Thursday, December 4, 2008

Productivity Tip Trip Report: Close Your Email

I've been field testing some methods to improve my personal productivity. The first method I tried is closing my formerly ubiquitous gmail window. Those readers who know me know that they could expect to get a response from me in email within a minute. To say that I obsessively checked my email is understating a borderline compulsive disorder.

I don't keep the window open anymore. Instead, I check my gmail a few times a day at the office. In the morning before work, around lunch time, and before I leave the office. At home, I sporadically check my email.

I further enabled my compulsion by carrying an iPhone. It's wonderful how easily I could check my mail wherever I am. While I'm working, I keep the iPhone stowed.

The results: big boost in productivity and more focus on whatever I'm doing. The gmail siren isn't calling me away from the task at hand. The signal to noise ratio I get for emails is about 1:4, for every one email I get that is meaningful I get four meaningless emails that immediately get deleted. Of those signal emails, almost none of them require my immediate attention, nor do they lose any significant value if I take a few hours to read them in bunches.

Another side effect of not having the window open is my friends and I don't chat. I enjoy chatting with them, but keeping a few conversations going takes a lot of attention.

The last benefit of keeping the personal email client closed is removing a source of context switching. Context switching is expensive. By controlling and planning my contact with my email I don't run the risk of losing my train of thought or deviating from my tasks at work.

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