For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to spend less time as a slave to my inbox and so I’ve disabled email notifications on my blackberry and iPhone. That makes it easier to resist the temptation to jump on every single email that comes in, personal or professional. Then I can go through these at my leisure when I have time to think and respond.
I used to pick up my phone anytime it buzzed or dinged or rang or made any other of 100 goofy noises. I’d gotten really used to that and once I stopped it was hard to get over the urge to grab my phone and check messages every 10 minutes like I used to do. I’d get bored quickly and my attention wandered to who might be sending me some critical email. But eventually the urges subsided and I realized I hadn’t missed any critical emails and the world hadn’t crashed to a halt. More importantly I was able to concentrate on a single task and get through it faster.
Most of the time when I was checking emails constantly, I was forth from task to task like crazy. It’s similar to the computer systems’ multitasking functionality, such as last-in-first-out (LIFO) processing (whatever piece of information has just arrived, process that first and delay the current task) and extreme hard drive thrashing (going from the inside to the outside of the platter on each subsequent read or write). Obviously this isn’t very efficient. You lose a lot of time changing tasks and it’s stressful having them all open at once.
When you look at every email as it arrives, you’re basically saying “Anything that hits my inbox is more important than whatever it is I’m doing right now.” That is almost never the case, and even when it is, anything in an email can usually wait 3-4 hours before you answer it. For the really critical stuff, you can still grab calls. Many times you’ll find that the problems solve themselves before you can take care of them.
Now I find that I am much more efficient and this has probably cut out 5-10 hours a week (that’s a consulting week of about 80 hours) in wasted time and I feel more relaxed and in control. You can apply the same principles to anything you find hitting you in intervals. And most likely you already do – unless you run to the store every time you need a paper towel.