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Breaking E-ddiction To Boost Productivity

It’s time for everyone to take a stand and break their e-ddiction to email… but what can be done?
The secret to taking back control, and time, starts by developing the right habits. Productive workers do not become that way simply because they buy a software program to sort their inbox for them. They choose to be efficient.  They choose not to be distracted every time a new email arrives. They take control and enforce daily habits that make the best use of technology in this era of message overload.

Taking control of inbox management habits to increase your efficiency has several advantages. First, it reduces stress. Workers who are productive on the job feel less obligated to work outside regular business hours and less plagued by the overload. In addition, taking control leads to employee self-empowerment. The difference is remarkable once people realize that they don’t need to respond every time their inbox dings.

When you are in control, you won’t interrupt discussions to check your buzzing Smartphone.  You will break the Pavlovian urge to check an email the second it registers in your inbox.  You will take away your inbox’s power and decide instead when, how, and where you will deal with your email.

Here are five habits you can adopt to boost productivity and break your e-ddiction to your inbox.

1. Check email no more than five times a day.

Spreading out the intervals with which you check your inbox will give you more uninterrupted time—time to actually get things done, to focus and make progress without having to backtrack and recreate your thought process after every email interruption.

Worried about your client relations and limiting your email usage to a handful of times a day? Let’s assume the most time in between inbox views is approximately 90 minutes. We’ve all sat through meetings that have gone over 90 minutes and the world didn’t end, did it?

2. Stop technology from interrupting your work.

Interruptions are productivity killers. Email dings and flashes have turned into the most prolific source of interruptions witnessed by man. Considering it takes the average adult four minutes to recover from any given interruption, we’re constantly losing valuable time to remember where we left off before the ding.

Turn the distractions off! View your inbox when you choose to— not when "it" wants you to. Go one step further and close your inbox down until it is the time you designated to check your email again. You will feel instant gratification once you establish control.

3. Establish limits.  Do not cross them.

While round-the-clock connectivity can be extremely advantageous at times, do not abuse this luxury. Constant connectivity can be draining and overwhelming. Set specific boundaries for when you'll view your Smartphone or BlackBerry. Power it off when you walk into your home. Don't let scrolling through your inbox become a nightly routine. Give the weekend a rest from constant connectivity.

4. Email is for efficiency, not urgency.

Urgent emails are toxic to your organization because they make it nearly impossible to follow through with tips 1-3. One “urgent” email from the boss will suggest to employees that they must be on top of their emails at all times, lest they miss the next urgent message.

Email is designed for quick, efficient, inexpensive communication, not urgent situations. Encourage your work group to call or visit when something is needed in three hours or less.

5. Use folders to keep your inbox clean

Inboxes were never meant to be the disordered reminder systems they have become today. A cluttered inbox means a cluttered frame of mind. It serves no greater purpose than reminding you of what you haven’t done and can't get to.

Empty your inbox. View each incoming message with the intention to sort for importance rather than working on them one by one. Assess the priority of each message and file them into folders to be retrieved at appropriate times. Start by developing a basic three folder system to separate high-importance emails from the medium and lower ones.

About Marsha Egan:Marsha Egan is president and CEO of, a division of The Egan Group, Inc., and the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence(Acanthus 2009). For tips and tools to save time on e-mail, visit

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