The emergence of email as a universal communication tool has had a profound effect on how business is conducted. Where once dialog within an organization was reliant on meetings, telephone calls, and the distribution of memos, email allows ad hoc communication without needing to worry about location or matching schedules.
In many ways, email’s convenience and speed has led to vastly higher productivity. However, there is also an insidious and familiar effect that disrupts efficient workflow: obsessive inbox checking.
For many people, email has assumed a significance far higher than it warrants, with the urge to constantly check for incoming email a distraction from meaningful work. This has only worsened with the spread of smartphones which allow email to be accessed anywhere and any time. When someone is “always on” as far as work is concerned, jadedness and burnout can often be just around the corner.
The Signs of an Email Obsession
As with any addictive behavior, most people know when something is getting out of hand. Signs typical of an email obsession include:
– Clicking to refresh your inbox just seconds after having last done so
– Checking your inbox at unusual times, such as first thing on waking or last thing before sleeping
– Interrupting social interactions or real-life conversations to deal with an alert
– Turning to your inbox as a way of procrastinating and delaying productive work
Tackling the Obsession
The traditional cure for any addiction — abstinence — is simply not feasible when it comes to email. However, there are steps to take to mitigate the effects and lessen the hold your inbox has over you.
Firstly, adjust your attitude to get perspective. No email is truly urgent; if it concerns a genuinely pressing matter, then you will be contacted by phone, text message, or in person. Next, try and discipline yourself to deal with emails as and when they arrive. Frequently checking for new emails but then putting them in a queue for later action is not at all productive. It’s much better to deal with an email as soon as you get it, and if you haven’t got time for that, then why check your inbox in the first place?
Taking this theme a step further, it’s a good idea to set limits on times for checking email, and stick to them as best you can. Whether you put aside 10 minutes an hour or an hour a day, schedule yourself a space to check email and deal with it there and then. If you find sticking to this regimen difficult, there is software you can install that limits access to email, social media, and other online distractions to within times you select.
Finally, consider turning off inbox alerts on your smartphone, or at least setting up filters so only the most important emails generate an alert. This is especially important out of hours; everyone needs time away from work, and if your phone is constantly bleeping in your pocket, this is next to impossible.
Email can be extremely beneficial to the smooth operation of any organization. It removes the need to schedule face-to-face meetings and allows thoughts to be sent as they occur. If, however, you find that you’re not enjoying this freedom but are increasingly a slave to your inbox, then it’s time to take action and restore both your productivity and your work/life balance.