Business Technology

7 tricks to ensure that email doesn't take over your life

6 min read

27 March 2015

Does the constant "ping" of new emails get in the way of you getting your work done? Here are 7 tricks to ensure that email does not stop you from being productive.

We live in an age where so many remarkable technological advancements have changed the way we work and do business every day. However, 40 years on from the first ever email being sent, surprisingly little has changed in something that dominates the lives of so many of us.

Smartphones mean we now always have one eye on our emails, and for some of us, checking emails will be the last thing we do before we go to sleep and the first thing we look at in the morning. 

This ever-present reminder of work and stream of often pointless emails is not only bad for our health but also our productivity. Research by University of Loughborough shows that it takes an average of 64 seconds for someone to recover their thoughts after being distracted by an email, which can add up to actually costing companies between £5,000 and £10,000 per employee per year in reduced productivity.

Of course email is something that most businesses rely on for communication, but how can we ensure it is used effectively rather than becoming a harmful distraction?

1. Plan email moments into your agenda

Set yourself specific times during the day when you will check emails, rather than being distracted every time one pings into your inbox. Most won’t be urgent and if they are, the sender should really think about picking up the phone. Use the quiet parts of the day to get your email stuff done. I tend to check my stuff early in the morning, just before lunch and late in the evening.

2. Focus on the important stuff first

Use rules to make sure important emails go into your important folders to be addressed first. Use as much time as needed to respond to the most important stuff on your list. Once this has been completed move to the next messages and give yourself a time constrained goal of making decisions on what next on the other stuff.

Read more email tips here:

Email etiquette: 10 top tips when sending work emails

The 7 myths of email

Email signature: The overlooked marketing tool

3. Do not forget to meet and talk with people

Without realising it, many of us receive dozens of emails from the same person in a day, when a phone call or even getting up and walking over to them could cover everything you want to say much more efficiently. Face-to-face interaction helps creativity and builds a more fun, friendly working culture.

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4. Use chat to get in contact

There are several online chat programmes or even video conference platforms that can allow you to have a real-time conversation with multiple people, wherever they are in the world. Email simply wasn’t designed for real time conversations – just think how many times you have been waiting for a response from someone on email when they could have given you an instant “yes” or “no” via a quick chat message.

5. Think before you email

Many people fire emails out every time a thought pops into their head, but encouraging people to take a moment to reflect on if they really need to send it, and who they really need to copy in, can make life easier for everyone. I have the habit of responding to operational stuff quickly but when working on important items I will write initial drafts in the evening and do a re-run in the morning. It is interesting how fresh eyes in the morning help refine and focus these messages and make the communication much more clear and easy to understand to the recipient.

6. Don’t let email become your task list

Do you organise and prioritise your day round your inbox? Stop – focus on longer-term planning based on actual business goals to get the “real” jobs done, rather than the tasks created by people emailing you. It is crucial that you stay on top of your mailbox agenda and not build a dependency on responding to your email.

7. Look at new ways to help in your daily routine

Email is a very flexible tool and has taken on many roles in your daily life, allowing us to do anything from messaging colleagues, driving strategic initiatives, exchanging banter, reviewing documents, managing to-do lists, sharing files. But there are many cloud services on offer today that offer a much better way to stay on top of your work more efficiently. 

Although email is of course an unavoidable necessity for most businesses, many businesses fall into the trap of relying on it too much. 

For many of the things we use email for, there is already a better alternative, and smart companies are embracing these technologies to enable them to compete globally as a lean, agile and responsive business.

Bostjan Bregar is the co-founder and CEO of The 4th Office.