The article Managing email overload at Edge online has some interesting statistics about email as a productivity killer and time drain but fortunately leaves us with some tips too:

But there are some quick wins to help improve the way email is handled in organisations. They might sound simple, but productivity gains will be immediate and they are easy to implement.

  • Turn off intrusive alerts
  • Use social networking tools for more suitable communication to groups, for collaborating on documents, or for publishing information and having informal conversations
  • Set aside time each day to deal with your inbox and ignore it for the rest of the day
  • Set basic guidelines on email usage to reduce the number sent, particularly internal emails
  • Stop and think before you send an email to avoid sending quick responses without considering the content carefully
This is something I continually struggle with, partially due to my ability to be distracted but also partially to do with expectations of others "Did you get my email?" being a frequent cry. For a while I had my personal email set up to push on my iPhone - meaning my phone went Ping whenever a new email came in. Great I thought, until I realised how distracting this was. I now have it set to manually fetch emails when I decide I want to look and see if anything has come in. I have my work phone set up like this too - the amount of meetings I sit in where different people's phones ping or vibrate through emails is astounding really.  

Now that I have a work phone which handles events and reminders of appointments better (my previous one was really unreliable and seemed incapable of removing events that had been cancelled or moved resulting in a lack of trust) I should be able to turn my email programme off for most of the day and schedule in times to deal with emails instead (I turned off the new email alert functionality years ago and have never re-enabled it).  I follow a "Do it tomorrow" approach with most emails - I have a macro which forwards them to tomorrow's todo list if I press a certain button. This means I can do a quick scan and attend to them if they're important, time critical or deletable, and if not schedule some time in the following day to deal with them properly.  This helps me usually leave the office every day with an empty inbox - which makes me feel in control.

Commitment: on Monday I will do the following 3 things for next week as an experiment:
  1. schedule in two 15 minute slots in my calendar to check and deal with emails
  2. turn off Outlook during the day except for these two occasions relying on my phone to remind me of where I am meant to be and when
  3. monitor if 15 minutes twice a day is sufficient time

At the end of the week I will determine if it has made any difference and will respond to this blog post with my findings.