How I’ve saved an hour of every (work) day

Hi. I’m Dave. I work in account management. And I’m an addict. For as long as I can remember working with clients, I have developed an unhealthy habit.

My addiction is…

… saying it out loud is always the hardest part…

Checking emails.

There. It’s out. 

I check my emails all the time. It started at my desk, on my work computer, during work hours, but at some point - I can’t remember when - it took over all parts of my life. At work, at home, on my way to work, on my way home from work, on my phone on my way from level at 3 at work where I had a meeting to level 1 where I was going to my computer that had my emails on it.

I never actually realised I was an addict until I was too late. I told myself ‘it’s normal’ and ‘it’s part of the job’, and ‘how else do I stay on top of things?’. That’s right, I was in stage 1. Denial.

Then one day, about 2 weeks ago, I had a revelation.

I was going through an intense phase at work where I had a higher workload than usual. I noticed that although I had a plan at the start of each day, I would very rarely get through my planned list. I couldn’t figure out why.

It hit me. 

Email.

I would spend my entire day with the email screen open and notifications turned on. I would be working on an urgent task, but then I’d get instantaneously sidetracked.

The problem was that when email was on, I wouldn’t determine what I’d get done that day. 

Others would.

So I toyed with a crazy idea. 

What if I turned my email notifications off, and only ever opened my email at the following times:

9:00am.

1:00pm.

5:00pm..?

I gave myself one week to commit to the experiment, and there were four problems I faced immediately:

  1. My clients freaked out. I wasn’t responding to their requests as quickly as I once had, and they worried I was not actioning their requests as urgently as I should have. 
  2. My (internal) producers freaked out. They wouldn’t get constant updates on where projects were at.
  3. I got a sever case of FOMO. I knew things were happening on my projects that I wasn’t witnessing in real time, because there was as much as a 3.5 hour lag from my side.
  4. I didn’t get to procrastinate on the tasks I was subconsciously avoiding. Because I would actually work through my to do list without distraction, the important / not urgent tasks I didn’t actually want to do would have to get done to best use my time.

I didn’t like the feeling of any of the above at all, and I was only half a day in. I considered…

… sorry it’s hard to say…

…I actually considered relapsing.

That was tough.

But I didn’t, and within another few days I had made some observations about account service life in an ad agency.

Observation #1: When a client writes in an email ‘this is urgent’ with no follow up. It’s usually not urgent. If a client calls your desk phone leaving a voicemail because you haven’t responded to their email within an hour, it might be urgent, but also maybe not. When a client writes an urgent email, follows up with a desk phone call, and follows up 2-6 times immediately on your mobile saying something’s urgent, then yes this is probably urgent.

Observation #2: If you tell internal departments that you’re not on emails, they still email you. If you don’t reply within 3.5 hours and they rely on you for information they will either call you or come find you. Same goes the other way around. If you need to inform someone of an urgent change or brief, you’re far more likely to get the immediate action by finding them in human form rather than sending an email and hoping it will get read.

Observation #3: When you spend your day cracking on with tasks that need to be done - rather than reacting to emails - you produce work that is more considered, more intelligent, less rushed, and that you’re prouder of. 

These were three observations I was able to make from just a few days on my new email schedule.

Now, two weeks in, I’ve noticed two things that I honestly never expected.

First thing: When I’m not dragged into urgent emergencies immediately, I react to them faster and smarter. It’s amazing how knowing that I’m a few hours behind a crisis makes a difference to the approach of a situation. I know I’m always too late offer an immediate solve. So instead, I stop, consider, create a plan, then execute with a clearer mindset.

Second thing: I’ve created less work for myself. If I answer an email immediately with a question, that leads to another questions, that leads to a discussion, that can create a day of work in itself. Whereas if I don’t react for half a day, that person who sent the email (and didn’t require an immediate phone call to follow up) may be half a day through solving the problem already, and I can come in to the picture to help them once I have the time and headspace.

Thanks for bearing with me through this. This has been great therapy, and I feel my addiction may be close to over.

You may agree with this way of working, you may hate it. But as a final thought to leave you on (potential current addict), ask yourself how many times you’ve been asked in a job interview “how many emails are you able to respond to in a day?”. 

If you’re not getting hired for that skill, then why would it be something you’re working so hard for?