Set Times for Handling E-Mail

I’ve been reading how we should set aside specific times during the day to deal with e-mail.  By only dealing with e-mail at those certain times, we’ll reduce distractions and improve our productivity.  I’ve noticed how although I’ve turned the e-mail chime off, the number of unopened e-mails get my attention whenever it goes up.  It turns out that I’m enticed to check my e-mail, even when I’m in the midst of working on something.  I know better, yet it’s hard to resist.

Then something even more dramatic happened with my e-mail.  I checked it one day before heading off to a client’s.  I had an e-mail that I very quickly read and thought about it as I drove to my appointment.  It was a late night and I went to bed after getting home.  Several days later as I was driving to another appointment, I suddenly wondered if I’d responded to that e-mail.  It turned out that I hadn’t.  Yet, I’d thought about what I’d say and then forgot that I hadn’t gotten those words into an e-mail.

Truthfully, I’d already been thinking I needed a better way to handle e-mail.  Everything I’d been reading was just reinforced by my experience.  With all that technology offers us, it also is training us to ignore some basic principles.  Technology does provide much faster ways to communicate with others, whether it’s e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter – no need to wait for that letter to be delivered by the Post Office and wait for the person to write back and get it into the mail.  I do miss those days some!

Yet, I see how compulsively I check my e-mail after I see the number go up, and not unlike the mailbox most times, I’m disappointed.  While the real crux of the matter is – I distracted myself from what I was working on.  Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project says that tasks take 25% longer when we switch between them, than if we’d just focused on one at a time.  Yikes!

It seems to me that most professionals already practice limiting when they deal with e-mail, and having embarrassingly forgotten I hadn’t responded, magnifies its importance for my life.  Yet as I think about doing this, I realize there’s some reluctance, maybe even dread.  E-mail is certainly not as instant as the social media tools, but it’s designed as this quick way to communicate.  It almost seems contradictory to set aside chunks of time for dealing with it.  Somehow, it seems like it’s not supposed to be time consuming.

Nevertheless, it’s important to take your time in dealing with it.  There’s no question that some e-mails need our time and attention.  Also, this is how we avoid letting e-mails get out of control.  If we set aside time every day to handle our e-mail we not only respond when we need to, we can add things to our schedule, and archive those e-mails that are relevant enough to keep.

There’s no easy answer for how much time you need to handle your e-mail.  If your work is largely via e-mail, you’ll likely need more time than others whose work is less e-mail dependent.  From what I’ve read, a minimum of twice a day, so whether that’s 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the evening, or more will depend on your situation.

Most of know that we need to focus on what we’re doing and limit the number of distractions that come our way.  Yet the technology encourages us to jump around – and we’re prone to avoid pain and drawn towards pleasure.  We need to remember that although it might feel limiting to schedule specific times for e-mail, in the long run it will be more pleasurable!

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