Death by e-mail: Just say ‘no’

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Editor's note: The following item appeared in the Sept. 28 edition of Dairy Exec, a monthly e-newsletter published by Dairy Herd Management.

In Fast Company magazine, Kevin Purdy writes that while checking in with the never-ending to-do list we call an inbox may be the first thing many of us start our mornings with, that’s not a good idea.

Purdy interviewed leading executives for his article, including Craig Newmark of Craigslist and David Karp of Tumblr, and all of the CEOs shared a hard-and-fast rule: No e-mail for the first hour of the day.

Instead, they try to focus on something getting one meaningful thing completed before the rest of the day’s tasks come calling. This way, Purdy writes, they leave the office each day feeling accomplished rather than hen-pecked. Granted, they need to train their staff to expect a less-than-instantaneous response to e-mails and to call if something is urgent, but it’s worth it when it means getting time to really drill down into big-picture work.

Jeff Doubek, a work efficiency expert who blogs for lifehack.org, encourages execs to limit their e-mail exposure even further.

“Popping in and out of your inbox creates a ‘start-stop-start’ pattern of work activity,” Doubek says. “Your wasted time quickly adds up when you consider the time it takes to refocus after each stop. A dozen e-mail trips each day can cost you one completed product each week.”

Instead, Doubek recommends scheduling three specific time slots for e-mail checking: mid-morning, after lunch and mid-afternoon.

“For that matter, the same goes for your voicemail, text messages and other smartphone-related activities,” he adds. “Reduce these harmful interruptions by sticking to a set schedule.”

In fact, e-mails are becoming a real problem for many workers, experts say.

“What started out as a promising productivity tool over 20 years ago has grown wildly out of control and now bobs on the tides of abuse that are so prevalent in our world today,” says Tom Barnett, who covers the intersection of technology and efficiency for Macworld.com and other sites. “A once-great time-saver now threatens to choke off and suffocate the very people it was supposed to help liberate. This is especially true in the corporate environment, where e-mail is like that boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, steadily gaining on Indiana Jones as he runs through a tunnel with no escape.”

Checking e-mail has become a career all its own, he argues.

“E-mail is a type of shelter for directionless corporate employees who want to avoid performing any real work,” Barnett says. “Tending an e-mail box and waiting to pounce on each new message has become the quintessential skill in corporate life that does not yet have its certification. Maybe Professional E-mail Processor?”

We’re pretty sure there’s no place for a professional e-mail processor on a dairy farm. Just say no to checking your e-mail excessively.



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