Why Emails Are Draining Your Productivity

Josh Didawick

Josh Didawick

HR Professional

How did we ever get along before email? Oh, the wonders and possibilities it possesses. Email has changed business and communication in countless ways. It allows people to correspond from anywhere at any time. We all have a filing system at our disposal that allows us to catalog and archive important correspondence.

One of the major problems with email is that like many other great inventions, it has gone from being a solution to being the problem. Many of us have found ourselves working for our email rather than our email working for us. When that happens it is necessary to take a step back from our day-to-day to figure out why emails are draining our productivity and create a strategy for how we will take back our productivity.

Touching Emails More Than Once

A common way to keep track of emails is to monitor the Unread Emails. This is a great strategy so long as you take care of that email when you can first act on it. Unfortunately, many emails get handled multiple times making you re-visit them, re-reading them and killing your productivity.

Depending on your job and responsibilities, think about the types of emails you get and what has to be done to them. For many people, they are getting emails that, 1. ask a question; 2. request something; 3. present a problem or opportunity. There are only so many things that can be done with most emails. Questions can be answered, requests can be denied or approved, problems can be discussed or solved, and opportunities can be seized or contemplated.

It is unrealistic to think that you will be able to touch ALL emails only once, but creating a system to minimize re-visiting old emails is important. Identify what needs to happen with these messages and only touch the email the fewest number of times possible. This means you may have to give a thoughtful response or delegate the matter to someone for whom it is a better use of their time. There are going to be situations where you are waiting for information from someone else, but try not to let that be an excuse for repeatedly going back to the same email or issue. Try to handle more emails once to be done with them.

Hijacked by Your Inbox

If you feel like your inbox is taking over your life, it may be time to schedule a date with email. All too often people work at their desks, next to their computers with the volume on their speakers turned up. Every time an email comes in, there is that familiar chime that gives you the opportunity to stop what you are doing and look at the latest email. This may be an important message from the boss or it may be the latest deal on cheap flights from a discount travel website.

You may not realize it, but there is pleasure in hearing that noise. It is similar to receiving a text message or some other alert. Your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Often associated with “pleasure” behavior, it has also been linked to “seeking” behavior. In other words, it plays a role in you seeking out new ways and things to learn. This is great in the work environment. That behavior can keep you on your game. It can drive you to work toward new goals, learn new skills and take on new responsibilities.

When it is triggered by your email, on the other hand, it creates a perfect opportunity to side-track you from what you are working on to seek out the new knowledge that just landed in your inbox. One way to avoid this natural distraction is easy—turn the volume off on your computer. Another way a lot of productive people have taken control of their time is by scheduling time with their email. They may check their email mid-morning and mid-afternoon or just after lunch, but it is not a constant place of attention.

Going this route may take some preparation on your part, not necessarily for you, but for your colleagues. For co-workers that are used to you replying quickly, you may have to explain your new strategy or utilize an automatic response that states you are only checking email at certain times of the day. Who knows, you may spark an email revolution within your organization.

Over-CCing on Emails

It is widely understood that email is a great way to archive and document things. From decisions to strategies to simply covering your bases, a well thought out email thread can be valuable. On the other hand, it can be way too easy to copy way too many people on emails. Some want to remain in the loop, but too often that means they are receiving, and subsequently deleting, countless emails that are of little value.

If you find that you are reading more emails than are necessary because you are copied on everything that is going on around you, consider setting some ground rules. As a supervisor you have to trust people to do their jobs and make you aware when necessary. As a subordinate, you can help your manager by maintaining good communication and keeping them apprised on what they need to know. Simply copying people on countless emails does neither. Too many people copied on emails nowadays are done so unnecessarily.

Letting Email Threads Get Too Long

When a thread of emails goes past 2 or 3 exchanges and little progress is being made, consider picking up the phone or scheduling time to discuss the situation with the other party. At this point, you probably have a sixth sense if progress is being made and too much can be missed by going back and forth in email. We think it is productive because we are furiously typing, but the amount of time spent writing, reading and editing the messages could be much greater than a short conversation or phone call may take. Worried about the documentation? The easiest fix is to (sigh) send an email to the other part memorializing the conversation and outcome.

Email is one of the greatest advances in business communication. Unfortunately, it isn’t always used effectively. Sometimes the problem is a personal one, but there are entire organizations that are not using email effectively. If your email is draining your productivity, take a step back and use a thoughtful approach in implementing some of these ideas. If you are in a position to influence people around you, start a dialogue or share some of these tips about using email more effectively.

About The Author

Josh Didawick
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Josh Didawick

Josh Didawick is a seasoned HR professional and consultant with extensive experience creating and guiding organizations’ HR strategies, as well as coaching individuals committed to successful careers. He specializes in taking on complex organizational issues to affect positive change and high performance. For individuals, Josh helps them put their best foot forward when seeking that next career, promotion or milestone in the workplace. Josh has had several articles published and presented at conferences on HR-related topics.

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