How often do you check email? Try this experiment: For one day, record the number of times you check email: on your phone, at work, at home. Also record the number of times you have an urge to check email but don’t. Write down the total.
Then try this experiment: Don’t check your email for an entire day (until say 4 pm or so). Write down the number of total messages.
This is what you are up against: Your penchant for obsessively checking email and the total volume of email you receive.
What if we treated email like the mail that comes from the post office? What would you do differently?
For me, the gap couldn’t be wider. On a good day, I check email multiple times a day. My inbox is often my second “to do” list.
By contrast, even though I “get” the mail every day (or so), I often only open it once a week. I throw out most of it and put the important stuff where it belongs (again, on a good week).
Can you imagine the insanity of checking your mailbox 5, 6, 7, 25 times a day? Of putting your To Do list inside your mailbox? Of opening 60, 100, 250 pieces of mail each day? Yet this is exactly how we treat email.
I’m aware that email and mail are not identical. But somewhere along the way, we made a decision (even if by default) that email should be treated more like an urgent text message. I think Facebook, Twitter, et al. have only amplified this effect.
So here’s the productivity hack that I’ve recently put in place: Treat email like the mail that comes from the post office. Here are some things that work for me:
1. Never check email before 11 am. Set your day and priorities before opening your inbox and letting it run your life. Make your To Do list before your email makes it for you.
2. Go ahead and send. If you are making your way through your task list, go ahead and send a message if you need to. Just don’t linger for a minute. And don’t read. It’s a black hole and it will suck you in.
3. Decide, in advance, how many times you will check and respond to email each day–and stick to it. Twice a day is more than adequate… once before lunch and once before the end of your workday.
4. Try putting your email on vacation for a few days or a week. Whenever I return from a real vacation, I’m amazed at how many messages have taken care of themselves in my absence and how quickly I can make my way through hundreds of messages in one sitting.
5. Consider: How much of this is junk? If it’s junk or you’re done with it, archive it or (better) delete it.
6. Move To Do items to your To Do list. Seems obvious, but so few of us make this step to separate our To Do list from our inbox. I’m still working on this one.
7. Customize it. Make your system work for you. Then let me know what pro tips you have.
Will you be less “responsive”? Maybe. Might you miss something really important. You might… but probably not. Will you gain some measure of sanity back in your work and in your life. Most definitely.
Give it a try. Even for one week. Better: one month. Radical: one year.