Your Email Is Killing Your Enthusiasm For Work

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Four strategies for bringing your leadership back to life

Imagine for a moment sharing an office with a two year old. Can you imagine spending eight hours with a stapler being banged on the desk, pens being thrown across the office and screams of delight and frustration? Would this interrupt you and kill your capacity for getting work done?

If you answered yes, there is a killer of similar proportions sharing an office with you and it’s not a two year old. It’s your email.

Here’s what I mean. The Radicati Group studies email usage and has found that the average person receives 125 emails per day. That’s 625 per week and 32,500 per year. These statistics mean you get – on average – an email every 3.5 minutes.

Now, add to this mix the research done by Gloria Frank at The University California @ Irvine who studied interruptions in the workplace. She found two types of interruptions. Positive interruptions, ones that are linked to what you’re working on and don’t require a different type of thinking. Negative interruptions are the opposite.

Negative interruptions require 23 minutes to return to the level of focus and effectiveness you had prior to the interruption. She also found that 50% of all interruptions are self-induced.

If you’ve every felt overwhelmed and incapable of effectively prioritizing your day there’s a reason. You’re allowing email to set priorities for your day as opposed to you setting priorities with your email.

If you want to use email as a tool for greater effectiveness you must be ruthless about using the following four email strategies:

#1. Decide if you’re available or responsive.

All too often people think they must be immediately available to everyone. There are times when you need to be immediately available, but if your workday requires you to be immediately available you are either the President of The United States or a brain surgeon who is on call. If you are neither, follow step number two.

#2. Prioritize your customers.

Most major airlines have a rewards program for their most frequent customers. These customers are the airlines most profitable and important customers. The more miles you fly the more perks and advantages you receive.

The same holds true for your customers. The truth is that you cannot give priority access to everyone otherwise you’ll have chaos. This means you need to prioritize your customers into three categories.

A” customers are your most important customers and are given priority access to you. These customers may be the senior most executives in your organization or a customer who is experiencing a significant disruption in service. Their emails are addressed within three or four hours.

B” customers are your second level of customer and will have their emails addressed within twenty-four hours. “C” customers will have their emails answered within seventy-two hours.

Each group is told what to expect so as to meet their expectations. Without this level of priority-setting you try and give A level service to C level customers and damage your reputation with the customer who matters most.

#3. Turn off your email.

The most effective and successful leaders I know have three to four times per day when they check and respond to email. Each chunk lasts between thirty to forty-five minutes. In between the chunks their email is turned off. Yes, you read that right. Email is turned off so as to eliminate distractions. You’ll be hyper-focused and free up mental energy to think more deeply in your meetings and personal interactions without checking your phone.

#4. Act boldly. There are really only two purposes and responses to every email you receive. Emails either inform you of something or they ask you to decide or do something. You in turn have two responses. Read and delete or read and store for future action or reference.

Informational emails are easy to deal with as you keep it or you delete it. It’s really pretty straightforward. If an email requires a decision or action the most important question is whether the action be completed in two minutes or less. If it can you should complete the action then. If you can’t, schedule time to take the action in your calendar and then delete the email.

Thinking about these four strategies will not help you deal with the stapler banging, pen throwing two year old you share an office with. Implementing them though will.

Which strategy will you implement today?


  1. Rehan Tahir says:

    I have practiced email compartmentalization since I read “Getting Things Done” a few years ago, but I have found #3 “Turning off Email” critical to making this work. I always keep the notifications turned off, and manually check email when I’m ready to review it.

    For step #4, I find that keeping items marked as Unread or flagging them for a follow up at a later time are helpful for when I need to think about something a little longer than just reacting to it.

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