Saturday, May 1, 2010

The intentional inbox: productivity at its best


By Marsha Egan

As the volume and velocity of email traffic grows exponentially, more and more people struggle with how to manage all those incoming messages.

While some workers manage their email well, others complain about drowning in their inboxes. In my experience coaching these people to better manage the piles of email, it has become obvious that the winners in the email management game are those who intentionally take control of their time, priorities, and inboxes.

So much time is wasted when workers sporadically and reactively handle their inboxes. Every second someone spends jumping from one email to another, every interruption he or she allows, and every partially read email saps precious time from days that are already overburdened. These practices haunt both personal and business productivity.

We all do it

I've seen it all, and here are just a few examples:

  • Scrolling up and down the inbox, trying to find some easy or quick items to handle and knock off the list...
  • Opening a message to view it, then deciding it wasn't the message you were looking for, or that now is not the right time to handle that message after all, then closing it...
  • Marking a message "unread" to remind you to read it at a later date...
  • Looking up every time the ding of a new message sends an alert of newfound treasure in the inbox...
  • Setting reminders -- then ignoring them...
  • Allowing an unimportant email message to unnecessarily revise your daily plan...
  • Checking that inbox after the completion of every task, "just in case..."

Every single one of those practices is an example of an undisciplined or reactive response to all that email landing in your inbox. It's almost as if workers have given control of their days to their inboxes rather than the other way around. These activities waste time and are toxic to productivity. In this fast moving world, we can't afford to lose a minute, much less the hours that are frittered away by time-sapping habits.

Be deliberate and disciplined

Just as we need to be intentional with our time management these days, we will benefit from being more deliberate with our email handling habits and practices. Those who take control will be the winners in the race for maximizing their use of time. Instead of behaving reactively to emails dinging in our inboxes, we can reclaim hours of productivity each week by being more disciplined in the ways we manage and respond to our incoming email messages.

Discipline can really pay off. Because recovery from an interruption takes an average of four minutes, workers lose about four minutes' productivity every time they allow themselves to be interrupted by the ding of an incoming email. If someone allows only 15 dings to interrupt him or her during the workday, the interruption recovery time clocks in at 60 minutes.