1) Disable notifications for new incoming emails
According to various studies, it takes an average of 5 to 20 minutes to regain one’s initial level of concentration after being interrupted while conducting an activity. An interruption can of course be a colleague speaking directly to you or the need to respond to an urgent phone call, but it can also be a simple, seemingly innocuous software notification.
While it is customary, when one wants to “not be disturbed”, to warn colleagues in advance or to redirect incoming calls to their voice mailbox, it is much rarer to see a person mute the notifications of their various applications and this is even more true when it is an email management application.
However, we receive an average of 30 to 60 e-mails per day and even if all these interruptions are not de facto the result of a loss of concentration of around 20 minutes, they do have the potential to do so, often in a sneaky manner. Too often, an email to be processed seemed “easy and fast” to me, whereas in the end, I had to spend tens of minutes or even more on it after a complication that I could not anticipate when I first read it.
Personally, I have also lost count of the times when I had resolved to concentrate on a single important task until it was completed, only to finally pay attention to an incoming email a few minutes later, the notification that it was coming making me forget the promise I had recently made to myself.
Some studies go even further and stipulate that even if we do not respond to these notifications on the spot, their mere sight contributes to a significant loss of focus on the activity in progress, adding to the problematic nature of displaying notifications at all times. How can there be any doubt? Imagine yourself busy with the task and someone shouting your first name from time to time. Even if you don’t respond to that person, your concentration will be affected one way or another.
In conclusion, treat the disruptive power of the notifications from your various applications and especially those from your e-mail management software on the same level as that of your telephone and stay focused for longer!
2) Retrieve your emails at regular intervals.
Another tip, which can be combined with the first one (recommended) or used alone, is to retrieve your emails not in real time, as we almost all do now, but rather at static and regular intervals. Although it requires some discipline at the beginning, the benefits of this method of retrieval will quickly make you forget the efforts you had to invest in it at the beginning.
You can of course discipline yourself, by adding to your signature and automatic reply that you will only read your emails 2 or 3 times a day at specific times and by taking care (no cheating!) not to look at your email inbox outside of these times:
“Please note that I retrieve and read my emails at 11am and 3pm. For any emergency requiring an immediate response, please contact me by phone at 514-555-5555”.
If the will is lacking, it is always possible to have recourse to certain tools that will allow you to achieve your goals. For example, the Chrome Gmelius extension allows you to suspend the reception of new emails manually (and automatically via the paid version of the extension), while under Office 365, you can simply disable automatic sending/receiving or even put yourself in offline mode. By doing so, you will not be able to answer new incoming emails, as the retrieval of these emails has been voluntarily suspended!
By operating under the principle of interval retrieval, you will benefit from longer continuous periods of concentration and, thanks to batch processing, you will make the management of your incoming e-mails a single, recurring task rather than a multitude of small tasks that pollute your schedule.
3) Give the email the priority level it deserves.
An e-mail is a digital version of the classic letter to the post office, and while a letter to the post office is rarely urgent (not to be confused with important), e-mail has, over time and in a very subtle way, taken on this characteristic. But is this change in personality really justified?
According to several studies, 2 out of 3 e-mails are neither urgent nor important and yet, despite this observation, many of us try to retrieve an e-mail as soon as we receive it, a phenomenon that has been greatly amplified since the advent of smart phones. Whether by reflex or by professionalism, this tendency to want to respond to an e-mail in real time contributes to giving this means of communication a priority that it should never have had and, above all, contributes to generating significant stress for those who are called upon to use it.
“Emergency succeeds emergency. As soon as you receive an e-mail “you have to” answer it, otherwise the person who sent it calls you and says “didn’t you receive my e-mail?”. One minute free? Quickly, take a look at the mailbox to see if nothing has happened! There’s also an addictive side to it.” Thierry Venin
The sense of urgency is not a bad thing because it often pushes us to surpass ourselves and achieve things that otherwise would not have been possible, but to be beneficial it must be circumscribed and justified. For example, a verbal request from a superior or a last-minute phone call for an urgent change can generate such a sense of urgency, but these two means of communication have one thing in common: they do not use the written word to express themselves.
In fact, for a long time, humans have understood that for a precise and lasting request, it is better to use the written word, but that for an urgent request, there is nothing better than a verbal exchange and for good reason. By exchanging verbally, we can quickly confirm the understanding of the receiver and clarify any questions he may have in order to ensure that the request will be dealt with quickly and adequately.
It is in this sense that an e-mail cannot be an effective means of communication when dealing with an urgent problem. Can some e-mails be more important than others? Yes, of course they can! Are all e-mails important enough to be considered as a direct exchange, not at all?
4) Write your e-mails as if they were a handwritten letter to be mailed.
Who doesn’t remember the e-mail chains of the early 2000s? These long chains of e-mails, often useless and sent with a dubious purpose, to which people answered or worse, oversaw forwarding to their loved ones.
Although the phenomenon has lost its vigor over the last few years when taken in a social context, it seems to have become part of our professional context and has been gaining strength ever since!
An email is not a phone call or even a text message. It is certainly not a conversation between two people, it is only an electronic letter and a letter, by its nature, must be precise and concise. Imagine writing a handwritten request and then intending to mail it, hoping for a clear and quick response a few days later from the person who is to receive it. Think that if your request is poorly worded, the answer you receive could be a request for more details and thus, your dream of receiving the information you want in a timely manner would be lost.
In such a context (a context that existed not so long ago), where sending and receiving delays are important, you will try to write the most precise request possible, avoiding any ambiguity and taking care to direct the receiver where you want him to go so that he can adequately satisfy your request without a hitch.
Well, an email, although instantaneous, should meet the same requirements. Of course, we all lack discipline, so it is often not the case and the result are poorly formulated, imprecise and paraphrased requests, but why? Because we tell ourselves that in the worst case, the receiver will ask us for clarification. After all, sending an email is a piece of cake!
The result is often an interminable exchange of e-mails on the same subject, with each new e-mail sent introducing new ambiguities into the current exchange, thus lengthening the processing time of the initial request and increasing the stress level of the parties involved.
Do yourself (and anyone you involve in the exchange) a favor and work upstream, not downstream, always making sure you have the same discipline you would have had with a conventional letter when writing any email. The few extra minutes you will spend before sending will be returned to you and even more when you receive the answer and your correspondent will be even happier.
5) Plan “e-mail meetings”.
Sometimes, despite all our good will, a situation can be difficult to circumscribe precisely and concisely in writing, and so we realize that our e-mail, which was supposed to be relatively long for the needs of the cause, is now worthy of a doctoral thesis because of the number of characters it contains.
Although there is no strict rule regarding the ideal length of an e-mail (as long as it is clearly written), there is at least one simple rule that goes as follows:
“If an email becomes difficult to write due to its level of technical complexity or the resources it implies, then verbal communication becomes necessary”.
Now, instead of spontaneously communicating with the person to whom the message is addressed, and unless the situation really requires it, plan a face-to-face e-mail meeting with him or her where not only the problem you were trying to communicate via e-mail will be discussed, but also any other one you deem relevant, the person is now already willing to devote his or her full attention to you and is present in front of you.
By doing so, you will help reduce the number of email communications, deal with your complex files more quickly and take advantage of these opportunities to be able to discuss many other smaller issues that require the involvement of this resource.
Two out of three emails are neither urgent nor important.
Of employees say e-mail management is their main source of stress in the office.
This is the average time spent by an employee reading, sorting and categorizing emails in the company.