Who Else Wants to Eliminate Email Interruption?

If you want to get rid of email interruption so that you can focus on important work, then this could be the most important post you will read this week.

The leaders I coach all struggle with the volume, randomness, and interruption of email. Email distracts us. The false-urgency of email “pinging” into our inboxes takes our attention away from important, productive work.

Constant Interruption

Like Pavlof’s dog, when we hear the “ping” we drop what we are working on and go to email. One study showed that 70% of employees respond to emails within 6 seconds of the “ping” announcing them. That’s faster than we answer the telephone.

Emails are like small packages being delivered right to our workspace. We think, “I wonder who that is? What interesting thing might be here?” Yet we know that most email isn’t a treasure that moves our project, product, or career forward. In fact, 43% of emails we receive at work are non-business related.

Most of us, the study shows, allow emails to interrupt our work every 5 minutes. And it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover from this interruption.

No big deal, you say? Think of it this way, every 4 minutes we take 1 minute to look at something unrelated to what we are working on. Now add, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, etc. etc. It’s amazing that we get any serious thought work done at all!

4 Strategies to Eliminate Email Interruption

  1. Flooding? Turn off the water. For email it means turning off your automatic email retrieval. This is one of those “I know what to do, but haven’t done it” steps. So do it. Change your email settings to manual. Do this on all your devices: computer, iPad, phone, etc.
  2. Make email wait on you. Decide and schedule how often and when you will check and respond to email. Use your personal productivity clock to help. I’m most productive in the morning, so I don’t want to share that time with emails. Checking email first thing in the morning takes my brain out of its creative relaxed state. I end up thinking about the problems or other projects the emails redirected me to. Ideally, for me would be to check email after lunch and again at 4pm.
  3. Get your addresses straight. Use an email address for your work. Use a different email for your volunteer board work. And yet a different email for personal, sports teams, kids’ school, etc. I have a unique email that I use for online purchases and to sign up for subscriptions. At work, only enable your work email address. Check the other addresses when you’re ready to work on those topics.
  4. Click “Unsubscribe”. If you don’t immediately read a regular email a couple times in a row, unsubscribe. Your needs change, so change your subscriptions. I did a subscription purge one day and cut 15 newsletters, more than half of which were delivered daily.

Take the challenge to implement these 4 strategies to eliminate email interruption to see how your work results change. Don’t be surprised when it’s really difficult to go “cold turkey” from emails (and social media) for a few hours. Changing ingrained habits is not easy! But I believe that, like me, you will see the benefits of focused thinking.

Question: What works for you to eliminate email interruptions? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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