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How best to cut down on the distraction of email?

November 3, 2014 - Rachel

I’m pondering making a change to the way I work by cutting down on the time I’m being distracted by email.

My natural tendancy is probably the same as most people which is to have email open all the time and then find I’m periodically checking it, responding to stuff and otherwise being distracted by things other than the thing I’m doing.

I’m tending towards having an email window – probably somewhere early afternoon – when I open it up and respond to anything, but then avoid it for the rest of the day. The thing I’m looking for advice on is:

1) How long I should put aside for this time. I know: length of string question – but would still be interested in hearing what you do. I think I may try an hour and see how it goes…?

2) Whether to explicitly tell our clients that this is what I’m doing or just do it? – or do something like put a little note in my signature: “I only look at email between 2-3pm each day” (I think I tend to the latter?)

3) If I do this – should I have an URGENT inbox which twangs me in a different way (I dunno, a Slack push or SMS or something non-inbox related) – for critical “our website is down” stuff…

What do you do – would be really interested in hearing either here or on Twitter..

(btw. I turned off email notifications on my mobile a long time ago, and ditto removed Twitter from there. On my desktop I still use Twitter but kill it when I’m busy. So that’s very much less of a distraction….)

[ UPDATE ]

I’m going to try a 1-3pm email window, and have put a message in my signature telling clients this – but also telling them to ring or hit up our urgent inbox if anything crucial is happening.

If you’re a geek you might like to know that I’ve created a forwarder on this urgent inbox which sends an email to our Pushover account – that way I’ll get an alert on my phone if someone does email us here – that way I know I’ll get to know but without having to check email…. 🙂

6 Comments

  1. jegtnes

    November 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I’m not important enough to get enough email for email to really be a pain, but I tend to echo Scott Hanselman’s thoughts on this. Basically:

    Check your email once a day, and avoid email all morning.
    Filter out email where you’re cc-ed in, email that’s sent to a group email address, meeting invites, etc. into its own separate box. My company uses internal email a lot, once I filtered these out I got 90% less email in my inbox to distract me. This ensures email that arrives in your inbox has a higher chance of being important.

    His posts are well worth a full read:
    http://www.hanselman.com/blog/TheThreeMostImportantOutlookRulesForProcessingMail.aspx
    http://www.hanselman.com/blog/dontcheckyouremailinthemorning.aspx

  2. orviwan

    November 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Here’s what I do:

    1. Automate all the things! Create loads of rules, ‘move’ and ‘mark as read’ or ‘junk’ where possible.
    2. Inbox Zero – keep it clean and tidy.
    3. When I do check email, if one can be done easily I just do it. If it would take more than 2 minutes, it gets categorised and flagged for follow-up, or set up as tasks.
    4. Focus mode! Get up to date on inbox, then pick some tasks and work on them until they’re done. Then back to email if you need a break;

  3. dmje

    November 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    orviwan Thanks for that – useful. My issue is less keeping a sane inbox – most of the time I’m at inbox zero or maybe inbox 20 at worst case. The thing I suffer from is distraction. So I basically want to kill off email completely for periods of time during the day. You’re absolutely right though, focus is the key – just how best to get there.

  4. dmje

    November 3, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    jegtnes Some ace tips there, thanks – will go have a read. Certainly I’m thinking I’ll avoid mornings – that’s a definite. The point about trained clients is a really good one – I’m reasonably sure that most agencies like ours are responding above and beyond what a client would assume is reasonable – and you’re right, it comes to be an expectation. I may feel tense about not getting back to client within X minutes – but I’m pretty sure most for most of our clients a few days or a week would be fine! So yeah, thanks, really good points.

  5. j0el

    November 4, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I am thinking of combining pomodoro http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique with one of the minamalist word processors to stop distractions.  I think if I start a pomodoro times that would block all alerts and notifications, and put a minimalist word processor on the screen for 25 minutes, I could write.  Then when the 25 mins are up, take a quick scan of any mail that came in, skype, tweets, whatever, and then take care of anything urgent and start another pomodoro timer.  I think a 25 minute delay max on mail is fine.  

    Now, I just let myself get distracted and work too many hours.

  6. dmje

    November 5, 2014 at 8:58 am

    j0el thanks for commenting – yeah, I’ve looked at and thought about using Pomodoro – a way of blocking incoming notifications during this time would be ace…

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