HBR: The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Are you multitasking? What do you do to stay focused on one task? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ron Friedman :

The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen—olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?

We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.

The reason we keep a shopping list and try to keep supermarket trips to a minimum is that it’s easy to see the cost of driving to the store every time we crave a bag of potato chips. What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and switch activities to satisfy a mental craving.

Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious . An experiment conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.

The trouble, of course, is that multitasking is enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge your curiosity. Who knows what that next email, tweet or text message holds in store? Finding out provides immediate gratification. In contrast, resisting distraction and staying on-task requires discipline and mental effort.

And yet each time we shift our focus, it’s as if we’re taking a trip to the store. Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task-shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.

So what are we to do?

One tactic is to change our environment to move temptation further away: shut down your email program or silence your phone.  It’s a lot easier to stay on task when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings. This approach doesn’t require going off the grid for a full day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a major impact on your productivity.

The alternative, which most of us consider the norm, is the cognitive equivalent of dieting in a pastry shop. We can all muster the willpower to resist the temptations, but doing so comes with considerable costs to our limited supply of willpower.

Another worthwhile approach is to cluster similar activities together, keeping ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions. Read reports, memos and articles one after another. Schedule meetings back-to-back. Keep a list of administrative tasks and do them all in a single weekly session. If possible, try limiting email to 2 or 3 predetermined times—for example 8:30, 12:00 and 4:30—instead of responding to them the moment they arrive.

In some jobs, multitasking is unavoidable. Some of us truly do need to stay connected to our clients, colleagues, and managers. Here, it’s worth noting that limiting disruptions is not an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.

 

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Inbox to Zero

Inbox to Zero

An email is a form of communication meant to pass information efficiently. However, it often becomes a productivity killer, if not properly managed. Below are ways to manage and reduce your inbox:

Turn Off Notifications / Work Offline

Email notices are often a major big focus drain. Turn off desktop pop-ups or chimes on your phone and computer.  Try Scheduling three fifteen or one thirty minute slot per day to check email.

When processing your email, you have three decisions to make: do it, delegate, or defer it.

Do it: If you can do the action in less than two minutes then do it. For example, reading an information only email, emails that can just be deleted, or those that require only a quick response.

Delegate: If appropriate delegate the task to an employee and move the email to a folder called @waiting_for. This folder can be used to store emails with a task that requires a follow-up.

Defer it: If this action or email requires more than two minutes then move this email to a folder called @action. The task required should be noted separately in order to avoid using this folder as a task list.

 

Unsubscribing to newsletters

If you are not reading an email newsletter, it’s best to unsubscribe since deleting these emails take valuable time. Almost all newsletters have an unsubscribe link. The links are at the bottom of most newsletters. Industry related newsletters that are important for you to read can be put into a folder labeled “Newsletter” or reading. These can be read while waiting for Dr.’s appointment, etc.

CC’s

If you’re the person in the CC’s part of the email, there shouldn’t be an action or response required on your part. The CC’s means for your information only.

To help with ““CC’ing, setup a rule in your email application to color code or move all the email that you’re CC’d on. This way you can reduce or manage your inbox.

Thanks

Unless the recipient requests you acknowledge the receipt, you don’t have to say “thanks” every time. Make that clear to your recipients, so there are proper expectations and no hurt feelings.

 

Email if used efficiently, is probably one of the greatest productivity contributors of the past twenty years. However, it’s important to recognize when emails shouldn’t substitute for a live conversation. Digital communication has accelerated the speed at which people form and broaden relationships, but is also decreasing the rate at which people are willing to resolve issues either professionally or directly in-person. The next time you receive an email from someone trying to resolve an issue ask yourself; is this something that would be better served by conversation? Then have the courage pick up the phone or have a face to face meeting.

 

 

TMN: Email Is Not Your Job

Below is a blog post from Time Management Ninja. Are you stuck in your inbox? There are 5 tips on how to avoid the email inbox trap.

Email Is Not Your Job 

Some days it seems like all you do is email.

You get to the end of the day and you haven’t escaped your inbox.

Are you stuck endlessly processing emails instead of getting work done?

Email is Not Work 

Email dominates too many businesses. It is one of the top time wasters in most companies.

The irony is that once upon a time, email was supposed to increase the speed and productivity of businesses. However, it is estimated that workers spend a third of their time reading and responding to email.

Yet, email is not work.

It doesn’t get things done…

Email doesn’t write a report.
Email doesn’t design new products.
Email doesn’t train and mentor others.
Email doesn’t create new ideas.

Rather is it a slow back and forth of inefficient communication.

It is busy work in disguise.

Never Getting Out of Your Inbox 

Are you stuck in your inbox?

Responding to every email that arrives. Jumping with a Pavlovian response to each email notification.

Co-workers ask you, “Did you get the email I just sent two minutes ago?

This behavior is not productive.

In fact, it makes email look like the worst invention ever.

Email has its positive uses . However, usually email prevents you from getting to your work.

Here Are 5 Tips to Help You Avoid the Email Inbox Trap:

  1. Turn Off the Notifications – I’d love to meet the individual who thought it was a good idea to make a noise and pop-up a message every time an email arrives. Turn off the dings and notifications. You don’t need to know when the latest spam message arrives. (If you must know when an important message arrives, then use a VIP list or a service like AwayFind .)
  2. Consider Turning Off Email on Your Mobile Device – Do you really need to check email at lunch, in the elevator, in the car, in the bathroom, and in bed? The answer is no. Only turn on your email when you need it.
  3. Check It Less Frequently – Reduce the number of times you check email per day. Start small. If you are currently checking email 37 times a day , then try cutting that number in half. Set specific times of day when you check it, and eventually you can minimize the number of times a day you look in your inbox.
  4. Get Work and Tasks Out of Your Inbox – One reason people get stuck in their inbox is because they use it as their default todo list. Instead, get those tasks out of your inbox and onto your task list. Add the todo to your list and file the email in your archive. Otherwise, you will lose important tasks in the clutter of new messages.
  5. Communicate Directly – Don’t play email Ping-Pong all day long. I have seen instances of 15 email messages to schedule a single meeting. Rather, call or go see the person. Face-to-face is more efficient than the email back and forth.

Email is Not Your Job 

Email is one of the greatest distraction machines ever created.

Don’t sit there responding to each and every message that drops into your inbox.

Get out of your inbox and go get your work done. (Tweet this Quote )

Five Ways To Survive Your Inbox

Email email email

Below is a great blog post. What are your best strategies for overcoming your inbox?

5 Ways To Survive Your Inbox

Six Pixels of Separation – Marketing and Communications Insights – By Mitch Joel at Twist Image byMitchJoel on6/7/11

I love email. I hate email.

Most people probably have a similar love/hate relationship with email as they grapple daily with their inbox. In fact, I hate email… I just hate not getting email more. And, that’s the dilemma that most professionals face when it comes to their inbox. It’s gotten worse over time. Now, it’s not just emails. We get messages from FacebookLinkedInTwitter and beyond. Most of us are managing multiple inboxes across multiple platforms and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better or easier to manage. My inbox has become a never-ending game of Tetris, where emails continue to flow in and stack up to the breaking point. Many professionals have declared email bankruptcy (where they simply delete every single email from their inbox with the hopes that if the contents were truly critical, the sender will reach out them or call as a follow-up).

Most of us rely on email for critical business communications and email bankruptcy is not a legitimate option, so let’s look at five ways to master the inbox.

  1. Create folders. Some of the newer Web-based email clients do not have folders (like Gmail), but they do have “tags” (words you can use to associate multiple messages to), either way creating tags or folders are critical to getting organized. My general strategy is to create a folder for every client or project. On top of that, I create folders for each member of our team at Twist Image (in case it’s a conversation related to an individual instead of a specific project). I also have folders for HR, business development, interesting news items that may wind up becoming content fodder for my newspaper columns, Blog post, or an idea for a book. I also track trends using my inbox. If something interesting happens with Facebook, I email the link to myself and file it under Facebook in my trends folder. Using sub-folders is another way to keep your emails organized.
  2. Create rules. I set-up a lot of email alerts from places like Google Alerts or when somebody new is following me on Twitter or requesting to connect on Facebook or LinkedIn. With a couple of simple clicks on the “rules” button, you can have emails sent from a specific email address or emails that have a similar piece of content in the body of the message to redirect automatically to a pre-defined folder. This avoids inbox clutter and clog-ups. This tactic works great if you subscribe to a lot of e-newsletters as well.
  3. Get it done. In 2001, David Allen wrote the groundbreaking business book, Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. While I’m not a sworn devotee ofAllen and his techniques (I’ve managed to develop my own coping mechanisms over time), one gem of productivity insight is culled from this masterful tome: if you can get it done in 60 seconds or less, do it right away. Emails that don’t require more than a few sentences to respond to get done as soon as possible and then get filed in their specific folders (or deleted). The longer emails are attended to in-between meetings, but I will set aside one hour – every day – to deal with the emails that require more writing/thinking. Lastly, I don’t beat myself up if every email doesn’t get responded to on the same day that it was received. The non-critical messages get dealt with in due process, but I do respond to every email that requires a response.
  4. Create a hierarchy of response. During the day, clients or potential new business get responded to first, then staff, then requests for media or writing, and then family and friends (unless it’s an obvious emergency). It doesn’t matter if that rule gets broken from time to time, but it’s the spirit of: clients first, team second and everything else after that, which allows me to look at my inbox with a different perspective. Create a hierarchy of who gets responded to and in what order.
  5. Tell people – in your emails – how to work better with you. Most people have no idea how to use email. They respond to everyone on an email with a bunch of people who were only cc’d and they’ll do things like send back an email that says, “ok,” as if that adds any value to the chain of communication. You can set the ground rules by putting some insights into your signature file. I’ve seen people with signature files that not only have their contact information, but say things like, “please only respond back to me, the other people who are listed on this email are just there to be kept in the loop,” or, “there’s no need to respond to back me, I just wanted you to see this so that you are kept in the loop.” A little clarity on how you like to interact via email will help keep your inbox clutter down to a dull roar and it will also teach other people new ways that they can use their email with more efficacy.

Most people are in email hell.

It’s on their smartphones and it’s on their screens for most of their waking moments. Many people look at their email before going to the bathroom as their first act of the day and many people look at their email right before they close their eyes for the night. Some may see this as an indictment on our society’s inability to find a peaceful balance in our work-centric lives. Ultimately, the only way to really survive your inbox is to make a personal promise that you are going to better manage your technology, instead of letting your technology manage you.

What are your best strategies for overcoming your inbox?

8 things I wish everyone knew about email- Godin

Below is an article by Seth Godin’s Blog.


8 things I wish everyone knew about email

  1. Change your settings so that email from you has a name, your name, not a blank or some unusual characters, in the from field. (ask a geek or IT person for help if you don’t know how).
  2. Change your settings so that the bottom of every email includes a signature (often called a sig) that includes your name and your organization.
  3. Change your settings so that when you reply to a note, the note you’re replying to is included below what you write (this is called quoting).
  4. Don’t hit reply all. Just don’t. Okay, you can, but read this first.
  5. You can’t recall an email you didn’t mean to send. Some software makes you think you can, but you can’t. Not reliably.
  6. Email lives forever, is easy to spread and can easily show up in discovery for a lawsuit.
  7. Please don’t ask me to save a tree by not printing your email. It doesn’t work, it just annoys the trees.
  8. Send yourself some email at a friend’s computer. Read it. Are the fonts too big or too small? Does it look like a standard email? If it doesn’t look like a standard, does this deviation help you or hurt you? Sometimes, fitting in makes sense, no?

And a bonus tip from Cory Doctorow, who gets more email than you and me combined: When you go on vacation, set up an autoreply that says, “I’m on vacation until x/x/2010. When I get back, I’m going to delete all the email that arrived while I was gone, so if this note is important, please send it to me again after that date.”