How is it you spend all day working, but often don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything? Emails! Your inbox is the electronic vampire coming to suck the life out of your energy, creativity and productivity.
According to a 2012 McKinsey study, the average worker now spends more than 60% of their working week emailing or searching the internet, with 30% of that dedicated to reading and answering email alone. For most of us, we can’t start the actual work until the emails are done and clear, that is the green light for us to get on with ‘the real work’
But short of throwing our laptops out the window, what’s to be done? University professor Cal Newport writes that it is about prioritising ‘deep work’. Cal explains that ,'”Deep work” is using your skills to create something of value. It takes thought, energy, time and concentration. “Shallow work” is all the little administrative and logistical stuff: email, meetings, calls, expense reports, etc.’
In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal explains, ‘Deep work is to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, and shallow work describes activities that are more logistical in nature, that don’t require intense concentration. We just think of work as being any activity that plausibly produces benefit. Once you realize there are different types of work and some types have way bigger returns than others, it completely changes the picture.’
Shallow work stops you getting fired, but deep work is what gets you promoted.
So what is to be done? Clare Burge, CEO of This is Productivity, explains that the answer to controlling emails is to move to a task-based work.
Claire, who went a whole year without her emails and then applied the same system to her office, explained that, ‘We need to start protecting our brains as multitasking on so many things at once is damaging them. We need to focus and start working through tasks.’
She explained, ‘As an office, inboxes create a closed environment. People were spending 80% of their day clearing the rubbish and trying to make room, instead of focusing on the 20% constructive work. By focusing on that 20% instead, everyone claimed back three hours, per person, per day and we increased our productivity and intelligent communication.’
Of course it is unlikely that most workplaces will agree to banning email entirely. So instead, set times when you answer your emails and deal with the admin tasks, instead of it intruding throughout the day.
This is a sentiment echoed by Cal who recommends you group your ‘shallow work’ together and start doing it in batches, and then allow time for deep, concentrated working: ‘Start time blocking. Actually start scheduling out your day. “What am I doing during this hour? What am I doing that hour?” Get in the habit of actually making a plan for your day and a plan for your weeks. If you’re actually making a plan for your time, you’re going to be much more likely to be able to proactively put aside time for deep work.’
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