Thursday, April 1, 2010

Give your inbox a rest


By Marsha Egan

We're all looking for new and better ways to be more productive. Well, one of the easiest ways to make a major productivity gain could be staring you in the face. This low hanging fruit could have huge returns for your productivity. It's simple, the solution is easy, and you can implement it immediately.

All you have to do is change how often you check your inbox. I told you it was simple.

I'm not talking about going from checking your inbox every time you look up to checking it every five minutes. To work, the change must be substantial, and I'm talking hours. I believe that workers can do well by checking email roughly five times daily: first thing in the morning, mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon, and roughly a half-hour before closing down for the day. This equates to uninterrupted work intervals of 90 to 120 minutes.

Reducing the number of times that we check our inboxes can do a lot for our productivity. Not only does this practice minimize or even eliminate email interruptions, it makes way for us to focus our attention to the various tasks we must accomplish in our workdays.

The average worker receives anywhere from 80 to 150 emails each day, so the potential for interruption by those electronic messages is high. The ding of a new email may be the number one source of worker interruptions today. An AOL study revealed that 48% of workers have their inboxes open, dinging and flashing while they work, meaning that nearly half of all workers set themselves up for continual interruption. All you need to do is walk through your office and count the number of screens displaying email messages or inboxes to verify the AOL study.

Interruptions are costly

It takes the average worker an average of four minutes to recover from any interruption. Since these four minutes do not include the actual handling of the interruption, that recovery time makes sense. If someone stops by your office to comment on last night's game and you chat for a mere 30 seconds, it will take you those four minutes to readjust yourself, get back to work, determine where you were in the process, and in essence, get back in the zone.

Getting back to those inboxes, if a worker is interrupted only 15 times by the flash of a new email message, the recovery time for those interruptions is 60 minutes. That equates to an hour of lost productivity. Allowing 30 dinging email messages to disturb your day could leave you spending up to two hours -- a quarter of most people's work day -- readjusting, or "recovering" from those interruptions.

Turn off all those dings and flashes

The first line of defense, then, is to turn off the dings and flashes. In Outlook, these are the default settings. To turn them off, all you have to do is go to Tools/Options/Mail Set Up/Send-Receive. This quick step removes the temptation to interrupt yourself to see what newfound treasure has just appeared in your inbox.