How much of your working day do you think you spend trawling through your emails? A fifth? A quarter?
In fact, the average office worker spends a whopping 28% of their time – nearly a third of their working life — just dealing with email, according to this report by McKinsey.
All this time spent checking email goes way beyond being an annoying distraction. As Ian M. Paul pointed out in a study published last year by Penn State University, the cumulative effect of email overload can actually be very costly in wasted time.
Plus, given that most of us check our emails on our smartphones around the clock, it’s not just our work time we’re wasting. It’s our personal time, too.
As Kevin Holesh, creator of the Moments app that helps people track time spent on their phones, explains, most of us seriously underestimate the amount of time we spend on emails and social media. When they began trialling the app, says Holesh, both he and his fiancée were shocked to discover that they typically spent twice as long on their phones each day than they thought.
It’s pretty clear that emails are bad for our productivity.
So how can we cut down the amount of time we spend checking them?
Part of the problem is that many of us use our emails as a legitimate way to procrastinate.
Idly scrolling through Instragram or watching YouTube videos of cute micropigs getting stuck on the stairs is an obvious break from what we’re supposed to be doing. We feel guilty for using our time in this way and if we’re busy, we usually try our best to cut it out.
Emails, on the other hand, are part of our job. Because of this, we can keep jumping back to them all day long while telling ourselves that we’re really hard at work.
“For the first few days my fingers felt almost twitchy when I couldn’t look at my inbox for hours at a time,” writes the author Laura Vanderkam in an article for Fast Company about trying to limit the time she spends on email.
“Every time I encountered a tricky spot in a chapter I was writing, I started moving my cursor toward the Firefox icon on the bottom of my screen. I caught myself but it was still interesting to see that checking email is how I cope with creative roadblocks, stress, and boredom.”
— Laura Vanderkam
But, she says, forcing herself to step back from her inbox meant that she could stay deeply focused on her work for longer and, as a result, got loads more done.
Of course, the biggest problem with constantly checking our email isn’t even that it breaks up the task in hand. It’s that we could well be breaking up a task for no good reason at all.
“We all love to complain about our inboxes, but this is because we don’t want to read most things that are in there,” says Vanderkam. “The messages are irrelevant, or we have to deal with messages we don’t want to deal with.”
Finding a way to screen out all the unnecessary or unwanted communication is the first step in cutting down the amount of time lost to checking our messages – and boosting our productivity as a result.
Fleep does this by replacing email with a conversation system and letting you “snooze” or “mute” conversations that you don’t need to monitor right now – cutting out much of the distracting noise that makes email such a productivity drain.
What would you do if you never had to check your email inbox again?
However you opt to make use of the extra time, breaking out of the inbox cage can give your productivity a huge boost and bring far more freedom to your workplace and your general life.
Perhaps you’d take on more clients, improve your turnaround time, or finally get that internal project off the ground that no one had time for before?
Or maybe you’d simply take the opportunity to go home a little bit earlier and improve your work-life balance?