Depending on how you use it, email communication can be a way to interact effectively with people and make your work more efficient, or a major source for decreased productivity, stress and an early ulcer. Unfortunately, for many, it’s the latter.
As a communication coach, I am often asked be people looking to improve their business communication skills: “How many times should I check my work email each day?” Then they look at me with astonishment as I reply that twice every day is usually the optimum in my perspective.
The optimum email checking. First of all, I want to detail this answer:
- If you have a job which requires a lot of email communication, but also a lot of other activities, checking your email twice each day is optimal.
- If you have one of those jobs which require just a little email communication, once every day is enough.
- If you have a job in which all/ the vast majority of your activity is reading and answering emails, checking your email 4-5 times every day may be optimal.
Most white collar workers are in this first category and checking their email twice every day is enough for them. Based on what their job is, very few workers actually need to check it 4-5 times every day.
Productivity down the drain. Despite of this, a lot of people tend to check their email constantly throughout the work day. They either open their Inbox every 30-60 minutes, or they open it every time they get a new email alert on their computer screen.
I cannot emphasize enough how unproductive this is. Checking your email this often means that you constantly interrupt various tasks. You defocus and refocus many times throughout the day, which is very hard and mentally exhausting. Then you get home and start complaining: “Man, my work is stressful! That company is working me like a mule!”
Email terrorism. Many people say they check their email so often because they are expected to give fast answers to the emails they receive. There is pressure on them from internal and external clients for expedient email communication.
But you see, that’s the problem! Email communication, through its nature, is not a fast communication method. Email is text-based, asynchronous, preplanned communication, and it’s supposed to take some time. The vast majority of expectations for fast email communication are unreasonable and the best thing you can do is to not put up with them.
Sure, you might think something terrible will happen if you do this. Trust me: I have seen plenty of people do it and they didn’t get fired, nothing really bad happened, while their skills to get things done and their productivity increased visibly.
My job involves a lot of email communication. But it also involves coaching, meetings, and writing articles on people skills, tasks which would constantly get interrupted if I would check my email 4-5 times every day. I used to do that at one point. Now, I only check it twice: once in the first part of the day, once in the second. And it’s great!
The phone alternative. If some people expect rapid reactions from you, guess what? That’s what phone communication is for. They can call you on the phone when they need a fast answer from you.
Make sure the people you interact with in your professional life understand your email and phone policies, that you only check your email twice every day, that you use your phone for emergencies, and you will see both some effective work and effective communication happening.