Email is wasting your time and stressing you out … here’s how to fix it.
Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, and it has in many ways.
Think about email for instance. Before email was a mainstream form of communication, we had the phone. Before the phone, we had the written letter, and before that, we had the telegraph. Before that … I don't know, I guess we had … pigeon carriers?
And before that? (I’m not sure how far I should take this analogy) … imagine sending clothing suggestions to your clients as a cave drawing. Eek!
Without a doubt, technology and email in specific has changed how we communicate. Many would say that it has made our lives easier. But, I would argue that as much as it has made our lives easier, it has just as much made our lives all the more difficult at the same time.
The dark side of email that you're probably a victim to
[quoteright]“It makes us feel alive. It’s what makes us feel important. We just want to connect, connect, connect.”
– Linda Stone, NY Times[/quoteright]
How many times do you check your email during the day? How many times does a notification on your phone distract you from what you’re currently working on? How many times does the bouncing mail icon on your computer pull you away from editing a wedding? Do you obsessively check your iPhone, even when you’re not working?
Is there a possibility that you’re addicted to email? Would you even admit it if you were?
Let’s consider the possibility. The word addicted is defined as:
Devoted or given up to a practice or habit or to something psychologically or physically habit-forming.
More specifically, look at the verb addict, it means to habituate or abandon (oneself) to something compulsively or obsessively. Do you have a habit of compulsively or obsessively checking email? When you look at it this way, it’s probably fair to say that we’re all addicted to email.
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How do you feel about that? I know that for me, it sends a bit of a chill up my spine.
Imagine being a better version of yourself
… so I just called you an addict. To quote Anchorman … “things escalated really quickly.”
Yup, we got pretty deep there. Kind of somber, actually. I’m sorry for that.
[quoteright]The most effective way to make a positive change is to recognize your reality and acknowledge a turning point.[/quoteright]
I just wanted to help you see what you may not have otherwise seen, because sometimes we’re oblivious to our own habits. The most effective way to make a positive change is to recognize our reality and acknowledge a turning point.
So … let’s take a breath.
Let’s be positive and look at the alternative. Let’s look at what is possible. Let’s look at what your life will be like after having given up your addiction. Let’s look at what your day will look like when you aren’t constantly checking your email.
- You’ll be more in the moment.
- You will be putting out less “fires”.
- You will have less worry and stress.
- You will save a ton of time in your day (more on this in a bit).
- Your email replies will be more thorough and well thought out.
- You’ll be less reactionary in your responses.
Email isn't supposed to be “urgent”
Email was never meant to be an urgent form of communication. Email is supposed to be asynchronous; not happening at the same time and not taking place in “real-time”. Email was created so those involved in the conversation could reply whenever it was convenient for them.
If you wanted something answered right away, needed a quick answer or if you wanted real-time communication, then you’d make a phone call. But now, with iPhones, tablets, and so on, many of us have made email an urgent form of communication. We’ve turned email into a real-time communication strategy.
… but in doing so, it’s hurting us. Because now you’re addicted. Do you want to be? I don't think so. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with a photographer (or anyone for that matter) who said they wished they had more emails to answer.
Do you want work-life balance? Do you want to lower your stress levels? Do you want sustainability as a photographer? Do you want to run a successful business?
If so, then you must shift email from being urgent to being non-urgent.
Could every 1 hour of work actually take you 2 hours?
Let’s say you think I’m full of bologna (I’ve always wanted to use that word in an article). Let’s say you think email should be urgent.
But what if I showed you that by treating email as non-urgent and by limiting the distraction of email, you can actually spend significantly less time working, and still get the same amount of work done? What if I can show you how to literally discover more time in your day?
[quoteright]You can discover more time in your day by treating email as non-urgent and limiting the distraction of email. [/quoteright]
Hm … willing to change your mind now?
Let’s look at some proof.
Interruption Science research shows that the average office worker gets distracted 4 times per hour. Guess what the biggest distraction is? Yup … email. And on average, it takes that same worker 23 minutes to get back into the task they were distracted from.
So, basically, if you’re like most office workers, then it’s actually taking you 2 hours to do 1 hours worth of work, all thanks to your perceived ability to multi-task and handle distractions.
But … you aren't like most people, right?
Let’s play devil’s advocate. What if you’re saying “But Bryan, I’m not that bad!”
Ok, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s say instead, you get distracted 3 times per hour. Let’s also say that you get right back to your original task much quicker than 23 minutes. In fact, you only get distracted for 1 minute to check your email, and then get back to your work, and then it only takes you 3 minutes to get back into the “groove” of what you were working on. So you don’t lose that much productivity, right? Not nearly as much as 4 times per hour and 23 minutes of lost productivity, right?
Well … let’s look at the math.
You spend 1 minute checking email and then 3 minutes of lost productivity.
Remember though – you still have to spend that same 1 minute later to re-check that same email, because you probably didn’t respond to it the first time.
And you’re doing this 3 times per hour for 12 hours during the day, because let’s be honest, you aren’t really turning your phone off after 5:00pm.
I think this is fairly conservative, wouldn’t you say?
Let’s add it up, then!
3 times per hour x 5 minutes x 12 hours = 180 minutes
That means that email distraction is costing you 3 hours per day. And that’s not even considering any time to actually reply to those emails! That’s 3 hours per day of completely wasted time. Gone! Lost to distraction. And you’ll never get it back.
Still think you’re really “working hard” all day long? At best, you’re throwing away almost half of your workweek to distractions! And to boot, you’re not living in the moment, you’re constantly putting out fires, you are full of stress, and your email replies are probably often quick, reactionary and not well thought-out.
Why you should go on an email diet
You can’t argue with the science. You can’t argue with the math.
And I bet that if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll realize that you’re wasting way too much time being distracted by email.
The solution? Well … it isn’t necessarily revolutionary or even entirely innovative, but here it is:
You must be more intentional with your email communication time.
It’s actually really simple. Here are 4 steps:
- Turn off your notifications
- Shut out the distraction of email
- Put yourself on an email diet
- Commit to only checking your email at specific times during the day
More specifically, give yourself 30 minutes in the morning, and 30 minutes in the afternoon to check and reply to email. I’ll bet that once you get into this habit, you’ll find that you can actually get all your emails answered in an hour a day.
Bonus tip – for the ultimate in productivity and getting things done free of any stress, try this:
Don’t even look at your email for the first 2 working hours of your day.
You’ll be a machine! I’ll bet you’ll be able to get done what would normally take you 4 hours in those 2 hours, because you'll be distraction-free, clear-headed, and you'll be enjoying highly-focused productive time. Remember that email is really only other peoples' demands on your time. Get your biggest task done first thing in the morning, distraction-free, without emails on your mind, and then get into your inbox.
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How to set expectations and create clear boundaries
If your clients, colleagues, partners, friends and family are used to getting an immediate reply when they email you, then you’ve got some expectations to set and some boundaries to create. Consider putting a note in your email signature saying “I reply to all emails at 11:00am and 4:00pm”, or perhaps you could publicize that you’re going on a strict email diet so that you can be more focused and get work done quicker. I doubt clients will have any problem with that!
Want an even easier way to set expectations with some of your colleagues, friends or family members? Send them this article so they understand why you’re going on an email diet, and maybe reading this will inspire them to do the same!