There are different productivity killers for different people. For lazy people, they are Facebook and video games. For disciplined and productive people, there is a whole new set of distractions, email being at the top of that list.
I get more than 1,000 emails a day. I cannot put them behind a spam filter because spam filters always catch and censure important emails first.
The volume of emails is not the only problem, though. Another problem, and of bigger proportion, is the tendency and temptation to check my email every few minutes (thanks to smart phones). If you add the amount of time you spend to check emails alone, you’ll be shocked.
My estimate is that an executive spends three hours each day to check emails. That’s more than 1.000 hours, or more than a whole month per year.
Besides this, there is a huge cost in context switching when you are expecting emails every few minutes. This context switching overhead is easily another month of time spent, if not worse.
So what have I done about it?
I have made a rule to check emails once every hour, usually at the top of the hour. Depending upon the email load, it takes between three minutes to 15 minutes to finish acting on them. Fifteen minutes is the hard limit I have set. Otherwise, it would stretch to fill a whole hour.
If there is anything which cannot wait for 45 minutes, people will text you or call you. There is a reason emails are an asynchronous mode of communication. You are not expected to respond to them immediately.
Email is a way to make you more productive at your job. But checking emails is not a job in itself.
This one hour interval is what works for me. For different people it would be different. People in an operational role need to check it more often. In my case, I believe I can do with checking it every two hours, but this would lead to too much anxiety. Slowly I would try to stretch the interval.