What I’m suggesting is that you abandon the tactic of email ‘checking’ – scanning subject lines and sender names, reading what catches your eye, sending the odd reply, all in a haphazard fashion.
Why you should avoid ‘checking’ email
1. You double up effort and waste time
Checking involves scanning, selectively opening and half-reading emails. But it leaves most message-related tasks incomplete. You quickly forward a hilarious YouTube link but defer replying to your disgruntled client, actioning a request from your boss and RSVP-ing to your mother-in-law’s family dinner e-vite.
You invariably have to go back and re-orient, re-read and (sometimes) re-dread before you can act on your emails.
2. It puts you in a dabbling mode where anything difficult is postponed
People tend to ‘check’ emails when looking for a distraction (I sure do used to), so they’re not generally in a high-output frame of mind. It’s a way to be busy without being productive. That’s fine sometimes, but usually it just puts you in a procrastinating place. And there are better ways to take a break – like stretching, doing eye exercises or communicating with a colleague in an ancient style known as ‘in person’.
3. You miss things
Easy to do when it’s unclear what’s been actioned and what hasn’t while playing Which Email Shall I Pretend Not to See.
So what do you do instead?
Processing email – the secret to single e-handling
Here’s how to ‘process’ rather than ‘check’ email:
- Turn off auto-receive. OFF!
- Depending on your job, required availability, etc, set a schedule for how often it’s reasonable to process email. It could be hourly, twice-daily, weekly – whatever works for you. Or forget the schedule, but download emails only when you’re ready to deal with them.
- On that schedule, or when ready to deal, download your emails and start with the first one. Now this is the key: Process* each one before moving to the next. No jumping ahead, no deferring, no half-doing whatever task is called for.
- Persevere – this will become a habit you treasure.
There’ll be times when checking is needed – if you’re waiting on an important email or need to know what’s ahead before going into a long meeting, for instance. But overall, swapping email checking for processing will boost your productivity and improve your personal organization.
Until you get a Crackberry.
Question: Are you an email checker or processor? Please share your comment below.
Want more strategies for managing email overload?
Learn about Inbox Zen | 7 Simple Steps For Making Peace With Your Email.
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