Glenn Ross, one of my colleagues here at AllBusiness.com, left a comment on my column from yesterday that has got me thinking. I responded to the comment at the time, but I want to explore it further. In response to my discussion of getting through your e-mail in the morning, he asked a question: Should e-mail be “on” all day long, or should a productive person only access it 3 or 4 times a day?
That’s a question I get often when I talk to people about e-mail. My answer is always the same — I don´t know, you tell me. It sounds like a bit of a clueless cop-out, but there is method to the madness of the answer. You can read in lots of places where people tell you that you should keep your e-mail closed and only check it once or twice a day to be more productive. Though I don´t doubt for a second that that would be the optimum solution for productivity, we aren´t all robots, so it might not work for all of us.
I´ll use myself as an example. I have tried on different occasions to only check my e-mail once in the morning, or at the beginning and the end of the day. It quite nearly drove me insane. No matter how hard I tried I couldn´t get my mind past being aware that the e-mail was just sitting there unopened. It served as a distraction to me and, ultimately, made me less productive. Here´s where I differ from some, then. Instead of trying to make my behaviour fit into the "most productive´ model, I tried to understand how I tick, and I adapted my routines to work best with my own quirks.
With that in mind, I keep my e-mail box open all day, and I keep the alerts turned on so that the little message pops up on my screen whenever a message comes in. Once a message comes in I finish the task or thought that I am working on and head to Outlook. Where I have made productivity gains is by training myself to quickly read the message and either deal with it if it won´t take long, or file it away to get at it later.
That works for me, but it may not work for you. That´s great. The point, I believe, isn´t for everyone to do the "perfectly productive activities´. It´s to spend the time and effort it takes to understand how you work best, and to work to create situations that allow you to do that. It´s a constantly evolving process.