Have 5 minutes? Want to save yourself 15 to 45 minutes every day? Drowning in email? Follow these two simple tips and you will find yourself more productive and less overloaded in a matter of days.
Turn off email alerts
You may have heard this tip before, but you probably haven’t done it yet. You must to turn off those little pop-ups that Outlook is giving you every time a new message comes in! The reason is two-fold. First, every time you see one of those windows or hear the new email chime, you are adding to the perceived workload that you have due to emails piling up. Second, if you choose to click on the alert or switch to your email program and proceed to deal with the message, you have just lost several valuable minutes due to task-switching costs once you finish and get back to your primary task. Researchers have found that it takes anywhere from one to sixteen minutes to return to full productivity on the task you were working on before switching to email (Jackson, Dawson & Wilson, 2001; Iqbal & Horvitz, 2007). With some people checking email every time it comes in, they may never even reach peak productivity during the day. Follow the instructions below to turn off these productivity draining notifications. (See also Microsoft’s instructions.)
Steps to Turn Off Desktop and Other Outlook 2007 Alerts
- In Outlook, go to Tools on the menu bar and choose Options.
- Click the Email Options button near the top right of the window that appears.
- Click the Advanced Email Options button in the middle of the window that appears.
- Uncheck all of the options under When new items arrive in my Inbox.
- Click the OK button three times to return to Outlook.
Change the automatic Send/Receive schedule to be less frequent
Studies have shown that there is a huge performance gain when you segment the checking of email into scheduled blocks. Continuously checking email is what most people do, and it is unfortunately the most distracting and detrimental to your main productivity. Changing how frequently you go to and deal with email can make a huge difference.
The ideal number of email blocks appears to be four a day, according to research done by Gupta, Sharda, and Greve (2010). For example, the chart below (click to enlarge) shows how long it took users in a study to complete a primary task (“real” work) when checking their email 1, 2, 4, and 8 times a day, as well as continuously (C1-8 and C respectively). Those who checked email four times a day on specified schedules had the best trade-off between faster responses to colleagues and getting work done quickest.
I would highly suggest scheduling email blocks into your day, and ignoring new mail during the other times, as this data shows. If you want to try it, pick a number of times that would work for you, for example, the 4x/day optimum from the study. If you work a regular 8-5 job and keep your first hour productive by not checking email first thing when you get to work, that would mean receiving and processing email at 9 AM, 11, 1 PM, and 3. Set your Outlook’s Send/Receive schedule to follow a two hour block by following the directions below. (See also Microsoft’s instructions.) (Also note, these instructions don’t work the same if you are an Exchange user. Working on instructions for those, will update shortly.)
Steps to change the Send/Receive Schedule in Outlook 2007
- Go to Tools on the menu bar, and select Send/Receive, then Send/Receive Settings, then Define Send/Receive Groups…
- Change the number in the Schedule an automatic send/receive every number box to be 120 to check email four times a day (120 minutes = 2 hours).
- Click Close, and click the Send/Receive button at the next scheduled interval (9, 11, 1, or 3) to get Outlook on schedule.
With this set up, you will only receive new email four times a day, but you will still be able to work through and respond to email sent to you immediately. Hello productivity!
Obviously everyone will need to adapt the tips above to meet their work requirements. If you decide to check email four times a day, you may wish to let your colleagues know of your scheduled times so that they can be aware of your new patterns of productivity. Establishing this social contract is an extremely important part of overcoming email overload. Hope this works for you, and let everyone know of your experiences in the comments.
Gupta, A., Sharda, R., & Greve, R. a. (2010). You’ve got email! Does it really matter to process emails now or later? Information Systems Frontiers, 13(5), 637-653. doi:10.1007/s10796-010-9242-4
Iqbal, S. T., & Horvitz, E. (2007). Disruption and recovery of computing tasks: field study, analysis, and directions. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 677–686). ACM. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1240624.1240730
Jackson, T., Dawson, R., & Wilson, D. (2001). The Cost of Email Interruption. Journal of Systems and Information Technology, 5(1), 81. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1718383&show=abstract