New research by the University of California at Irvine and the United States Military showed that workplace email, and how we use it, is having serious effects on our health and focus.
For the study, email was completely shut off to 13 information workers for five consecutive workdays. Heart rate monitors were worn by participants in the study, and the frequency with which they switched windows on their computer was tracked. At the end, researchers conducted interviews with participants on the experience. The study generated several interesting findings from those cut off from email:
- Greater focus—no-emailers switched back and forth between windows on their computer less than half as much as those who remained connected to email. No-emailers also reported feeling able to “focus more intently on their work.”
- Less stressed and better heart health—no-emailers had much less stress, and much more normal heart rates than their plugged in counterparts
- More face-to-face communication—instead of just firing off an email, the no-emailers picked up to phone, or talked to colleagues face-to-face. The no-emailers saw this as a benefit (not sure that I agree, but for the sake of argument…)
Regardless of whether you’re ready to untether from your email, it’s clear that there are some benefits to pulling back from your inbox from time-to-time.
Create Greater Focus
Constantly shifting your focus is both a distraction, and can actually reduces your overall processing capacity. (shocker right?) Creating a system for when you “connect” will help create a sense of peace in your work-life because:
- You’ll be able to give your complete attention to tasks and projects
- You’ll be able to focus more intently and effectively on the work in front of you because you’re not worrying about “what’s next”
- You know that you’ve scheduled a time to address new email so you don’t worry about it the moment it comes into your inbox
- You’re less distracted by new and unrelated items peppering your focus
Here are 5 steps to help you gain more focus and be less distracted:
1. Move distracting elements off of your computer and over to your iPad.
Just committing to this simple step can help you regain focus while working – e.g.: social media, networking, personal research, and your reading list to name a few. A quick search through the App Store can help you find the apps you’d like to use to facilitate these items and relegate to the iPad. From there you can set specific times during the day to move to your iPad and deal with your distractions or use the pomodoro technique with your breaks centering around the iPad. Couple this with some of the email management techniques mentioned below and you’ll be surprised at the amount of focus you can free up.
2. Embrace the concept of a zero-based inbox
“Inbox Zero” or action-based email is a concept that can help you take control over an inbox bursting at the seams. The best techniques for this can be found here via the folks at 43folders. Follow the simple instructions, and you’ll have a completely empty inbox.
3. Practice engagement and withdrawal
There’s a time to engage your team and a time to pull back. Bring your work into focus by committing to engage on only one type of activity at a time and limiting your distractions.
4. Set times specific times to check email daily
I don’t check email before 8:30 or 9:00am. Then I typically check it before or after lunch, then once or twice in the afternoon before wrapping up my day. I am trying to get better about blocking this because email can really throw my focus off. I’d like to get to where I only check it two times a day.
5. Setup reoccurring times to connect with your team.
By setting up reoccurring meetings where you can go over project and task lists with your team, you’ll be amazed at how many emails you can pull out of your inbox. Ask the team to keep a list of all the things they need to discuss or get feedback on. Then share and discuss those in a stand-up face-to-face or screen-to-screen meeting (if you’re a virtual team). This may take a little practice, but we do it twice a week and we’ve eliminated a ton of unnecessary back-and-forth emails and cc’ing. Obviously if you are in a production-oriented environment, you may need to adjust the frequency of this to match your deadlines. The goal is not to be inefficient, but to eliminate back-and-forth noise.
Question: What other suggestions you have for how to pull back from email and gain greater focus on the projects and tasks you are working on?
Study published via Healthcare Today