5 Ways to Keep Email from Becoming Your Job

“What in the world did we do before email?” I have often heard people wonder aloud. 

Well, we worked. I had one office job prior to the introduction of email as a business necessity. I worked in my sister-in-law’s dental office as the receptionist. I answered phones, I answered patient questions, I researched insurance coverage, I filled out and mailed insurance forms. As I took on more responsibility, I paid bills, sent out statements, built annual plans, forecasted financials and met with vendors. All without the distraction of email.

While email is now a critical aspect of business communication and has increased productivity in some aspects (we can get information more quickly), it has decreased productivity in other ways. As more and more emails pile up and require acknowledgement or response, less and less time is available to put toward our actual day-to-day responsibilities.

Look at your job description. Just as the most prominent and highest volume ingredients are listed first on food labels, your most prominent and highest volume responsibilities are listed first on your job description. I’ll hazard a guess that “responding to emails” is not first on the list.

Yes, email is important, and no, you can’t ignore it. However, you can and should manage it to ensure that you’re actually doing what you were hired to do.

How to keep email from being my full time job

1. Schedule your email checks – You see this in every “Manage your email better” articles, and yet we all choose to ignore it. But here’s the thing. Email not only takes up the time you’re reading and responding to it. It takes an average of 24 minutes for your brain to re-focus on the suspended task or project after an email session (see related HBR article). The more you allow yourself to “multi-task” between email and the rest of your work, the more 24 minute re-focus blocks of time are wasted. Devote 30- 60 minutes to email an hour after you start your work day, 30-60 more before your lunch break, 30- 60 minutes mid-afternoon, and 10-15 before you leave for the day.

Related Article - The One Minute Rule

2. Turn your email notifications off – This is another one we choose to ignore, yet by turning off the notifications, you’ll allow your brain to remain focused on your main work task rather than break your concentration every time something new enters your inbox. Here’s how:
 - Turn off Outlook notifications
 - Turn off Gmail notifications

3.  Unsubscribe from nearly EVERYTHING –Conferences, LinkedIn Groups, RSS feeds, Google alerts, and more add up to more volume, more distraction, more things to be dealt with. There may be 1 or 2 subscriptions you actually read, so go ahead and leave those alone. For everything else, put a recurring weekly appointment on your calendar for 60-90 minutes and call it “Continuous Education.” Copy and paste every subscription link that you think you might ever be interested in. During that weekly appointment, choose a link or two you want to explore. Read what catches your eye, explore as many links as you have allowed time for, and then save further exploration for the next week.

4.  Tell your CYA co-workers to knock it off – The entire company does not need to be cc’d on everything JUST to make sure everyone knows whatever happened was not their fault. If someone is cc-happy, let them know what kinds of communications you’d like to be included on and left off of. If needed, get your supervisor involved to make a general rule of thumb. And reign in the Reply All! Not everyone on the chain needs to see that you LOL’d the situation.

5.  Pick up the dang phone - If the response is going to require more than 1 paragraph of explanation, call them. Avoid the 10-email chain back-and-forth trying to clarify or verify. If you must have documentation, once the issue has been resolved or decided, write 1 simple follow-up email that summarizes what was decided. 

Related Article - Ignoring Them Will Make Them Go Away

Email is a tool to help us accomplish our work, but it should not consume our entire work day. Set the schedule for your email. Don’t let it set the schedule for you. 

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