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Email: measures are called for

Is your working life governed by your email inbox? Mine is, and it’s become a serious productivity problem. It was unintentionally pointed out to me by a client, who said: “I find it amazing that whenever I email you, a response always comes back within an hour or two, sometimes within a few minutes”. I saw this as good customer service, but I sensed that they weren’t so much impressed as mystified, that anyone could have a working life so devoid of anything more important to do.

Of course I do usually have something more important to do. However, if I see an email arrive in the corner of my screen, it nags me and I can’t concentrate properly on anything else until I’ve at least marked it as read, and preferably dealt with it.

“Switch off the notifications”, you’re thinking.

Ah, but then there’s a voice in the back of my head saying: “I wonder if any emails have come in? Don’t you think you should just check? Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Even if I can resist, I use my inbox as a to-do list, so I see any emails every time I complete a task. That’s not good. And many tasks require me to write an email, which once again exposes me to that inbox.

Measures were called for, and I installed Inbox When Ready, an add-on for users of GMail. This offers a number of ways to tackle the challenge, but I’ve particularly liked the facility to “hide” the inbox (and any unread-message notifications) from my email client. Other options include a limit to the time you can see your inbox, or ‘locking’ it except at scheduled times.

“Inbox Zero” is a commendable ideal, but it can add to stress and seriously damage productivity if not handled right. The first step towards sorting out email addiction may be to admit that you have a problem.

1 thought on “Email: measures are called for”

  1. I totally agree, Chris. I’ve taken to dealing with my email first thing in the morning, then again late morning, then again about an hour before the end of the day. I find this helps me to prioritise getting work done rather than watching my inbox (which is a severe temptation). If anything is so urgent that it can’t wait half a day for a response, people generally pick up the phone.

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