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Email is intended to increase efficiency and make our lives a bit easier. But, more often than not, it ends up being detrimental to our productivity — especially at work.
"Email can be a boon to productivity, saving time spent in meetings or on phone conversations," says Susan Lasky, a business consultant and productivity coach . But, it's usually more of a distraction and time suck, she says.
"Email definitely hurts productivity at work," adds Dave Baggett, CEO of Inky, an email management platform. "It's gotten completely insane for everyone I know. Many office workers are getting hundreds of messages a day."
Every time we are interrupted by an email, it can take us up to 40 minutes to get back to the task we were doing, Lasky explains. "Even if it is just to 'glance' at the incoming message, we are transitioned away from what we were working on, and lose some of our focus." When we transition into a new mindset of dealing with the topic of the email — even if we don't take the time to respond — it pierces a hole in our concentration, and the productive accomplishment of what we were working on, she says.
Here are seven easy ways to prevent email from killing your productivity and taking over your day:
Only check your inbox once an hour.
The most important way to improve productivity is to not let email constantly interrupt you, Baggett says. "Many studies show that — in layman's terms — multitasking makes you dumber. So check email once every hour or every few hours, but don't become 'interrupt-driven.'"
Set up an auto reply.
If you are concerned that you'll miss something deadline-specific, have an automatic response message that says when you will review your email again, and that, if it is urgent, you can be reached by phone. "It is important that you actually check your email at the times you've stated," Lasky explains.
Turn off notifications.
Turning off automatic notification of new emails can help prevent distraction. "And don't cheat by turning it off on your computer but having your smartphone beep," Lasky says.
Use an email client.
Use an email client that automatically understands what your messages are about, or set up filter rules in the email client you're required to use at work, Baggett suggests.
"Filter rules identify words or phrases in the subject or sender line of the message, so you can create rules that match on sender 'Groupon,' subject, 'offer,' and so on, to create a filter that works for you. It's a pain to do this, but if you spend a few hours on it once, it will help keep the clutter out of your inbox."
Remove yourself from as many subscriber lists as possible, or have them forwarded to an email subdirectory that you can look at when the topic comes up.
"If you unsubscribe diligently, you'll also reduce email clutter and be more productive," Baggett says. "The good news is that senders are required by law to obey an unsubscribe request and can be fined if they don't. So, in practice, unsubscribing does work."
You should also ask colleagues to take you off "automatic distribution" lists for projects that aren't critical, Lasky says.
Don't always email.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not always the fastest and easiest way to communicate. Sending just one "quick" note can turn into a long, time-consuming thread of emails. If you have a question for a colleague, walk over to his or her desk, or pick up the phone and call.
Write emails in bullet-point format.
If you're the type of person to spend an excessive amount of time composing emails, you'll want to rethink your approach.
Lasky says writing emails in a bullet-point format is an efficient way to write (and read) emails. "Just state, in as few words as possible, the key points you want to communicate. Let go of the conversational verbiage or being overly detailed. If it requires more communication than that, email clearly isn't the best medium."
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