Last week’s email from the Greater Good website yet again gave me the heads up to an article by Christine Carter that resonated strongly. I have a daily battle with my in-box, and usually I lose. Maybe this article gives me some hope! Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
I have a full and rewarding career, and four teenagers who go to four different schools. I couldn’t have the life I do without email. I am certain of this.
But email is also a disaster. It’s mostly a giant to-do list that other people create for you—people (and companies) who don’t know and probably don’t give a damn about your highest priorities or the other things you’re hoping to get done today.
This is why I aim to spend 45 minutes or less reading and responding to emails a day, only four days a week. This frees up hours and hours to do my most important work, and to do the things that I value the most, like hang out with my children.
There are real challenges to managing the amount of time we spend on email, mostly because email is so satisfying and stimulating and easy to check constantly. It can feel enormously gratifying to delete emails in rapid succession. Checking email excites our brain, providing the novelty and stimulation it adores. In fact, our brains will tell us that we are being more productive when we are checking our messages than when we are disconnected from email and actually focusing on something important.
But checking is not the same as working. While it certainly feels productive to check email or answer a text, constant checking actually reduces our productivity. All that checking interrupts us from accomplishing our more vital work; once we are deep in concentration, each derailment costs us nearly a half an hour—that’s the average amount of time it takes to get back on track once we’ve been interrupted (or we’ve interrupted ourselves by looking at email).
This point is worth lingering on: how productive we are does not correlate well with how productive we feel. Checking our email a lot feels productive because our brains are so stimulated when we are doing it. But it isn’t actually productive: One Stanford study showed that while media multitaskers tended to perceive themselves as performing better on their tasks, they actually tended to perform worse on every measure the researchers studied.
I don’t mean to suggest that email is not a powerful or efficient tool. But like most tools, its value depends on how we use it.
To make email a more powerful and efficient tool, I suggest three main strategies. First, make compulsively checking email much less gratifying. Second, make checking email on a planned, set schedule much more gratifying. Finally, and most obviously, reduce the amount of time it takes to read and respond to email.
Here’s how . . . .