For so many of us, email supplies constant tasks throughout the workday. No matter what projects we have lined up or meetings we have scheduled, there is always the possibility of an email adding yet another task to our growing to-do lists.
But instead of checking email every time a new message pops into our inboxes, what if we had set (and limited) times to read emails throughout the day? This emerging trend is helping some professionals to manage the constant distraction of emails and to become more focused on tasks at hand. Could it work for you? In this blog post, we discuss the pros and cons of setting pre-determined times to check email.
Pros of Limiting Email Use
As much as we would like to become more efficient by multitasking, scientific research shows that multitasking simply does not make us more productive. In fact, it can actually limit our productivity by spreading our focus too thin.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Professor Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University addresses the problems of multitasking. According to Dr. Levitin, avoiding multitasking and instead focusing on a single activity at a time can increase creativity and productivity. And this includes limiting our dependence on our inboxes: Dr. Levitin suggests that you “partition your day into project periods,” which includes checking email at designated times. Otherwise, says Dr. Levitin, email and social networking can “sap attentional resources” in your brain.
In addition, limiting email use at work – and outside of the office – can positively impact your work-life balance. On evenings and weekends, many of us feel tied to our smartphones, ready to respond to urgent – and not so urgent – requests at a moment’s notice. By deciding to check your email only at designated times between 9 and 5, you are leaving necessary time for family, friends and hobbies outside of work.
Cons of Designated Email Time
Of course, many industries and careers do not allow for such careful regulation of email. If the nature of your work functions on last-minute requests and urgent messages, maintaining a strict email schedule could hinder your performance. It may mean that you miss a fleeting opportunity, or it could make you appear unreliable or unresponsive. Especially if you do not communicate your email schedule to colleagues or clients, important contacts may be left wondering about the delay in your responses.
And for some, a full inbox can be even more stressful than managing email throughout the day. The prospect of tackling a barrage of emails, albeit only once or twice in the day, can leave many of us uneasy. In some cases, it is simply more straightforward to deal with an issue as soon as it arises.
The Bottom Line
While there are many pros and cons to setting limited times to check email, the effectiveness of this strategy all depends on your position, your workplace culture, and the expectations of your colleagues and clients. That said, keeping a limit on constant email checking – in the workday and during evenings and on weekends – is necessary for your health and your productivity.