It’s tempting, I have to admit! A life without email would undoubtedly make a huge difference to my productivity. Throughout my career, the roles and positions I’ve held have always been heavily reliant on email, and although it’s been essential for communications, in many ways, it has also been a big distraction. Despite best efforts to restrict email related tasks to particular times of day, the reality is that people often expect faster response times. When an important email comes through which needs urgent attention, it can be tricky to ignore. But this can really disrupt the creative process and work flow.
A 2013 study by researchers at Britain’s Loughborough University found a direct link between email and work-related stress. Professor Tom Jackson, who conducted the research, claims we get interrupted up to 96 times a day by email, and particularly when employees choose to keep their email application permanently open. How we interact with email is the root cause of our stress, and the research found that most people respond to an email within six seconds of it arriving. “There’s a culture within many organisations to be checking email all of the time,” says Jackson.
Claire Burge, owner of Get Organised in Ireland, is championing the ‘Life without Email’ movement, and claims to have reclaimed three hours in every working day since removing email from her life. Before embarking on her experiment, she used a customisable tool called RescueTime to track her daily activities and calculate her productivity score. Her score at the end of a normal week with email was just 23%. This was proof enough that email was sucking up too much of her time, and confirmed the impact it was having on her productivity.
Burge decided to give up email for a year. The first step was to let people know about her decision to go email free, and so she posted messages on her Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, and set-up an auto-responder on her email. While reactions to her decision were divided, she claims her clients were most supportive of her decision.
The next step was to move her clients from her inbox onto a suitable project management system. The primary goal of these systems was to reduce the email deluge. She also trained her clients to classify their communications as follows:
- Day to day discussions that do not need to be retained for future reference
- Important information that needs to be referenced over and again by team members
- Information that needs to move to a task list because it requires specific action, which she says accounts for 80% of email
Burge explains: “Each of the project tools addresses these three types of communication very well. The message sections are suitable for day-to-day discussions. Important information that the team needs to refer back to over and over should always be documented in whiteboards and notebooks which are easily accessible, and any information that relates to tasks should always be managed in the task section of the project tools.”
The #noemail experiment was a resounding success for Burge. Over a 10 month period, her productivity score rose from 23% when she was using email as her primary communication tool, to 68%. “I no longer start the day with email. Instead, I open the project tool belonging to the client who I will be giving my attention to for that day,” Burge explains. “I no longer experience the compulsive need to empty out my inbox all the time…I handle less than 10 emails per day.” Although Burge still uses email for verification purposes and online purchases, and first-time communication with new clients, she has found a way to “tame, reduce, and manage” it.
Going ‘cold turkey’ and giving up email overnight is probably a step too far for most people, but if you wish to dip your toe in the water and see what a difference less email may have on your productivity, why not join in No Email Day on 5th May 2015?
If the #noemail movement is too unrealistic for you or your organisation, you may still enjoy this light-hearted video which highlights the reasons why email can be such a timewaster!
I’ll also leave you with this pertinent quote from Emily Magazine, written back in 2008:
“When people at parties ask me what I do I think I am just going to start saying that I’m an “emailer”.”
If you have made steps to reduce or give up email, we’d love to hear any tips or advice you may have to share on the subject, below.