The habit that actually decreases your productivity

‘I didn’t work hard at school and go to uni so I could spend my life sending emails.’ – Lisa Owens, Not Working

Your alarm goes off. You hit snooze for a few minutes. Then you check your phone: social media, texts, and emails. You get up and start your day.

You go into the office knowing that you have to answer thirty emails, prepare for two conference calls, attend a cover design meeting, and interview three job candidates. You have very little time to finish the project you started yesterday.  You won’t have much time to break for lunch. You know all of this because you checked your email before you even put your feet on your bedroom floor.

What if checking your phone first thing in the morning was actually counterproductive?

Arianna Huffington recently posted a video on Instagram with Ashton Kutcher. Ashton addressed this very problem: checking your emails first thing in the morning can mean that your day is dictated by other people’s priorities – what people expect of you – rather than your own to-do list or the work that you would prefer to prioritize. He articulated what we all often feel: we can get so stuck in endless emailing that we don’t actually get much work done.

I’ve adapted these tips from Arianna Huffington’s video, career counsellor Suzanne Collier of BookCareers, and entrepreneur Marie Forleo. They have all provided email management advice that helps to get more done in less time and keeps you prioritizing work over emails.

1) Power down your phone before bed

We’ve read endless advice that states, ‘Don’t use your phone an hour before bed.’ Do yourself one better and turn off your phone before you sleep. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, consider buying a clock you can put on your nightstand. Even better: turn it around. The light from your phone and clock won’t get in your face and interrupt your sleep. It might sound strange, but it will hugely improve your quality of sleep and make you more productive during the day.

When you alarm goes off, get up and shower, make breakfast, exercise, or make your bed before you check your phone. Practice self-care first thing instead of checking to see if you have any more likes on last night’s Instagram picture of your new perfume.

2) Stop checking

Ping.

Ping.

Ping.

Stop checking your phone every single time you get a notification or a buzz. Even better, turn alerts off.

3) Make your priority list

Ashton Kutcher recommended making a list of what you want to do for the day before you check your emails. That way, you can prioritise your time before you make time for other work and other people, which is essentially what you do when checking emails. You are accounting for the work other people ask you to do.

4) Protect your time

After you’ve made your list for the day, block off specific time to deal with emails. Check once in the morning, once after lunch, and once before leaving for the day. Once you’ve spent twenty to thirty minutes on emails, put your phone on airplane mode and get back to work. Turn off the notifications in Outlook that pop up every time a message comes through.

5) Discern between important and urgent

We all have that colleague (or four) who wants everything done as soon as possible, who expects immediate action as soon as they hit send. When you receive a message, consider its urgency and factor it into what else is on your list for the day (and week). Not every email need be answered right away, no matter how often Layla in communications emails you. Preparing for an author meeting or working on this week’s social media plan to market a crime novel is more important than answering Layla’s sixth email of the day.

6) Have your weekend

We live in a world where we are continuously and instantaneously connected. We expect everything right now. If we get a work email at nine in the evening and we’re Skyping with a friend, we can feel the need to stop Skyping and prioritise the email.

I’m pretty certain that Layla in communications can wait until ten or eleven tomorrow morning for you to answer the email.

Take the evening off. Enjoy your Sunday brunch. The world won’t come to an end if you don’t answer a message right away.

Norah Myers is a freelance publishing consultant for BookMachine.

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