Sunday, August 1, 2010

Three ways to avoid email distraction and take back control of your time


By Marsha Egan

Before the advent of email, social media, smartphones and nearly constant electronic interruptions, daily planning was a strategy that was used quite effectively in the business community. Not so much anymore!

Oh yes, we still make the attempt to set our daily plan, but I am willing to bet, that for a lot of you, the plan goes out the window within the first two hours of your workday. Why? Because a barrage of message distractions in the form of emails, texts, Facebook comments and IMs have invaded our lives.

Workers have a growing challenge in resisting distractions. With workers receiving between 100 and 200 email messages buzzing or flashing into their computers or smartphones each day, who could resist? After all, one or two of those messages might even be important.

Time after time, I hear workers lament that they had planned to get several important things done in a specific day, only to wonder at five o'clock where their time went. Why were they not able to do those few important tasks? The answer lies in the distractions that constantly invade their inboxes.

It's commonly accepted by time management gurus that it takes the typical worker an average of four minutes to recover from any interruption. Email has become one of the biggest sources of continual interruption for today's workforce.

Say for example that you are working on an important report. An email message dings and flashes on your screen, and you look up for only a few seconds to see what newfound treasure has graced your inbox. As a result, it takes you four minutes to get back in the zone and properly focus on the report you're writing. Multiply this by only 15 interruptions, and your recovery time zooms to 60 minutes -- an hour of wasted productivity.

For many workers, they are not just briefly distracted by that newfound treasure in their inboxes. They will completely drop what they are doing to read it! Or they will click the link contained in the message. Or they will allow that email message to be their new top priority by working on it, even though it is low on the priority scale.

Bye-bye daily plan.

One of the biggest challenges felt by many who are wrestling with the continually growing volume of email messages is finding that discipline to work on that right stuff at the right time. In the early days of email and electronic communications, handling a few interrupting messages was not an impact on the average worker. Now, during the age of message overload, the ability to resist these distractions becomes a key to productivity.

Today's e-communications bring with them the potential for near to constant interruption. For the undisciplined worker, this results in ongoing frustration and the inability to accomplish the day's priorities.