Each day when you arrive at work, have several productivity goals to accomplish (whether your boss provides these, your job description or a deadline provides these, or you create them for yourself). Do at least one task prior to checking your email. That small step will help you establish control over your productivity. While we cannot ignore our customers, clients, and coworkers, too much time is spent (28% by popular estimates) reacting to email. As long as your inbox doubles as your task list, you will not be in control of your work or your day, nor will you be able to meet your professional goals.
While email is, of course, an extremely valuable productivity tool, the habitual checking-and-reacting-to-email cycle has a net negative effect on productivity. Each time we turn our attention away from the task at hand to answer an email, we have become distracted and must re-orient ourselves after the distraction passes. Add social media notifications to that (for those who must manage those accounts for their museums), and focus diminishes even more. All the time spent transitioning between tasks and re-orienting after a distraction is time lost, and the work done in this way is at risk of being of lower quality because the distraction disrupts the focus, the flow, we need for peak performance.
Now that your day has not been launched onto a tangent through email, and you have accomplished one of your productivity goals, it’s time to establish some rules around email use. To better manage your email, turn it off. That’s right. If your screen flashes, or a bell rings, or a female voice chimes in with “You’ve got mail,” turn those notifications off (and in the case of the female voice, update the email service that you use!). Do the same with your social media notifications. You don’t need to know everything in real time (for those of us 40 and “better,” we remember when).
Once your email program is not actively invading your realm of focus with notifications, choose a convenient 1 – 3 times throughout the day when you can take some time to focus on email, since email is integral to the projects we work on, the customers we serve, and the information we need. When you are not checking email, focus on your other goals for the day. The process might take some getting used to, but barring an absolute emergency, folks can wait to hear back from you for a few hours. By doing this, when you do turn on your email and work on crafting and returning messages, you’re doing so on your terms and can focus completely on that task, because it’s not competing with others for your attention.
So email now has a schedule in your world, rather than dominating it. At this juncture you may find that you are getting more done. You may even find that others are more respectful of your time and talents when you are not immediately responding to every bell and whistle. You are no longer conditioning those you work with to think that email is the answer for urgent messages, since you aren’t responding immediately to every email (text and phone conversations are great when an immediate answer is required). When you do take the time to work with email, there are some additional best practices for crafting and sending as well as for receiving and processing. Read about those in the full Technical Insert article, entitled Taming the Email Beast, in the upcoming Summer 2016 VAM Voice news magazine, to be released next week for members. Don't receive the news magazine? Join VAM today.