Are you a Type A who can’t bear to have a single unread email in your inbox? Well, it might be time to rethink your strategy and let those messages pile up—for a short time at least. Contrary to typical time management advice, constantly clearing that inbox wastes time and takes your focus away from what’s really important.
That’s not to say it’s easy. “It’s a tough change,” admits time management author and coach Jan Yager, PhD. “We are all taught to be responsive and e-mail, text messages, and even occasional phone calls cry out to us to be deal with. But you must define what is the best use of your time now and do it or you will be frustrated and less productive.” The first step is to identify the problem: You’re letting other people’s demands (their emails) become your priority. Next, you need to be aware of the consequences to make you realize you need to make a change: You’re not getting done what you have to—or want to—do. Finally, you need to take action: Do what you really need to do, and deal with emails (and other distractions) later in the day. (If you want to be a natural success at work, memorize these 10 attributes right now.)
“Obviously you have to use your judgment,” says Dr. Yager. “If there’s a genuine crisis—professional or personal—you will have to react. Otherwise, at the end of the day, maybe in the last hour, you take care of all those little interruptions that you used to do earlier in the day.”
Jameson Slattery, vice president of Global Marketing at Color Science, knows what it’s like to be faced with an overflowing inbox every day. “I limit the amount of time I spend in my email each day,” he says. “Reports show that the average worker receives 121 emails per day, which can become extremely distracting. Unless I’m waiting on or expecting an important email, generally I try to check my email twice a day: Once in the morning when I get in, and then again a little before I plan on leaving. This allows me to address any important and time sensitive issues, while maintaining a distraction-free environment throughout my work day.”
Kate Sullivan, business and productivity psychologist and content director of TCK Publishing, agrees. “Email creates a snowball effect: The more you send, the more you receive,” she says. “And emails tend to be low-priority items that are disproportionately emotionally draining. By spending your time striving for Inbox Zero, you’re not spending your time on the things that generate results—projects, planning, strategy, and other high-value projects.” Sullivan recommends you set a few times to check email later in the day when you need a break from focused work, such as just after lunch and just before you leave for the day. And make sure you don’t spend your entire lunch break answering emails—you want to keep that time for recharging. Here are 20 ways to make your lunch break healthier.
Here’s a great tip from radio show host, columnist and author Gayle Carson, EdD: “Always have your priorities ready—A, B, C, and then prioritize them,” she says. “If none of them are as important as your email, then deal with your email. But if this is a direct link to business, priorities come first.”
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