Time Wasters: Stop with the Email

Since my technical partner Kenton accomplishes more in a day than anyone else I know–and since he likes to tell me how I can improve my productivity–I asked him to offer some of his best tips. This is the first in his series: Time Wasters.


TWasting-Timehe best way to be productive is to look at the simple areas where you waste time. By finding and removing these areas, you can add more time into your day for the tasks that actually matter.

One of the biggest timesucks in the modern office is email.

In the U.S., 32% of employees reported replying to most messages within 15 minutes of receiving them. More than 50% said they responded within 30 minutes. This is a case of false productivity.

When we work, our brains have two states: the nonlinear daydreaming side, and the task-oriented side. To be productive, we need to commit to one side or the other (depending on what the task at hand requires). When we move back and forth between those two, it leaves us unable to commit to one side or the other. We literally feel busy without actually producing anything.

And as this New York Times article points out, “An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.”

The best way to have a day and deal with email is to treat it like any other task. Set aside some time (and typically not first thing in the morning) to empty out your inbox. Have a strategy to clean out the digital drawer; file messages you need, and delete those you don’t. And lastly, quit stressing about instant responses. If someone needs something urgent, email is the worst way to get it.

Kenton Hansen

Technical Co-Founder Kenton makes digital things. He is a technologist and has had his part in a few startups including software, advertising, and client services. @KentonH