Sep 30

Do you control your email, or does it control you?

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Do you control your email, or does it control you?

Chances are that most of the time you mindlessly use email because it is so ubiquitous. Have you ever stopped to consider what impact this might be having on your goals and aspirations?

Lets look at email first

Some prescient facts (according to figures published in 2016):

  • 212 billion emails are sent every day, with 2.7 billion email users worldwide;
    The average user spends 5.4 hours per day checking email and sends or receives 131 business emails;
    91% of people check their email every day, with 25% of emails being opened on iPhones (48% on mobile devices overall); and
    51% of people check email in meetings, 43% whilst on the phone and 50% whilst on holiday.

No wonder email is the communication medium of choice, though up to 60% of email is spam.

Why is this a problem?

Email is a constant source of distraction – if you don’t think so, how many times do you get straight onto an email that has popped up in a notification window? Just consider the contribution the 51% of people who check emails in meetings are making whilst their attention is focused on their email. It can’t be great can it?

Many of my clients report being overwhelmed by the volume of mail they have to deal with. They get drawn in to long email conversations which might better have been dealt with in person. The sheer time it takes to open, read and delete an email is at the expense of more important activity when it is not on a priority topic. Even reading an emails that simply says ‘thanks’ consumes prescious seconds.

Email also facilitates a lack of responsibility – how many times have you been passed a hot potato and you only find out when you speak to people and they ask “have you seen my email”. As if your entire life revolves around the emails you get from this person?

Here is the killer – it takes 20 minutes to regain full concentration after an interruption. So if you aren’t in control of your email, it will have a significant impact on your productivity and the quality of your work.

What can you do about it?

The first step is to recognise that you have this issue. If you still don’t believe it, keep a record of how many times in a day you check email. The average person checks email every 8 minutes… productivity destroyer or what?

Second, you have to find the determination to do something about it. There are lots of books and resources on this, if you want to dig deeper, but I would suggest three simple things:

  • Only check email at predetermined time of the day when you can really focus on it. Tell people that you do this – so that they know there will be a potential time delay in your response.
  • Turn off notifications or even better still, when you need to focus on an activity, close your email client altogether. If you mainly access email via your phone, turn off vibration and light notifications too.
  • The main issue is that it is a distraction. Hence building on the first point, leave your phone in another room or consider only using a PC to access email, you’ll still hear it ring. In meetings, why not insist on a phone ‘park’ to remove it as a distraction so people can focus on the task at hand. You never know you may get through the meeting more quickly and get some time back in your day.

Remember, before email, the post was delivered once a day, you dealt with it, then had the rest of the day free to get on with more important things.

It’s a mad suggestion

If you think so, just look at billionaire John Paul Dejora. He is a famous non-user of email and has been quoted as saying:

“If I had email, I would be inundated. I choose not to use computers,”

He has a simple philosophy:

“Pay attention to the vital few, ignore the trivial many.”

And there is the rub. Think about your email experience today. How much of it was genuinely productive and how much of it simply robbed you of precious time? If the answer to that question is “too much”, perhaps your email is in control of you?

Email is just one productivity destroyer. If you have issues with distraction and productivity, why not get in touch and see how coaching might help.


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