Digital communications have made our society more productive than ever before, but ironically this same tool is responsible for the epidemic of distraction afflicting many offices today. Trapped in the knowledge that communication is key to teamwork, employees are often left drowning in a sea of emails leaving them slow to cope with more important tasks.
The danger of email, not unlike adult beverages, is that it has a drip-by-drip effect that can leave productivity hitting the rails after a few too many. Answering the morning inbox can easily eat up the first hour of work and even longer toward the lunch break. Thereafter there is the endless barrage of email notifications that can lead employees to leave their tasks to check emails upwards of 30-50 times in one hour.
The hidden damage lies in the reality that productivity for most workers requires actual focus on a specific task which they must settle into to reach their productive “cruising altitude”. Stopping to answer an email for even half a minute can break this flow and require another gradual shift back into their personal groove. The constant readjustment has a knock-on performance effect from individual team members to the team as a whole that can eventually cripple an office. What can be done to stop this?
The simple solution would be to remove email from the equation and allow workers to focus on their immediate tasks. But conquering the scourge of email cannot come from total abstinence. Email itself is not the real problem, it is the distracting and irrelevant email that causes the real damage.
Yet irrelevance is context specific: a given email can be vital for one group and useless for another. This problem is best solved by utilizing project management communication platforms like Trello and Slack. These work specific channels allow you to create specific topics for different groups and ensure that pertinent information goes only to relevant workers. Trello also allows you to assign due dates for specific tasks in a card system that underlines what exactly is priority and what isn’t.
But what of email itself? Although messages can be shifted to more relevant channels, there still will be emails that need replying. This does not mean however that replies need be immediate. To avoid distractions throughout the day, instruct your workers to limit their emailing to specific periods (time blocks), preferably no more than three times per day. This frees up the rest of the work day and keeps everyone on task at the same time while project management messaging keeps important internal communication flowing properly. In real problem inboxes, priority emails need to be identified for priority response while others can wait till the next reply period. Never forget that although email remains vital for both in and out of office communication, to keep projects running smoothly it is best kept in control and in moderation.