What’s keeping you from getting more done?
If you’re anything like me, there are a lot of ways you could answer that question. But I’ve put my finger on one huge offender. I’ve been watching my email inbox too much.
Over the years, a great many wise and successful people have given me the same advice. Batch your tasks, manage your time, understanding how you’re using your time, and cut out all unnecessary distractions. These tips aren’t just the key to getting more done. They’re the secret to producing higher quality work. Years ago, being a “good multitasker” was considered a key asset and a skill that could help you excel in a busy work environment. I still see that requirement in job postings from time to time, and when I do, I shake my head slowly from side to side and feel pity for anyone who is excited about applying for that position.
Fast forward to the present and the magic of doing one thing at a time is not exactly a new concept. All the same, many writers have told me the biggest threat to their productivity is distractions. For some, it’s social media habits getting in the way of productivity. They resort to quitting Facebook groups and deleting social apps from their phone in an effort to focus more on the tasks at hand. If that’s your issue and those approaches resolve it, good for you. But there’s another culprit stealing our time. Ding! You’ve got mail.
Like most busy writers, I’m accustomed to having approximately 2,675 browser tabs open at the same time. There’s my Google Drive, and whatever document I’m working in, a Slack channel or two, and countless tabs for research on the article I’m writing, as well as tabs for a couple of companies I’d like to write for in the near future. I’m already doing more multitasking than I should be but I can easily ignore most of those other tabs while I focus on the task at hand. But if one of those tabs is my email account? I’m dead in the water.
Tim Ferriss recommends checking your email once a week. I’d love to live in his world where that’s possible but the nature of my work requires my actual hands on deck more days than not. But I did take heed of his intent and implemented one change that helped me focus my business, become more productive, and create higher quality deliverables for my clients. When I’m not actively reading or writing emails, I close that browser tab and put email out of my mind entirely.
Here are 4 reasons you should close your email tab right now:
1. Your email tab is pure distraction. I’m a Gmail user so that Inbox tab also shows me the number of unread messages currently awaiting my attention. It’s easy to see at a glance when a new message (or three) comes in, as I watch the counter tick upward and the curiosity embedded in human nature motivates me to go check out the new messages.
2. New messages create unnecessary stress. Even when I’m not waiting on an urgent response from someone, seeing the number of messages increase can make something else increase: my blood pressure. Unread messages create the illusion of demand, even if they don’t need to be read or responded to right now or ever. Like many freelancers, my incoming messages are a mix of client communication, updates on accounts and tech tools, newsletters, and e-commerce campaigns. The vast majority of my incoming emails don’t require an immediate response but when all you see is that count growing, you don’t have enough information to know which is which.
3. You should commit to batching tasks. When I became a parent, and then a single parent, and then a single parent working while my child was at home several full days a week, I had to get better at time management. I’ve come up with a lot of strategies to get more out of my work days but batching tasks is perhaps the habit with the biggest ROI. While I don’t have set times that I check my email, I find that it’s far more effective to do a deep dive into my new messages a few times a day than to try to keep one eye on my inbox at all times.
4. This habit is easy to create. Is your email open right now in another browser tab? Close it. Right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I know you’re not ‘doing email’ right now, because you’re reading this article—hopefully with your full attention. So, save yourself, and create a new habit by closing your email tab when you’re not actively working in your inbox. Those messages will still be there when you’re finished with the task at hand. I promise.
If you’re interested in more insights on how I manage my email as a freelance writer, check out this recent interview on The Gmail Genius.
Have you tried closing all unnecessary tabs to keep yourself focused? What have you found works for you?