Is Email Robbing You of Time (and Money)?

Obsessively checking email may seem harmless. You may say even say it is beneficial in helping you “keep in touch” with clients and customers.  But is it really? Can excessive email-checking be making your artisan business unproductive?

Many experts say that if you are checking your email several times an hour, reading every message that pops into your inbox, responding instantly to every email message or text, or use email instead of phone, it could be that email is taking over your business life. And it could be silently robbing you of time – and money.

How to Avoid the E-Rabbit Hole

Tim Ferris, author of the book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” says that email is “…the greatest single interruption in the modern world.”  He recommends scaling down obsessive e-mail checking to once a day (he’s weaned himself off of email to the point of only having to check once a week).
Leo Babauta, creator of the blog, Zen Habits, and author and the free downloadable ebook, “Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction” http://focusmanifesto.s3.amazonaws.com/FocusFree.pdf  writes that the kind of distraction email provides actually hurts the creative process. 

“It’s fairly difficult to create when you’re reading a blog or forum or tweeting or sending an email or chatting. In fact, it’s almost impossible to do these things and create at the same time,” writes Babauta. Switching rapidly between creating and using email to communicate, he says, causes us to lose a little bit of our creative time and attention, every time we switch.  “As a result, our creative processes are slowed and hurt, just a little, each time we switch.”

So how do you avoid going down the email rabbit hole each day?  Here are some helpful tips from time management and organization experts:

Email: Joy or Avoidance?

A key to finding out why you are checking your media so much is to take an objective look at the categories of your emailing, texting and twittering, says Michael Ehling, a business coach and owner of Balance Coaching (www.balancecoaching.com).

“Categorize (media) activities into three buckets: ‘personal joy,’ ‘business joy,’ and ‘avoiding something,’” says Ehling. “When are you online or on-device for the pure joy of connecting with personal friends? When are you twittering for the pure joy of engaging your marketplace of (potential or actual) clients and partners? When are you online or on-device as a way to avoid thinking about or doing something uncomfortable … such as administration, organization, emailing the people you just met at the art and craft show?” Looking at your usage this way will give you insight into why you are always checking your email, text or Twitter messages. 

Layne Kertamus, owner of NegotiGator, www.negotigator.com, a business and empowerment services training company, suggests that business owners spend a week tracking the time they open their emails and when they close it. “You will be shocked,” he says, citing research that shows that the average worker gets 60 emails per day and spend one to two minutes per email. “Excessive email checking and texting is nothing more than avoiding real work,” agrees Kertamus.

Email: Junk Food

The problem with email is that it “feels” like you are working and getting things done. But email is mostly busy work, says Dave Kaiser, owner of Dark Matter Consulting http://darkmatterconsulting.com of Evanston, Ill.

“Email rarely results in new clients or in important business getting settled, and it
often takes you away from the real work that you need to do,” he says. In this respect, Kaiser equates email to junk food: “If you fill up on it, you won't be interested in what
really nourishes you and your business.”

One way to stop using email to avoid work is to use an old fashioned “to do” list of major tasks you need to accomplish for the day.  Once you are done, reward yourself with a dip into your email inbox. 

How to Tame Your Email

The first step to getting email under control is to arrange your work day with room for “communicating” times.  There are several ways to do this:

1.                  Work uninterrupted for 20-30 minutes at a time. This means no email, twitter, etc.  “Studies show that each time you stop what you are doing it takes you 10 minutes to refocus,” says Susan Sexton www.sextontrainingandcoaching.com, who has bee presenting time management workshops for over 20 years.  “People are losing hours a day just refocusing.”
2.                  Choose designated times for email.  A good rule of thumb is to limit email checking to twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon – and stick with those times unless there is an emergency. Don’t check email first thing in the morning – wait until you have your “to do” list set first.
3.                  Turn off email alerts.  The “dings” are distracting and takes you away from the task at hand. Also change the settings on your social networking sites that automatically alert you to a new post.
4.                  Realize your inbox is not a filing cabinet. “Emails should not remain in your inbox,” says Christine Giri, a consultant and speaker with Time Tamer Consulting www.timetamerconsulting.com. “If you leave them there each time you open your email you are rereading them and thinking about them. Time and focus are wasted.” Don’t save emails to “read later.” It just won’t happen.
5.                  Schedule a “no email day.”  This works particularly well on the weekend.  Getting away from email for just one day may be enough to break you of the habit.

Lastly, use that nifty email technology to kick yourself of the email habit. If you are working on something important, set an auto reply to let people know you’ll get back to them at the end of the day.

Remember each time you jump to answer an email, you are actually “training” your customers and clients to expect an instantaneous reply.  You can change that.  

“If a lab rat gets a treat when he pushes the lever ... he pushes it again! And we are just as easily trained,” says Jodi Turner Hume a business and life coach. www.inTheBusinessofLife.com.  “So if you want to avoid email overload send less email,” she says.

Article Author:  Marcia Passos Duffy
MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (www.backporchpublishing.com) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire. Marcia’s articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.