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Efficient Email

By Steve Pavlina

Checking email too often is a significant productivity drain. Email by its very nature isnít usually urgent unless itís your entire job, such as answering customer support emails. Here are some tips to prevent email from taking too big a chunk out of your day.

1. Decide in advance exactly when youíll check email.

Donít check email haphazardly. You can easily waste 30-60 minutes per day checking email too often. In most cases you should be fine checking your email 3x per day maximum.

I typically check mine in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the workday. And thatís only if Iím involved in active open-loop communications. If I donít have any active open loops, then Iíll usually check email once or twice a day. Handle your email in batches to increase your efficiency.

Experiment with how often you really need to check email. Realize that youíre paying a productivity price the more often you check it. Curiosity is not a good enough reason to check email. Have a legitimate business reason for checking email as often as you do. See how infrequently you can push it without causing problems. For many people once a day or even once every two days will work just fine.

Once you check email in the morning, promise yourself that you wonít check it again until the end of the day, and set a specific time. Iíll check my email twice today, so I wonít check it again until after 6:00pm. If itís before that time, I wonít allow myself to check it.

If you get addicted to checking your email too often, you can help break the habit by making it harder to run your email program. Remove the program icon from your desktop and your quick launch bar, so you have to hunt for it on the Start Menu. Or make yourself launch Explorer and navigate to find the icon from there. Adding extra steps can help break the pattern of impulse checking. And if that still doesnít work, setup your email on a separate PC like a laptop that you must boot up every time you want to check email.

2. Use email only for non-urgent communication.

Donít turn email into an urgency-driven communication tool. Itís not designed for that. If time is of the essence, then pick up the phone. Now that you can get unlimited long distance for $25/month from companies like Vonage (also check out Skype), thereís no reason to be stingy with the phone.

If you have others pressuring you to check your email more often than once or twice a day, such as people that get frustrated if they donít get a reply from you within an hour or two, then you need to push back. Let such people know that they should never use email for truly urgent communication with you ó if they need a fast reply, they must pick up the phone or visit you in person (if youíre both co-located).

3. Disable email checking on program startup.

Donít set your email program to auto-check email every time you launch the program. You want to be able to send an email at any time during the day without automatically checking email too. You may often need to send emails during the day as part of various tasks, but you donít need to check email at those times. Check email only when thereís a legitimate reason for checking.

4. Log your email usage.

Create an email log, and record how often you check email. You can do this with a sheet of paper. Just record the start and stop times whenever you run your email program. Do it for about a week, and see how much time youíre spending on email. Is it worth it? If youíre checking your email more than 20 times a week without a legitimate reason, youíre wasting way too much time. Try giving yourself a daily or weekly email checking quota, and once you hit it, you canít check your email anymore until the next day/week when your quota resets. Offer yourself a reward like going to see a movie or going out to dinner the first week you come in under quota.

Email is a powerful business and personal communication tool, but itís easily abused. Why? Because itís so easy. Checking and answering email is something you know you can do, so it provides an immediate sense of accomplishment. But itís a hollow victory, and if you spend your days masterfully checking and answering email, youíll go nowhere and crowd out those actions that could really move you ahead.

Replace frivolous email abuse with purposeful intention. Use it to enhance your productivity instead of to destroy it. Consciously scrutinize the way you use email, decide what legitimate role it will play in your life, and set boundaries to enforce that role.

Copyright © Steve Pavlina

About The Author

Steve Pavlina
Personal Development for Smart People
Steve is intensely growth-oriented. He trained in martial arts, ran the L.A. Marathon, and graduated from college in three semesters with two degrees. He can juggle, count cards at blackjack, and make damn good guacamole. Steve is also a polyphasic sleeper, sleeping just 2-3 hours per day and only 20 minutes at a time. So chances are good that he's awake right now.

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Last Update: 14-Mar-2009

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