Are you a slave to your email?

With email synced to smart phones it now ensures we’ve always got one eye on the office, and for many people checking emails will be the last thing they do before they go to sleep and the first thing they look at in the morning. This constant reminder of work and pressure to keep an eye on often pointless emails is not good for our health, well-being or productivity.

Costly distraction
Battling the overflowing inbox can be a major distraction from getting stuck into important jobs that require full concentration. Research conducted by University of Loughborough in 2011 showed that it takes an average of 64 seconds for an individual to recover their thoughts after being distracted by an email. Add these little distractions up over the course of a day and you may find you’re spending very little time doing ‘actual’ work. In fact, the research estimated that email, a resource that is widely regarded as “free,” actually costs companies between £5,000 and £10,000 per employee per year in reduced productivity.

How to cut down on emails:

Be disciplined: Set aside specific times to check emails. Most of them are not urgent and if they are, the sender should really think about picking up the phone (see below!) Make sure important ones go into client folders so you can address these straight away and then go through the random stuff another time. Look in the morning, at lunchtime and then mid-afternoon, for example. Don’t be tempted to drop what you’re doing every time an email comes through. Turn off alerts, such as sounds or pop-ups, so you’re not distracted.

Pick up the phone: How often to you receive five, six, seven emails all from the same person each day? Wouldn’t it be quicker to pick up the phone and go through everything in a short call?

Meet face to face: If you work in an office with other people, try not to email somebody sat just a few yards from you. Get up, go to their desk and talk to them, as above, you can cover everything you want to say in one go. Face to face interaction is much better for creativity, can spark ideas and build a more fun, friendly working culture, leading to a much better result than sending an email could ever achieve.

Real-time chat software: Using one of the many chat or video conference platforms is a great way to have a conversation with multiple people, even if they’re not in the room or even country. Rather than sending a load of group emails, which are often ignored by whoever is cc’d, a quick chat over the internet might achieve a faster and more productive result. Email simply wasn’t designed for real time conversations – just think how many times you have been waiting for a response from someone on email when they could have given you an instant “yes” or “no” via a quick chat message.

Considered emailing: Don’t just fire emails out every time a thought pops into your head, and try to encourage others to really think about who they are copying in to an email. Reflect; do I really need to send that email? If you do, think if there’s anything else you need to communicate with a particular recipient, save up all your questions and thoughts and send them all in one go. Then there’s just one email back to read.

Don’t base your day round emails: Many of us are guilty of organising and prioritising our day round our inbox, rather than longer-term planning based on actual business goals. This can result in ‘real’ jobs getting ignored. Your task list should be the priority, not the one created by people emailing you.

Join the cloud: By sharing files on a cloud, your workspace can be accessed anywhere and by anyone who you’ve chosen to share this information with. Work can then be updated and added to, limiting the need for the emailing of documents, allowing real collaboration and eliminating problems with “version control.”

Unlike email, cloud-based workspaces bring together people and projects to create conversations that actually drive the project forward, ensuring each team member has the information and resources that are relevant to them. Crucially, these flexible platforms empower people to choose, manage and control what’s important, putting each individual back in charge of their own working day.

Ultimately, email is old and a smart modern business needs to be moving away from over-reliance on this medium. For many forms of communication there is a better alternative, enabling companies of all sizes to compete globally. Being lean, agile, fast and responsive will give your business the competitive edge in its marketplace.

Bostjan Bregar is the co-founder and CEO of The 4th Office, a structured cloud workspace that enables teams to collaborate remotely. For further information or a free trial for your business go to

Image: Email via Shutterstock