Email Is Not Your Job

Email is Not Your Job

Some days it seems like all you do is email.

You get to the end of the day and you haven’t escaped your inbox.

Are you stuck endlessly processing emails instead of getting work done?

Email is Not Work

Email dominates too many businesses. It is one of the top time wasters in most companies.

The irony is that once upon a time, email was supposed to increase the speed and productivity of businesses. However, it is estimated that workers spend a third of their time reading and responding to email.

Yet, email is not work.

It doesn’t get things done…

Email doesn’t write a report.
Email doesn’t design new products.
Email doesn’t train and mentor others.
Email doesn’t create new ideas.

Rather is it a slow back and forth of inefficient communication.

It is busy work in disguise.

Never Getting Out of Your Inbox

Are you stuck in your inbox?

Responding to every email that arrives. Jumping with a Pavlovian response to each email notification.

Co-workers ask you, “Did you get the email I just sent two minutes ago?”

This behavior is not productive.

In fact, it makes email look like the worst invention ever.

Email has its positive uses. However, usually email prevents you from getting to your work.

Here Are 5 Tips to Help You Avoid the Email Inbox Trap:

  1. Turn Off the Notifications – I’d love to meet the individual who thought it was a good idea to make a noise and pop-up a message every time an email arrives. Turn off the dings and notifications. You don’t need to know when the latest spam message arrives. (If you must know when an important message arrives, then use a VIP list or a service like AwayFind.)
  2. Consider Turning Off Email on Your Mobile Device – Do you really need to check email at lunch, in the elevator, in the car, in the bathroom, and in bed? The answer is no. Only turn on your email when you need it.
  3. Check It Less Frequently – Reduce the number of times you check email per day. Start small. If you are currently checking email 37 times a day, then try cutting that number in half. Set specific times of day when you check it, and eventually you can minimize the number of times a day you look in your inbox.
  4. Get Work and Tasks Out of Your Inbox – One reason people get stuck in their inbox is because they use it as their default todo list. Instead, get those tasks out of your inbox and onto your task list. Add the todo to your list and file the email in your archive. Otherwise, you will lose important tasks in the clutter of new messages.
  5. Communicate Directly – Don’t play email Ping-Pong all day long. I have seen instances of 15 email messages to schedule a single meeting. Rather, call or go see the person. Face-to-face is more efficient than the email back and forth.

Email is Not Your Job

Email is one of the greatest distraction machines ever created.

Don’t sit there responding to each and every message that drops into your inbox.

Get out of your inbox and go get your work done. (Tweet this Quote)

Question: Do you get stuck in your inbox? How do you avoid processing email all day long? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I was just sharing elsewhere online that I ditched using an email client on my computer in favor of logging into gmail through my browser so I wouldn’t see email until I wanted to see email. For the most part it works well.

    One problem has been people who haven’t done the same. There is an expectation that because they sent the email I’m obligated to respond. Slowly I’ve shared that I don’t check email but maybe 3-4 times a day.

    Dawn Nicole Baldwin has said “just because you press send doesn’t mean that we’ve communicated,” and she’s right.

    • Love that quote! So, true.

      You are correct about setting expectations. Once you let others know how to best reach you… things will be a lot smoother. 🙂

  • Hey, Craig, this is so true. It helps me to keep away from email by turning it off when I’m “in the zone,” by dealing with each email only once, and by clearing my inbox once a week. (I actually schedule time to do that.)

    Thanks for all the great posts. I’m a fan.

    • Love that you schedule time to clear your inbox.

      I too always close my email client when I am in the zone. And tend to turn my phone to “Do Not Disturb.” 😉

  • Patrick Gallagher

    Unless you’re a messaging admin, then email IS your job. 😉

    • Very funny.

      Yes, if you are in a customer service position… then email *is* your job. 🙂

  • Any thoughts on how to keep yourself from constantly checking email, regardless of whether it’s in a browser, email client or phone?

    • Turn it *off.* 😛

      Here are some additional ideas from a related post:
      https://timemanagementninja.com/2013/05/stop-checking-your-email-37-times-a-day/

    • Kwin Peterson

      What worked for me was a combination of batching (as Craig notes in his link below) and changing my mindset (see http://bit.ly/1aM4q3i). I haven’t “checked” email in over a year.

    • This is a tough one. I typically just keep that application closed. The tough thing for me is that I use Outlook tasks for my GTD setup so I am always in it. However, I am usually using Outlook in Offline Mode to combat against the excessive need to check it.

      I kind of relate this back to when I stopped drinking soda about 6 months ago. I had to wean myself off of it. However, once I put my mind to it, it was easy to go in that direction.

    • A simple technique from the world of psychology: thought stopping. Easily enacted by a loose fitting but reasonably thick rubber band on the wrist. Every time you reach for your phone, move the mouse to your mail icon…grab the rubber band, pull back 3″ and release. SNAP! You’ll be 90% cured by the end of day 1! And a few more days.

      I struggled with this a lot. Didn’t actually have to resort to the rubber band but I have found that you can add a button to the Quick Bar at the top of Outlook that disconnects it from MS Exchange. I do that at work during times when I don’t want to be interrupted but for one reason or another need to have Outlook open.

  • I agree! I think something like Twitter (obviously something used internally) could be used for the majority of communication <140 characters. Notifications should be turned off – otherwise, it would drive you crazy too. I'm a real 'tech-nerd' but we (humans) need to be in control of technology intrusions instead of technology intruding on our lives at every single moment. 🙂

  • JimBo

    I disagree with this article. If employees are emailing to one another is one thing but if the email is the way you communicate with a client is another. It’s either the client will contact you by phone or by email. If a client is requesting to having something done by email one has to approach this as if the client has contacted you by phone. For example, if the client had contacted you by phone would you put him on hold until end of the day, of course not. You would take care of the request made by the client immediately.

    • Derek

      JimBo, by your very example you are agreeing with the article. Email itself is not the job, it is the carrier of the information or request to perform a job just like the phone. If you live your life in the inbox constantly replying to emails when do you get uninterrupted time to actually work on the requests made of you?

      If you receive a client request and start work on that immediately, but then see another client request for another item do you do both, ignore the first to start the second? But what if there is a third, then a fourth?

      Email is the carrier, we must then control the requests we get, prioritise them into their urgency and importance and dedicate our time to do that work in an uninterrupted manner.

    • Prime8inAtlanta

      Jimbo – I also have issue with this article and do not agree with many of the recommendations (I only fully agree with #5) and consider reading & responding to e-mail as part of my job. E-mail has become so much more than casual communication and spam. It started out as mainly a one-to-one communication tool, but has morphed into a mass communication tool for many businesses that need to work on projects, share information or offer support to their workforce. Sure, you can turn off and ignore your e-mail except for the 1 or 2 times this article suggests – if you want to slow down your business to a crawl.

      I see e-mail as a support tool, a knowledge sharing tool, a searchable resource tool, an accountability tool, a communications tool, an alert tool (to many folks at once), a planning tool (calendar, meetings, notes, etc.) as well as a casual social networking tool. For those that want to use this multi-functional tool only once or twice a day, good luck. That may work for your personal e-mail accounts, but businesses now require that staying on top of your e-mail application is actually very much a part of your job!

  • A negative in my business is that clients use “email response” time as a vetting process for which vendor they select. Instead of the mindset that, “this is inquiry is important, I better phone my vendor so they will prioritize”, they expect the vendor to…as you said.. Pavlovian hop around like a puppy barking at every mail client ding. I’m trying to minimize. Good post, Craig.

  • Gerry

    Is your phone your job?

  • LC

    Sadly, email is not my job, but I need email to achieve 99% of my job. if its not in writing, it doesn’t count. So a phone conversation (while valuable sometimes) still needs to be followed up with an email.
    But I read your tip to recieve less email, send less. That seems to work.

  • B. Piet

    But… i’m an email marketeer?

  • okdo.it

    Get Work and Tasks Out of Your Inbox – love this concept and totally agree. We built http://okdo.it to do just that after experiencing the email pain you describe above. We’re a young startup in beta and need tender loving care from the community to help us get it right.Thanks.colin

  • Fully agree, Craig. When we talk about email being a time waster I think it’s more about relying on email to drive our activity as a task list over which we are essentially powerless.

    Another feature I have recommended across our organization is setting the calendar view (with task list on the side) as the default view when you open your mail client. Then you’re faced with what you have planned, rather than what you must react to!

    Thanks for this article!

  • Christian Brodin

    Craig,

    The single most important steps that I took to regain my life from “Outlook-itis” was the following (courtesy of Tim Ferris):
    – check emails only twice a day, 11 am and 3 pm

    by doing this I achieved the following:
    – captured most important emails in the email chain (we would get conversations of emails) and act upon these only
    – cleared up my morning so that I could focus on most important actions of the day and complete these
    – created quality time to spend with my family in the evenings. i.e. do not read emails through the night

    On so many occasions I begun my day reading emails, and before I knew it I would be on a completely different track and missing the most important goals. Better to get important stuff taken care of first then read emails.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Christian

  • Linda Garcia

    To avoid leaving senders feeling rejected or ignored if they haven’t received an instant response within milliseconds of their email landing in the inbox make more use of the “out of office” tool, or an automatic response confirming receipt and an indication as to when they can expect a reply. This increases comfort levels and reduces the “meetings by email” syndrome that comes about when recipients instantly zap a response back to senders out of paranoia of being accused of not doing their job if an email is not answered immediately.

    • This is a good idea. I think training people over time on how “you” use email will also help with this as well.

  • Craig – I totally agree with turning off notifications. Sure, people may think it only takes a second to ‘quickly’ check, but that distraction cuts your current train of thought. Then it takes a minute or so to ‘scan’, which possibly gets you started thinking again about an email you saw earlier. Then it takes a couple of minutes to get back into what you were doing. Easily it can all add up to several minutes each time, and perhaps 30-60 minutes of lost productivity per day. And salespeople are often the worst. I’m regularly reminding our sales and customer service staff to pick up the phone. One typically gets better information verbally. Responding quickly to an email may seem smart, but it sets an expectation and makes it unlikely people will call you in the future when they really need something from you.

  • I try to only check email up to 4 times per day. I don’t have any notifications turned on, with the exception of a couple of VIPs that I have turned on in IOS. This is a huge help.

  • Melissa Burkheimer

    I love tip #4. I tend to use it as another to-do list. Time to create another system for this. Thanks for the great tips Craig!

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  • Matheo Gallant

    I couldn’t agree more. I have tons of email going in my inbox daily and sitting all day reading and sorting out those would be unproductive. Everyone should learn how to eliminate non-money making moves if you want to grow your business.