Don't worry; your emails aren't going anywhere.
Email might be a crucial tool for communication in your day-to-day work, but it can end up being a major waste of time if not used effectively. This is especially true if your smartphone is linked to your work email; you'll get swamped with notifications regardless of where you go and what you're doing, leading you to constantly switch your focus from one thing to another.
While having zero unread messages might give you short-term satisfaction, keep in mind that it does not reflect your productivity! In fact, you'll be dragged into a never-ending cycle of distraction, as new emails will only keep coming in. TopResume's career advice expert, Amanda Augustine, recently shared her tips with Fast Company for when you should and shouldn't check your email. Here are her seven tips for checking your emails and minimizing distraction:
1. Don't check your email first thing in the morning
It's an instinctive habit for many professionals to check their inbox the moment they reach the office, or even worse, as soon as they wake up in the morning. While you might think that checking your emails before moving on to other tasks boosts your productivity, it's actually one of the worst ways to start your day.
“Not only can it throw off your schedule and to-do list for the whole day — how many times did you open your inbox to 'just check' and then, hours later, you look up and realize your morning is gone? — but it also wastes precious hours when most people are operating at their peak levels of productivity,” Augustine explains. Imagine coming in to work with urgent tasks to finish by the end of the day, only to open your inbox and find hundreds of unread emails. Hours later, you finish responding to the emails only to realize that your day is gone!
2. Do use the 2-minute rule to skim through your inbox
If you're really worried that you might be missing out on urgent requests and emails from your boss by not checking your inbox, use the “2-minute” rule to skim through your emails at a set time in the morning. This strategy is based on productivity expert David Allen's best-selling book, “Getting Things Done.”
Look through your inbox and identify emails that require immediate response or ones that can be replied to easily. If you can finish your responses to these emails in two minutes, send them right away. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean that you should respond to every email that you can respond to within two minutes. This strategy means responding to messages that you can process easily and that relate to important people in the organization. Anything else can wait until later when you have more time.
3. Do check your email when you're away on a business trip
If your employer is sending you away for conferences or business meetings and you've disappeared from their email trails without a single response, things won't look good for you. Remember, while you shouldn't be expected to be reachable 24/7 while traveling for work, your employer should be able to contact you from time to time during the duration of your trip. The company is bearing the cost of your excursion after all, so that isn't too much to ask for.
Additionally, you should also be up to date with your emails when traveling on a business trip so that you don't miss out on what's going on back at the office. Your boss might be offering an exciting project that's up for grabs, and a simple mistake like checking your email late can cost you an exciting opportunity for growth. If you're traveling, always make sure that you enable roaming data or buy a local SIM card for easier connectivity.
4. Don't check your email when you're overwhelmed and procrastinating
When you're feeling overwhelmed with your workload and approaching deadlines, it's easy to think of checking your email as being productive. Responding to your emails might help you feel like you're getting something done, but in fact, you're just running away from reality and putting off tasks that are more urgent and critical.
“Don't allow your email to become an excuse for why the real work you needed to complete did not get done,” Augustine suggests. Whenever you find yourself opening your inbox, stop and take a step back to examine your pending tasks and re-establish your priorities. Never use your inbox as an excuse for why you couldn't finish the other tasks at hand, as that reflects badly on you.
5. Do check your email when you're expecting an important response
If you're waiting for an important email from your clients, a delayed response can significantly slow down the progress of the whole project and opens up room for miscommunication and misinterpretation. Hence, keep your inbox open when you're expecting important emails. It also helps to set up special notifications on your phone for certain senders so that you'll get alerts when they email you. Setting up alerts like these would help to prevent distractions from unnecessary promotional messages.
6. Do check your email when you're commuting on public transportation
If you happen to take the train or bus to work on a daily basis, this would be an ideal place to skim through your inbox and apply the 2-minute rule. It gives you a productive start of the day, using time that can't be spent doing much else. Additionally, it helps you to dive straight into urgent tasks when you reach the office. Similarly, the evening commute back home can be used to organize your emails into folders, delete spam and promotional messages, and set up an action list for the next day.
7. Do check your email on a scheduled time
One of the most efficient ways to boost productivity is to schedule tasks in your calendar and keep to it. Similar to how you block out time for meetings and events in your calendar, set aside a block of time every day to check and respond to your emails. Setting aside a specific time like this helps to keep yourself accountable and fully focus on the task at hand. Additionally, this habit helps to set clear expectations to your colleagues about your response time.
Don't let your inbox rule your time and energy. Instead, follow these tips to create an efficient and effective way of checking and responding to your work emails each day. You will thank yourself later!
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