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            Email is the biggest source of distraction in the workplace. We interrupt ourselves every five minutes to check our inboxes, hoping for something more interesting, more fun or more urgent than whatever we’re working on in that moment.  Continuity in our thought process and, not surprisingly, our productivity plummets as a result.

            Email has created what I call our staccato work environment—where everything has to be “now, now, now!”  We assume people expect immediate responses, because an immediate response seems possible.  But just because messages arrive instantaneously in your inbox, doesn’t mean that you have to respond immediately.  I have clients who consciously choose to WAIT before replying, even if they see an email right away, to avoid training people to think they are always available.

            Not everything is urgent, and not everything is email---some projects, requests, decisions and correspondences take time and thought.  Years ago, it may have been impressive to instantly get back someone the moment they sent a request.  But today—if someone answers your email within minutes of your sending it—what is your reaction?  Don’t you wonder why that person is sitting there with nothing more important to do?

 

Three ways to kick the email habit:

·        Completely avoid email for the first hour of the day.  Email is addictive. It interrupts continuity in our thought process and steals productivity. If you can fight off email the first hour of the day, you can control yourself all day long. Instead, use that hour to focus on your most critical, concentrated task.

 

·        Keep your email alarm off. Check email at designated times of each day – e.g. 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 5pm. If an issue is that critical or urgent, someone will find you!

 

·        Stop “just checking”.  Process emails fully during your email sessions. Read, respond and immediately delete or file emails that can be answered in two minutes or less. For emails that require more thought or research before responding, schedule a specific time later in your schedule to deal with it.

 

            By devoting your first hour to concentrated work, the day starts proactively, instead of reactively. It’s a bold statement to the world (and yourself) that you can take control, pull away from the frenetic pace and create the time for quiet work when you need it.  There’s no safer hour than the first to be “off email”-because you have the rest of the day to catch up to anything that’s sitting in there.  And truly—what’s so urgent that cannot wait 59 minutes for you to tend to it? 

            Develop your muscles of resistance one day at a time.  The first day or two will be the hardest, but each successive day will become easier as you realize how little you are actually missing, and how much your productivity improves—when you proactively carve out time to think.

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