People can wait. The beep of the email arrival doesn’t mean that every message deserves equal, critical attention the moment it hits the in-box.
For years, I tried to answer emails as they came in. The ding in the in-box was like the proverbial snap of the finger—read me now! Give me your attention! This certainly did not allow me to focus on what I was working on. Then I realized that people began expecting immediate answers, day and night.
Over the past couple years, I made a conscious effort to not answer emails right away. More recently, I have taken the more drastic step of completely shutting down email for an hour or two each day, allowing me to focus on the project in front of me. Sometimes I do this a couple times a day, and I have found that my productivity has increased dramatically, my work quality has improved, I am less stressed about the in-box to-do list, and not one person has complained about me responding to an email in a few hours rather than a few minutes.
I have the freedom of mainly working from home, juggling several clients. With a lack of face-to-face meetings, I think it was easy to get into long-term email conversations. But our in-boxes have been overloaded. People cover-their-asses by copying everyone on group emails, then replying to everyone, and so on and so on, exacerbating the email glut.
So I am not only emailing less, I am using the phone more. It is so easy to misconstrue ideas in an email. Talking through a large project, timelines, or resolving a problem can oftentimes be resolved quicker in a call than 57 emails, with less room for disconnect between the parties involved.
Email is still a great tool I use through the workday. But it can distract, overload, confuse. And it doesn’t take place of the human voice, the handshake, the conversation, the doodles that can help provide a solution, inspire our creativity, keep us on task with goals, and simply add back the human element back into our workdays. C