Operations: It’s Time To Break Up with Your Email


It’s time to break up with your email. I don’t mean for forever of course, but at least for a few hours.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the inefficiencies of checking your email around the clock and answering emails as soon as they come in.

According to Ron Friedman of the Harvard Business Review, “Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up.”

As a result, a lot of professionals are limiting the amount of time they check and answer email — and creating specific time slots in which to do so.

My coworker Heather Hartmann is one of those professionals. After reading “Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success,” which discussed the dangers of distractions — including email — she decided to check email only four times a day. She dedicated an hour to each slot, which allowed her to respond and handle any tasks that came about as a result of her inbox.  

She checks her email:

  • First thing in the morning
  • Right before lunch
  • Right after lunch
  • An hour before the EOD

The results? “I feel a lot more focused and as if I’m not getting pulled in a million different directions,” said Hartmann.

The great thing about this process is it’s flexible. During the weeks a publication is going to print and Heather can’t unplug from her email for hours at a time, she checks it more frequently. But as soon as the busy period ends she jumps back into her routine.

Hartmann’s process may not work for you exactly as prescribed — but adapting some form of email hiatus throughout the day is definitely worth considering.

As Friedman explained, “Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.”

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