The Secret to Productive Email

If email were a plague, surely the human race would be long gone by now. Email is the arch-enemy to productivity, focus and peace. It's by no means the fault of those sending said emails, as I'm sure they're relatively important or job-related. But the sheer number of emails most people receive can be harrowing.

I had recently gotten to a place where it became impossible to finish a single task in one sitting. Constantly being interrupted by email would break my concentration. In addition, if the email was requesting something I could finish quickly, I would stop my current task to address the simple request and move it out of my inbox. This brought some satisfaction as I was completing a task, but the main project or time-sensitive job would suffer from small lapses in productivity.

The answer? Ignore your email.

And you can only ignore email when you have no idea it's there. For me, I could ignore the email for a while, but once I saw the unread count in my inbox or the small red badge on my iPhone Mail icon, I was done for. I had to check on these immediately! Or so I thought.

So my current workflow is this: I don't receive any email notifications on my phone, iPad or computer. Ever. And I don't leave Outlook, Mac Mail, Gmail, or any other mail client open on my computer while I work. After the withdrawal of constantly wanting to know what my inbox was doing, I got used to this and found myself being exponentially more productive.

So do I ignore the email indefinitely? No. But I'll make sure I finish the task at hand, or wait a good block of time between checking my mail. Yes, it can be a slight shock when you see 20 unread messages all at once, but the precious time I've gained not worrying about my email is invaluable.

I still pride myself on "getting back to people" quickly, and I don't procrastinate on answering email, but it no longer controls my workflow. I choose when to check my inbox, how often, and carefully use the time in between.

Do you feel controlled by your inbox? Does your productivity suffer from the flood of daily messages?