Now that many of us are working from home in some form or iteration it’s vital that we’re intentional about our email habits. They can very quickly become unhealthy habits if we don’t put some personal policies and procedures in place and email can dominate our work time, derail our productivity and diminish our mental wellbeing if we’re not careful. A client recently revealed that she realised her email habits had slipped into unhealthy territory when she recognised that she was replying to a colleague’s email whilst sitting on the toilet.
The constant ping of emails often punctuates our workday (or let’s be real, that sound isn’t confined to 9am-5pm: it can hum all day and night and into the weekend too). Whilst many of us accept this as the norm as a knowledge worker, we also find it overwhelming, exhausting and debilitating to our productivity at times.
Nibbling on emails throughout the day can dent our productivity. A study by Rescue Time found that the average knowledge worker checked their emails and instant messages every 6 minutes. Working in such a fragmented way has obvious and negative implications on our productivity and performance. It’s near impossible to accomplish any type of cognitively-taxing or as Cal Newport refers to it as ‘deep work’ if we’re perpetually checking communication tools.
Unless your primary role requires immediate customer care or perhaps sales, there’s no need to constantly check and respond to emails. Email is not a synchronous communication tool and it was never designed to be our primary tool of communication. It’s an asynchronous tool that should be supplemented with other communication tools (if someone does need an urgent response calling you, sending a WhatsApp message or sending a Slack message may be a better choice). Research consistently confirms that email distracts us and often limits the time we have on deep work (the essential, mentally-taxing work) we should be doing.
One of the most essential personal policies we can establish with email, whether we’re continuing to work from home, or we’re back in the office, is to timetable when we’ll check email (and not do it in an ad hoc manner). Ideally, we should be checking emails at set times of the day, usually when we’re not at our prime focus periods. You can read more here about how to identify your focus periods here.
Research confirms that checking email 2-4 times per day is optimal as it allows workers to be responsive and not reactive*. Another study found that checking emails three times a day reduced employee stress. So it appears that the ‘happy’ medium for checking email is somewhere in the range of 2-4 times per day, not every six minutes as many of us do.
I developed a simple 6-step signature system for taming email that will easily allow you to only need to check email 2-4 times/day. I share this system, as well as my five-folder method to provide you with a simple solution so you can spend less time on email, in my Taming Email Mini-Masterclass.