Ooh just look—50 email messages! YAY!
But by the time you’re done answering them, three o’clock has arrived. Hey, you’ve been productive right? Well, sort of, not really, uh, that depends. If your job requires answering emails then yes, you’ve nailed it!
Otherwise, you’re letting emails run your life.
Take your power, your schedule and your life back. If all you are doing is reacting to others’ requests, then you are not in control of your time. For some, email can be a professional detriment because it’s a huge time vampire, often diverting attention from more pressing projects. For others, there’s the emotional burden of misinterpreted messages or need to be timely and responsive.
For some, the feeling that comes with responding to emails is the same feeling that corresponds with accomplishment or checking off something on your to-do list. This is what is known as the Zeigarnik Effect. Simply put, this means the incompletion of a task (i.e. unanswered email or an item on a to-do list) can cause it to be retained in a person’s memory, and the feeling of unsettledness sets in until it has been completed. The finality of its completion enables the process of forgetting it to take place and results in happy resolution. This rough explanation of the theory proven by Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik is kind of like carrying an unresolved burden.
There are many ways to get your power back and not turn your life over to emails—or texts for the same reason. Here are a few strategies to employ.
- Make Time: Give yourself a set time throughout the day to address emails and avoid making them a constant interruption to productivity. Productivity experts recommend seven in the morning, noon and four in the afternoon as ideal times to catch up on this form of correspondence.
- Please Wait: Okay, don’t call me a hypocrite, but there are also productivity experts who state you should never check email in the morning. In doing so, you give your day over to others versus starting on your own priorities when you feel most rested. Keep in mind that employing tip #1 and #2 will depend on the kind of work that you do and what works best for your schedule.
- Embrace Tech: Use an auto-responder that instantly notifies the sender that you’ll be back in touch as soon as humanly possible. You may even include times that you typically answer emails.
- Act Now: Use the touch it once strategy. Once you open an email, then respond to it, file it, or delete it versus letting it sit idly filling up your email box.
- Block Time: Turn on notifications for “90 minute sprints.” Once you’ve spent your ninety minutes focused on priority projects, then you can go back to emails and respond for fifteen minutes or so.
- Stay Focused: Avoid the distraction syndrome. When you’ve set aside time for a project, turn your phone off and close your email on your computer so the notification doesn’t pop up and pull you towards something seemingly more pressing.
- Use Logic: Remember, emails shouldn’t be urgent. Phone calls save a lot of time and misinterpretation and are really the best way to notify someone that there is an urgent or pressing matter. Think about it. If your car were stuck on the railroad tracks you probably wouldn’t email someone for help.
- Talk Later: Use mornings for project work and afternoons for communication. If your work allows for this option, give this strategy a whirl. It also helps you avoid the afternoon energy slump. So after focused project time in the morning and when you are ready to communicate again with the outside world, opt for a phone call or in-person meeting. You’ll find that your spirits will be lifted and the interaction is good for your energy and soul.
The good news is that this savvy communication is still free and it’s a great way to correspond, connect and invite others into our worlds. Still, it must be mindfully managed so that it doesn’t control your productivity and life.
How to Be Career Happy? Don’t Let Emails Run Your Life