Emails: A productivity Death trap

First do what is important, then everything else. This could be a maxim for personal productivity. People who prioritise tasks and focus on those that yield the most results (which by definition, are important) are said to be productive. A question for you: Is responding to emails immediately an important task? According to a Mckinsey report, the average professional spends 28% of their work day reading and responding to emails. If you work 8 hours a day, that’s 2 hours dedicated to your inbox. Is that the best use of your time?

Email envelopes
There’s such a thing as too many emails

A lot of people have an urge to respond to emails as soon as they receive them. They do so because they believe responding to emails quickly is a sign of efficiency. It shows they are on top of things and are responsive to changing work situations. Furthermore, the thrill of having responded to an email causes a release of dopamine by the brain. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that makes you feel happy. It’s the chemical that gets released when you cross a task off a to-do list. People respond to emails quickly because doing so makes them feel good.

The only people who get paid to respond to emails are Personal Assistants, Secretaries, Sales Agents and Customer care Representatives. Their work revolves around reading and responding to messages so even if they dedicate a whole day to this, they are being productive. If you do not fall into any of the categories mentioned above, however, responding quickly to all emails is not the best use of your time.

Hand sending email
Anyone can send one

Emails are what is called a push system of communication. Anyone can send one to you at any time. You have no idea what the contents will be until you read them. If you get many emails each day, the chances of other people taking control over your priority drastically increases. When you pause in the middle of a task to read and respond to an email, you are committing a cardinal sin of productivity: multitasking. At that point, you are working on two tasks. The unimportant one will get completed first.

To prioritise responding to all emails as soon as you receive them is to allow other people choose which tasks you work on. For a junior worker or a support staff, this might not be a problem. If you are a team leader or a department head, however, you need to take charge of your inbox by controlling how often you check it and what to respond to.

It is somewhat paradoxical that the higher you climb up the career ladder, the more emails you get and the less time you need to spend managing your inbox. Choose your priority each day. Don’t let your inbox do that for you.

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