want to do during this time. Pick the tasks you need to accomplish, and concentrate on them. Schedule such a time for all your work days and be disciplined about it.
4 Properly Set Your Email Schedule
What you need to understand about email is that you can’t just drop whatever you’re doing during the day just so you can check a new email message. This just leads to unfocused work with the work results to match.
So when should you deal with your email? Your best bet is to allocate a fixed time during the workday when you can deal with all your pending email messages at once. Of course, the time period, the length of time for this email period, and frequency will all depend on the nature of your work, the volume of emails you get, and your own personal preferences.
However, it’s best if you set aside maybe 2 or 3 blocks of time during the day for email. Perhaps you can set some time in the late morning, and another time during the afternoon for email.
Then you can estimate how much time you need to read these messages and to write replies. If you think you’ll spend about an hour and a half total and you plan on having 2 time periods for email, then each one will last about 45 minutes or so.
5 Work with Your Team on Proper Email Culture
All the work you do on proper email handling can get undone when your team or department members don’t take the same approach to email. You can start by informing your teammates about your approach, and encouraging them to adopt the same methods you use for handling email.
You can also inform them about your “focused work” period so that they would know not to bother you during this time. You can also perhaps set the same time for everyone to check their emails so that people will also know when to expect replies from you regarding the emails they sent.
All in all, emails are helpful—but only if you don’t allow them to take over your daily schedule. Emails have their own place during your workday, and these email messages can’t be allowed to disrupt your mental focus throughout the day. Free yourself from wasteful email practices, and you’ll find yourself a lot more productive in the end.