blog-mail“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar

Let me set the scene for you…

You’re sitting at your computer, and you’re focused and working hard.  Perhaps it’s a proposal you’re working on, a blog you’re writing, or a project that truly needs your undivided attention.  And then it happens.  You hear the sound… bing!  This is quickly followed by a subject line you see, and the first five or six words from an email tempting you to stop what you are doing and take a “quick” look.  If that doesn’t grab you, a red number appears on your mailbox icon taunting you with its lie;  “This will only take a second.”

As we all know, it never takes only a second.   In fact, a Microsoft study suggests it takes a worker 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption. The study also suggests the harder the interrupted task, the harder it is to get back on track.

“It takes a worker 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption.”

This would not be as disturbing if we only received a half dozen emails a day, but those days are long gone.  The Radicati Group, Inc. recently released a study that estimates each of us sends and receives an average of 120 emails a day.  I know many who get three times that many in a day!  Now imagine the umpteen times we start and stop the project we are trying to finish and you can clearly see why we can’t seem to get anything done!  I think there’s a way out of this mess, but it isn’t going to be easy.

  1. Put it in writing.  When group emails are sent, beg every friend and colleague you know to ask everyone on the list NOT to “reply all.”  Put it in the subject line if you have to!  I’ve already whined about this pet peeve of mine before, (
  2. Take the power away.  If your friends or colleagues just can’t figure out the difference between “reply” and “reply all,” remove their ability to decide.  Outlook, Apple Mail, Google Groups, and more offer ways to create mailing lists that will keep this from happening, but if all else fails, just copy and paste your mailing list into the Bcc: area and make yourself the recipient.
  3. Get rid of that SPAM.  Either unsubscribe or designate it as Junk.  If you do, you’ll be getting rid of about 20% of the email distractions you are currently receiving.
  4. Try the 30/30 Method. The idea here is to work for a minimum of 30 minutes without checking email, and then spending no more than 30 minutes working on the emails that have been received. To make this work on a Mac, I went to System Preferences – Notifications – Mail.  From there I unchecked, “Play Sound for Notifications” so I would not hear emails coming in, and “Show message preview” so I would not see emails coming in.  (Outlook and other mail programs have similar options.)

It’s not going to be easy to rid ourselves of these distractions, but please remember this: I haven’t even touched upon the 2.1 hours of productivity that are lost every day due to instant messages and the various alerts coming from our smartphones.  For now, let’s just focus on the scourge of productivity; emails.  It’s time for us to reclaim the time that we’ve lost due to all of these unwanted, unnecessary, interruptions.  We can do this!

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