Opening your email inbox is like being dealt a hand of cards. You don’t know what you’ll get; you may be caught off guard (pleasantly surprised, annoyed, or shocked); and you need to determine how to play out the hand you’ve been dealt. After a quick scan of your emails, you decide how to do that, e.g., I can play this one now; this one I will wait to play based on how things progress (others’ reply to all); and this one, I will play later because it will take some time to respond or to gather more information. While you’re tending to your emails, email notifications are popping up, and you find yourself distracted and have to rearrange how you will play out your email “cards” all over again.
Many workers today leave their email open in the background and have email notifications turned "on." This leads to distraction and stress as noted by Mark, Voida, and Cardello (2012)1 in a study that showed without email, people multitasked less and had a longer task focus.
They also found that stress, measured by heart rate variability via heart rate monitors, was lower without email.
In another study by Dawson and Wilson (2003)2, they discovered that on average, it took employees 64 seconds to recover from an email interrupt, i.e., to return to their work at the same work rate at which they had left it.
One way to eliminate email stress and distractions would be to not have email at all. Of course, that’s not a viable solution because email does have value in the workplace, such as:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections: 2014-24 Summary, health care occupations, be it support, practitioner, or technical roles, are projected to be the fastest-growing groups through 2024. What does that mean for you and me?
More people in our industry = more emails every day = more stress.
We could alleviate that stress by breaking our bad email habits and employing effective email-management strategies and tips.
Inbox Zero, created by productivity expert Merlin Mann, is one such email management strategy. Inbox Zero is not about having zero emails in your inbox (although that could happen). It’s about spending little to zero time in your inbox. In other words, think of your inbox as a temporary holding place for emails that, like getting dealt a hand of cards, you sort through quickly to: 1. Take immediate action (requires <2 minutes), 2. Defer to another time (waiting on information from others or will take >2 minutes to create your reply), or 3. Store in a folder for reference at a later time.
Tips that could help you spend less time in your inbox:
And to close, in the spirit of my last tip: