Weaning Yourself Off the Heroin Drip of Email
Hello. My name is Andrew, and I’m a former email addict.
Oh, and I hate to break it to you, but if you have to check your email first thing in the morning, are glued to it even on family vacations, or have ever let the inbox distract you from a huge business goal, you’re probably one, too.
Here’s the thing: although we all think of email as the easy, convenient way of communicating, the toll that it takes on productivity is pretty heavy. Not to mention, if your experience has been anything like mine, utilizing email as a main contact channel equates to hundreds and hundreds of emails a day— what I used to think was simply an overwhelming fact of my work life.
After giving it some thought, I realized that one of the main problems with the whole email system is that, essentially, it can reprioritize even the most steadfast of plans. Think about it. How many times have you had a to-do list 10 miles long but received a few urgent emails and suddenly, your day is turned upside down? This can be one of the biggest productivity breakers around.
The other problem? For those that crave that constant email fix, an inbox full of messages ends up serving as a task list, and one that’s already been decided for them at that. Can we all agree that this is far from an ideal scenario? Who wants to have their task list dictated for them?
Even if reading messages (and knocking out replies to what might be important) feels like progress, the fact is that not all progress is good. This is especially true when what’s perceived as getting things done doesn’t truly coincide with a bigger objective.
As an example, imagine receiving 200 emails, each asking for information, containing a one-off request, etc. After taking the time to craft out 200 responses, there’s the very real possibility that you just created 200 additional emails for someone else to respond to (way to go). This is often done without a second thought to whether the time it took to answer those emails actually helped you to get closer to accomplishing your most important desired outcomes. And so, the vicious cycle continues.
For me, kicking the email dependency has been contingent on abiding by a few “best practices” that I’ve implemented into work every day:
1) Creating and maintaining an active list of priorities
I make it a point to divide this up into important daily to-dos along with a running weekly list. I keep these easily accessible and in front of me at all times. Not only do these help me to gauge my bandwidth when being pulled into various business initiatives, it allows me to keep my most vital goals top-of-mind, even when things get crazy.
2) Translating emails into goals
Anytime there’s a real necessity to read or send an email (though the frequency has cut down dramatically), the first thing I do is try to understand its exact purpose. Is this email supposed to replace a meeting? Is it a time-suck? Should this really be handled face-to-face? This helps me to categorize each task by priority and to ensure that something that can be resolved in 5 minutes in person doesn’t end up taking 30 minutes in typing time.
3) Being scrupulous about prioritization
The email/tasking system that I put in place for myself is something that has proven to work time and time again. Not only has it aided in making me a better employee, it’s helped to make me a stronger leader. These hard-fought wins translate to success for myself and my team, so I tend to be pretty merciless about holding myself accountable to my priorities. More than that, I ensure that the end business goal is supported in every single task I do.
For me, utilizing a platform that has allowed me to almost eliminate email completely has been key to accomplishing big things quickly. Along with the clarity that my “email detox” process has allowed me, the platform that I use (in my case, Bolste) has allowed me to be 10x better at communicating purposefully.
When I look at the difference that utilizing these best practices have made throughout the course of my day and frankly, my career, it surprises me that I ever let email dictate what was important. By setting expectations and being conscious of the time and effort necessary to accomplish needle-moving goals, I’ve been able to be more intentional about each project, task or conversation that I have.
Remember the 90/10 rule— 10% of what you do affects 90% of your actual successful outcomes. Do you really want to spend that critical time jonesing for your inbox?
Andrew Bourne is the Chief Technology Officer at Bolste. He’s a serial entrepreneur and technologist, known for building high-performing teams. He loves startups, photography and jetting around on his motorcycle. He does not like email.
Ready to detox from your email dependency? Or maybe you just want to debate Andrew on your love for email replies? Reach out to us here.