Richard Whittall’s article on the practicalities and impracticalities of email usage makes an interesting observation: “People don’t love digital technology because it makes them more productive, they love it because it makes them feel like they’re more productive.” In essence, the feeling that your productivity is high because you are so busy is probably an illusion.
Communication technology including email, messaging apps, and our phones easily distract us from our working day to the point that switching between projects progressively deteriorates your focus
. Whittall jests in all seriousness:
The little burst of whatever brain chemical that comes with the notification of a new email is hard to resist, particularly when the cost is low in one instance but high in the aggregate.
A working day without a constant eye on email would mean that workers would enjoy improved focus on tasks to get better results, less time lost to ‘micro-procrastination’, and confidence that their attention isn’t urgently needed elsewhere.
Of course, email is but one potential distractor. Phones can ring. Chat messaging apps can ding. And colleagues may come to your desk with questions.
“Even a successful struggle against the lure of email, Slack and the rest is still that: a struggle”, says Whittall. The presence of the ability for anyone to communicate with anyone in near real-time has created an impractical expectation that the response to messages must also be near instantaneous. The way these technologies work has become so integral to the way we communicate that everything needs to be instantaneous.
Focus and Productivity
The problem with unfettered communication is that it impedes on our ability to focus. Humans are notoriously bad multitaskers. We might feel like we’re moving many things forward, but the content context switching actually slows us down thus reducing productivity.
So what can we do?
Prevent distractions and reward yourself for doing so.
The Pomodoro Technique rewards you with 5 minutes of “free time” for every 25 minutes you focus on one task. Consider setting a visible timer for 25 minutes and use it as an excuse to shut out anything that distracts you from your work (except for the office fire alarm of course). Close your mail app during this time. Set your chat status to “away”. Put your phone on vibrate and in the drawer. Use the 5 minutes to check in on messages you’ve received, but only respond to the ones that need a quick answer. Avoid getting pulled into someone else’s 25 minutes of need. Unless it’s critical to do so, you can help them later. Stay focused on your goals for the day.
Outsource time-consuming tasks to smart, automated apps
If you’re spending lots of time in email booking appointments, consider x.ai’s “Amy” or other virtual assistants that can handle the process for you. We also like the simple, self-service model of apps like calend.ly which simply let others see and pick open times in your schedule without all the back and forth.
If you spend lots of time delegating work by email then tracking the tasks and coordinating who needs to do what next, consider our app, TeamworkIQ. You simply type up who needs to do what (via email or as you would in a Google or Word document) and send it out. TeamworkIQ then handles all the next steps–not only assigning the work but all the follow-up as well. And TeamworkIQ keeps you up to date as progress is made. That way you do not have to send out more email asking for and tracking status updates. TeamworkIQ is intelligent automation for task, process and project management that turns words into automated, managed workflows
Relative to the cost of your labor, spending less than a cup of coffee a day on apps that free up your time from repetitive makes clear economic sense.
Delegate work to others
Delegation is another great way to free up time so that you can focus on high impact work. However, the work required to delegate work can itself turn into a near full-time project or process management
job. If you delegate work to others, you already know that your time can be consumed keeping track of who needs to do what and making sure nothing falls through the cracks. TeamworkIQ streamlines that whole process for you.
Questions? Comments? Get in touch.