Make Yourself More Productive By Adopting 'Email Fridays'

Do you remember "No email Fridays"? The idea that for just a day, we could stop checking, pick up the phone to each other, reduce unnecessary communication and, er, get some real work done? Well, my January is going to be a no-email month. Friday will be my only email day. The only times in January when I will deal with, check, view, reply or write emails will be Fridays.

Image by Ilin Sergey (Shutterstock).

"So, four days away from my email inbox?" you say. Well, actually it's six. Let's be honest, so many of us these days have such easy access to our emails via phones and iPads that email gets our attention even when family, self and relaxation should be our only focus.

What's My Hypothesis?

1. Email is distracting: Sure, there are many constructive uses of email and email itself is a fantastic productivity tool. But when we need something easier to do than the difficult and important stuff we're supposed to be doing, email is our evil accomplice in sabotaging our productivity.

2. Most emails don't matter: Running our email workshops, I see A LOT of inboxes and I see patterns in email traffic and behaviours. When it comes to email, the old adage of 80-20 (where 80 per cent of your impact comes from 20 per cent of your activity) is positively generous. Usually, 20 emails out of 800 are the ones that matter.

3. Batching is magical: Batching similar tasks together is a great way to save time and attention. There is mental setup time invested to get us to the line with every task. Re-opening or re-focusing on the email inbox and glancing over what's outstanding and what's new is an investment. It's why when I find myself making a payment on online banking, I'm going through my lists and memory to make sure there's nothing else I need to do while I'm here. It's why when we go to the shops, we really don't want to forget something. So eliminating setup time by batching really helps. I've experienced this myself in recent years with email. In fact, for the last year or so, I've tried to make it a habit to only dive into the inbox after lunch. Do I still "have enough time" to keep my inbox at zero? Of course I do!

4. Parkinson's law: This brings me nicely to Parkinson's Law, which says that "work expands to fill the time available". If I set aside only Fridays for email, I want to know if I can still conquer the inbox rather than spreading emails piecemeal throughout seven days.

5. Creating space is the first step to creating balance and creating things: And finally, the trickiest, toughest and scariest part of the hypothesis for me. By creating space in my working life through the removal of email on four working days out of five, my hypothesis is that I will fill this space with two things:

More balance, harmony, presence and perspective. More quality, chunky pieces of work getting done.

A productivity ninja aims to work in a state of Zen-like calm: relaxed, focused, and in the moment. Email and other communication tools are a constant distraction to this.

But email is also, if we're honest, often a great ‘crutch' that holds us in a position of safety, helping us ‘feel' productive but removing the need for us to commit to starting or finishing important things because, well, "emails take so much time and I'm so busy with it". So let's see over the next month if I do actually make progress with four or five really chunky bits of work that I've been dragging my feet with. I'll keep you updated on my blog through the month.

Fears And Downsides

This month is basically a giant period of what I described in my book as stealth and camouflage. As with any such period (long or short), the main worry is how it affects…

a) [my colleagues'] sanity b) the communication flow that helps make things happen

So how will I overcome this? Well, the team will continue to have access to me through our ‘daily huddle' meeting and despite not having access to my inbox, I will still be spending time in the office. I will try to engage in some regular conversations with the team about how this month's experiment is going, encourage their honesty, and report it back to you.

And I guess the ultimate fear would be that, having preached the gospel of "Getting Your Inbox to Zero" for nearly four years now, if I found that either I was unable to get back to zero after a day, or that life didn't really get any better in the other six days, then I'll need to start writing new workshops. But then I know that this stuff really works.

So wish me luck. I'm off to delete apps from my phone, remove my Outlook account from my home screen, and generally begin "operation email removal".

Extreme Productivity Month 1: Email Fridays [Think Productive]

Graham Allcott is the founder of Think Productive and author of How to be a Productivity Ninja. He specialises in personal organisational systems, strategies to deal with information overload, and action management. Follow him on Twitter @grahamallcott.


Comments

    Interesting idea with one problem. What you're doing is batching and that's fine. To optimise throughput you need to make batches smaller, not larger. Doing email in batches reduces switching but only doing one huge batch on Friday means that you create a bottleneck for no benefit. Task switching is expensive, do less. Bottlenecks are even more expensive, remove them where possible. Much of this is covered under the philosophy of Lean.

    Tim Ferris outlined a strategy which would accommodate this plan in '4 hour work week.' It has to do with using auto-replies which 'educate' the email sender about your strategy, with justification for why, and how to get in touch if the matter is really urgent/need attention prior to your scheduled checking. The email responder reads something like, "Thanks for your email. As part of a productivity strategy, I am checking emails on Fridays, and at no other times. This strategy allows me to spend my work time completing important tasks and activities, and also saves a significant amount of time. If your email is urgent, please call me directly on 02 xxxx xxxx. Otherwise, I will action and respond to your email on Friday. Many thanks, ."

    Tim goes on to explain that he domes something similar with his phone, he almost never answers it, it goes to voicemail, "Thanks for your call - please leave a message, I will call you back at 10am or 2pm today, whichever is soonest. If and only if the matter is extremely important, please call my mobile phone, 04xx xxx xxx"

    This doubling up on deflection seems cheeky, but he swears by it, and goes on to explain that his email and phone time are dramatically reduced, and that people in his professional sphere learned quickly to bring only urgent and/or necessary matters to him.

    Pretty cool - but...

    Breaking with standard practice in your work life on a topic (communication and responsiveness) which speaks to 'professionalism' is risky. You better have a damn good reason for it, and be able to quantify the results, or at least improve the state of affairs in your job by doing this.

    You will also have to (I believe) make exceptions to this rule - ie, spouse, boss, VIPs, etc. Personally, I think it looks good enough to attempt, as long as I'm not the one attempting it.

    Great idea... oh no! its not!
    If I only answered my emails on Friday, I'd be fired by Wednesday!

    I am sure that this would work for the average home user, but anyone in business?

    Nuts!

    I think this would work for someone higher up in management, perhaps, but as an office manager, I am expected to deal with everyone's problems right away. If I don't, I'm not doing my job, and I'm no longer required.

    I like the sentiment but I agree with Onno. I have worked hard to reduce the volume of my email - I'm down to around 20-25 a day on average. Those emails are often from clients who need me to get in touch. As a consultant making them wait for up to 4 days would soon see me unemployed for missing out of consulting opportunities.

    Doing emails once a DAY (not once a week) does make a lot of sense from an efficiency standpoint.

    I started a contract at a blue chip company and in the second week reached the mail box size limits. The volume of emails were insane.
    I adopted a similar strategy by having an "out-of-office" reply with a message stating that any emails where I'm "CC"-d in or where there are more than 2 other recipients in the "To" box, it will be marked as junk and not responded too. Needless to say 24 hours later I was on the red carpet. I was asked to remove my auto reply, but I made it very clear that removing my reply is not going to alter my message & response as stated. I told the manager the current state of email abuse is not productive and a violation of responsible use of company tools. An email to one person resulting in 21 people being cc'd within 48 hours is abuse, fair and square.
    Had 500+ emails in my junk folder in a month with not a single one warranting me to respond or negatively impacted on the work I had to do.

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