Curbing the Email Addiction

Do you know what would be the worst and best feature Outlook could offer? It could kick us out of our email application every 45 minutes to say hey, get some work done! I don’t know about you, but I am obsessed with my email. An email comes in, dopamine levels go up, I reply, and it’s like YES, I accomplished something. But then do you know what happens? Hours go by, I look at the clock and then I look at my full to-do list, and the reality sets in. I have officially wasted the best hours of my day on email and nothing on my actual to-do list is done.

When email begins to take over too much of your day, it’s time to talk about curbing the email addiction to maximize your workday productivity.

The Email Problem

I can’t tell you how many times I go to my desk at home right before dinner to complete a ten-minute task and get distracted by emails (well my husband could, it’s quite the joke in my house) All of a sudden, my ten minutes are up, it’s time for dinner, and that untouched project is still begging for some love. Email is the Achilles heel of productivity. It interrupts us, distracts us, and leads us on to endless wild goose chases. Email is the devil whisking us away from our planned to-do list.

Email, while it is a wonderful communication tool, is a gigantic time suck. According to a McKinsey report, workers spend 28% of their time on email. Perhaps even more telling is just how addicted we are. Harvard Business Review reports the average professional checks their email 15 times per day which calculates to every 37 minutes. This leads to losing 21 minutes per day on over-checking emails according to Harvard Business Review. Personally, I could use that extra 21 minutes and I bet you can too.

Yes, we need to read our emails, but if your job is anything like mine, we also have a lot of actual work that needs to be completed as well. So lately I have been wondering, how do we best balance it all? How do we use our time in the best way possible, while still making everyone in our inbox happy? Here are nine tips to help with managing your inbox and curbing the email addiction.

The Email Addiction Prescription

1. Send an Email, Receive an Email

It sounds obvious, but let’s refresh our common sense. An email sent is an invitation to receive yet another email. The more emails you send, the more emails you will receive. And if you copy more than one person on an email, the responses will multiply.  So, think for an extra moment before you send an email. Is the email necessary, or are you just clogging up someone’s inbox? 

2. Pace Yourself

Don’t push out emails faster than you can respond to them. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter, but when you can, be sure to send emails at a rate you can handle. Sending too many emails at a time is throwing too many balls in the air to juggle with. You need to be able to maintain the juggle. 

3. Scheduling Emails

I was recently reminded there is this brilliant feature on Outlook to schedule an email to send at a later date. I know, some of you have been using this feature forever, but surely some of you are email-scheduling virgins. For those of you who are new to the concept, you can use email scheduling to help manage your inbox in a variety of ways. These include:

  • The Insomniac  – You can draft an email at the wee hours of midnight and schedule it to be sent at 8:00 am the next day so that you don’t look like a crazed insomniac.
  • The Workaholic Impersonator – Draft an email during work hours and schedule to send in the middle of the night to make it look like you are overly invested in a project. It could work great for you until the recipient responds right away, and you’re busy sleeping. Better yet, it could turn into a late-night telephone call interrupting your peaceful dreams. Then you will look ridiculous.
  • The Practical Vacationer – If you are heading out of the office soon for a beach vacation, it’s probably not a great time to send a bunch of emails that will be left unanswered. If you have the time to draft the emails now, but won’t have time for the responses, consider scheduling the emails right before you get back or when you are back. 

4. Turn Off Your Email

I can feel myself begin to perspire as I even write this absurd idea but try turning off your email. If you have a to-do list a mile long and you keep getting distracted by email, try turning your email off. The emails will be there when you return. How many emails really need to be responded to within the hour? How many email emergencies are there actually? And if it’s a true “emergency,” I bet you will get a phone call.

5. The Automatic Reply Option

In Four Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris’ suggests limiting the number of times you check emails per day. He suggests checking your email twice a day, once at noon and once at 4:00 pm. He then goes one step further, suggesting to use an auto-response for recipients that explains you will only be checking emails x times a day due to a high workload and to call for immediate assistance. While I don’t see this working for all industries and all positions, it could be a good option for some if you are so daring.

6. The Power of Batching

The Four Hour Work Week talks about doing the same task in batches. Transitioning between tasks eats up time. When we batch the same task together, we can save a lot of time. So instead of responding to a few emails every so often, it is more time efficient to check your emails fewer times per day, but in batches.

You may feel bad that your emails may be more delayed, but in the long run, it is more important for yourself AND for your company/client/customer to use your time more effectively. Everyone will appreciate it if that project you promised to get done is actually completed. I don’t think anyone will appreciate the excuse of, sorry, but I was distracted by my emails…

7. Schedule Email As a Task on Your Calendar

Fast Company shares great advice from Kevin Kruse’s book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. Kruse suggests scheduling blocks of time to check emails three times a day. Instead of checking email before work tasks, we can schedule it on our calendar as if it were a project or a meeting that needs to be completed.

8. Stop Letting Email Dictate Your Day

Guilty as Charged. I have my written to-do list when I start my day, but before I know it, I am letting my email become my to-do list. Vozza shares Kruse’s advice to stop using email as a “second to-do list.” When answering emails, he determines if he can delete, delegate, or complete in five minutes or less. If he cannot complete the task in less than five minutes he schedules the task for later. 

9. When Your Email Addiction Is Still Running Rampant 

Last and definitely least, if that inbox is still causing havoc on your workday, there’s always the doomsday option. While it pains me to write this, sometimes it is easier to get a project done outside of work hours. When the email won’t stop and you can’t bear to turn your email off, sometimes it’s easier to find uninterrupted time outside of the 9-5. While I don’t wish you do this often, if email is killing your productivity and you need a brief reprieve, find the off-hours quiet time to get your work done. Having some uninterrupted work time to get yourself caught up may be just what you need to have a better week.

Thank You for Reading Curbing The Email Addiction

Thank you for reading Curbing The Email Addiction. I want to hear from you now. How often do you check your email? Does email ever take over your day? What are your trick and tips to manage your inbox? 

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4 responses to “Curbing the Email Addiction”

  1. Shannon Z Sawyer Avatar
    Shannon Z Sawyer

    Tim Ferris! I know someone who is a huge fan…
    I considered waiting until tomorrow to comment just to give the appearance of email self discipline, but here I go! Thanks for another thought provoking post 🙂

    1. Meghan M Avatar

      It’s like an unread email is just dying to be read. I totally hear you!

  2. Richard McGrath Avatar
    Richard McGrath

    While I agree that you can’t let E-Mail be a distraction and hinder your productivity, I found it could also be a great tool.
    When I used to do many trainings across my territory e-mail was a great help. I would e-mail all locations involved my proposed schedule and they could all see my travel plans logically laid out. If anyone did not like the proposed date for their location everyone could see they were throwing a monkey wrench into the schedule. The majority of time it all fell into place which ultimately was a great time saver for me !

    1. Meghan M Avatar

      I totally agree! I could not do my job without email. It’s such a fast and easy way to communicate.

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