Emails: Why Less (Email) is More (Productive)

Emails: Why Less (Email) is More (Productive)

Barack ObamaWhy doesn’t US President Barack Obama choose his breakfast? It’s one less decision he has to make.


As the head of one of the world’s most important economies and the world’s biggest airforce, military and navy, his decisions affect the lives of millions of people. It’s crucial that he makes the right choices.


“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make,” Obama told Vanity Fair.


Pretend for a minute that you are the president of the United States. Now open your inbox. How many emails in there are essential to running your business?


When you glance at your inbox your mind has to process the subject line of every email and decide whether to open, ignore, delete, archive or flag it. All those tiny decisions take their toll on your total attention span.


The quality of our decisions in business (and life) is related to the health of our attention span. A series of experiments carried out in the late 1990s showed that conscious actions drew from our mental energy and gradually diminished our ability to make smart decisions throughout a day, writes Robert Pozen, a productivity expert and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.

These experiments have been repeated to discover the relationship between mental resources and decision making. A new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, “summarizes some fascinating experiments that show that a tired brain makes us more likely to eat junk food, lie, or otherwise exhibit poor self-control,” writes Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.

Another great example of using routine to reduce decisions. Choreographer Twyla Tharp drinks the same coffee and eats the same bun, wears the same leotards and walks to the same street corner to catch a cab every morning for work.

“By the time she gets to the studio she has made no significant decisions. Stepping out onto the dance floor, her dancers await. It’s eight in the morning and her first decision is yet to come. It will be a creative one,” writes blogger Chris Guillebeau on the Art of Non-Conformity blog.

So how can we apply this knowledge to managing your inbox? Protect your mental resources by thinking of ways to reduce the volume of emails entering your inbox each day.

The first and easiest step is to be ruthless about signing up to email newsletters. Don’t give your email address away unless it’s something that will be of value to your business. When you tire of a newsletter then unsubscribe immediately. Don’t want to miss out? Add a note to your calendar in six months to check whether you want to re-subscribe.

Filter newsletters to a folder that you can check in your downtime or research time so that you aren’t tempted to read a couple of articles during prime working hours.

I sign up to newsletters using a personal email address for any topics that aren’t strictly work-related. This includes all online stores, political groups and family email rings. Keep your work email address for work only.

Next week I’ll look at more radical steps for reducing your inward email count. Not only will this reduce the number of micro-decisions each day, it will help the really important emails to stand out so you don’t miss them.

This article was posted by Sholto Macpherson at Box Free IT.

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