My Email Experiment…Results and Thoughts

So after reading the following tweets and blogs, I decided I needed to try something different:

Coping with Email Overload

When Bad Things Happen To Productive People :: Tips

60 Productivity Rules

Getting the most out of email

Overcome Your Work Addiction

The article Coping with Email Overload by Peter Bregman particularly resonated with me.  Email overload is something that I think everyone struggles with, but Bregman does a nice job of calling it out a bit.  I generally get anywhere between one hundred to two hundred emails a day, depending on what’s happening and the cycles of the moon!  It was starting to become a challenge in more ways than one.

I began checking my email almost compulsively.  That little icon on my iPhone or iPad was calling to me!

I told myself that by checking it as soon as I saw a number I was decreasing my workload someplace else in the day.  By getting those emails out of the way it was going to help me!

I started to notice that I was so on top of emails that I might as well have been instant messaging people.  We were emailing back and forth within minutes or seconds of sending.    Bregman says: “But it’s become a serious problem. When we don’t control our email habit, we are controlled by it. Everyone I know complains about email overload.” 

The article talks about how the author changed his routine based on his experience returning from an unplugged vacation.  He began bulk processing his emails three times a day.  With that change in practice he found that he was more productive and focused on completing the tasks associated with each email:

I bulk process my email three times a day in 30-minute increments, once in the morning, once mid-day, and once before shutting down my computer for the day. I use a timer and when it beeps, I close my email program.

Outside my designated email times I don’t access my email — from any device — until my next scheduled email session. I no longer use my phone for email unless I’m away from my computer all day.

Bregman also acknowledges that deep urge in all of us to constantly check email.  This was my biggest struggle as I tried the Bregman method this past week.  A couple of things I did to try to combat this were:

  • I moved the mail icon on both my iPhone and iPad to the farthest screen…all by itself.  At the very least that little number wasn’t screaming at me when I turned my device on.
  • I scheduled the thirty minute email sessions on my calendar.  For the most part I was able to stick to them and found two things:  I was certainly no less productive than in my regular method of emailing and secondly, that I was able to respond to the tasks and questions more directly and efficiently.

In reflecting upon the week, one of the more interesting things was that I saw others adjust to my new pattern quickly.  I had enabled more frequent emailing from others by responding quickly, sometimes leading to other emails because my response didn’t settle a matter or task at the time.  By the end of the week, people were generally emailing me less knowing that I wasn’t going to respond within a minute.

Overall it was very interesting and timely.  I plan to continue working toward that balance.  As you may have guessed, one of the biggest challenges within this “experiment” was checking email outside of the school day!  I must admit, I didn’t miss reading that last minute pulse raising email just before going to bed!


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