Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kicking the Email Habit

When I was reviewing my workload at the end of last year, I had to admit that I had been swamped (yet again) by emails. To make matters worse, it appeared that many of these emails were being generated internally rather than externally.

The problem was twofold:
  • email represented a never-ending avalanche of things to do
  • the messages disrupted our existing plans for the day
With my group we looked at various solutions, and discarded several as unworkable. For example, having fewer emails with multiple messages in each, more addresses, using other ways of communicating etc.

Then for a period of one month we experimented with a new approach: switching off all the email alerts and not looking at the inbox until noon.

You would not believe how difficult we found this at first.

We had all become so accustomed to starting the day with email, or at least dipping into the inbox out of curiosity. Giving up sugar is easier.

In the end, we persisted, even though we certainly under-estimated some of the issues involved. For example, there are occasions when we needed to go into the inbox, and just exercise some real discipline when in there.

What difference did it make? Within a month the results had been very positive:
  • a significant (and immediate) reduction in stress
  • a sense of control over our days; by getting something substantial done every morning, we feel we are again in charge of our workload
  • far from getting less done, we became more productive. Some of this was related to a sense of vitality and energy coming from the previous effects above
  • our development projects have really benefited: things that have been "good ideas" for months are actually getting done
  • we have become so-convinced of the benefits of this - despite the few hiccups that it has caused - that we are going to start a campaign to wean the world from the morning email addiction
Since then I have to admit that we have reverted to our bad habits, but most of us now block out significant chunks of time when we close email and get on with important projects.

You may have other ways of experimenting with email to make your life more productive. If you do, I would be interested in hearing them.

Crispin White
BIE Interim Executive Ltd
Business-changing Interim Expertise

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