Oh how I felt superior and laughed when, as an early email adopter (compuserve - remember that?), I was told that a colleague was getting his emails printed out and brought to him in a file twice a day. What a dinosaur! How wrong I was…bloody email!
How very prescient he was even if he did not know it. The younger amongst you may not know that Royal Mail used to deliver twice a day. The mail arrived, was opened by your secretary, sorted and then provided in an incoming mail folder to you at about 1000 and 1430 each day. Another folder might have come in alongside it with any internal memos.
Each document had an action and distribution box stamped on it or stapled to it. If the letter had a reference then it came attached to the relevant file if it was available. Junk was sorted into a separate file which you could glance at if you had the time - or dump it in the bin.
So at 1000 and 1430 (after your lunch which was not at your desk) you sat down with a coffee and biscuit (which normally came with the correspondence) and worked your way through the mail and internal memos.
In between you normally had a pile of files in your in-tray (you had marked them with a bring forward (b/f) date which your secretary had put in her diary. You worked through them until the in-tray was empty and the out-tray ready to be emptied when the mail came in. A nice immediately visible workload measure. Have another look at the picture at the top of this post - which is easier to work with? A neatly ordered set of files and folders or an email in box full of attachments and obscure subject headings. Be honest!
Days had a rhythm to them. A colleague who was head down in a pile of files was probably not going to be keen on being disturbed. On the other hand if the in-tray was empty and the out-tray stacked then that was normally a good indicator that there was space for a chat.
So how about just doing your emails twice a day? Book an hour in your diary twice a day to ‘do the mail’. Switch off automatic send/receive, push-email (a terrible tyrant) and any desktop email notifications. If you want to be really tough on yourself then remove the email app from your phone!
Here is a tip - you can get an immediate gauge on office and personal productivity based on whether you are constantly hearing the pings of new email notifications or seeing those little notification icons appearing on the screens. Try talking to someone whose PC or phone is constantly pinging or popping up notifications in eyeline.
Go on - get some proper work done.
PS - this is what appears below the signature block on my emails:
I review my inbox twice a day. If it is time critical ring me!
PPS: Try removing your email accounts from your mobile phone and just using your laptop or PC. It makes an amazing difference - stops you endlessly idly fiddling with your phone/tablet during the day to check emails.