Confessions of an Email Hoarder

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… Or, How I Learned to Optimize Time and Increase ProductivityI have a confession to make*… though I guess the headline has already spoiled that surprise. Yes, I keep too many emails in my inbox. Sure, they can be organized into different folders, but really, the vast majority of what is sitting there has no business being anywhere but the trash folder.

I am a record collector. So on the surface, I would seem to have the perfect predisposition towards being a hoarder. Fortunately, I don’t have a problem trimming my collection when space limitations require it to be shrunk (though a little of me dies each time).All kidding aside, my email hoarding has been an issue for a long time. I finally came to the realization that while Gmail has virtually no limitations on my inbox, my ability to mentally function at the highest level can be limited by all that email clutter.

The first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem… quickly followed by taking some sort of measurable step in the right direction. So, I’ve been gradually trimming the number of emails in my inbox.

While I may not be a hoarder, I do seem to be genetically inclined towards easy distraction. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone from typing away at a piece of content that I’m working on for a client to reading about some random-but-interesting blog or news piece.I don’t get too hard on myself, because I realize that it’s a sign of a curious mind, something that is imperative to the kind of work I do. But it has to be harnessed.

Webfor is a growing digital marketing agency, and that’s great news! It means we’re doing something right. But it also means that I always have to be looking for ways to be more efficient with my time.

These are some of the things I’m trying to implement in my daily routine. Maybe you can apply them to improve your work efficiency as well:Don’t Be a Slave to EmailAs I’ve stated in my opening, I’m trying to control a hoard of emails backed up in my inbox. But even if you have your inbox “zeroed out,” you are likely losing productivity if you have it open all day. Schedule your email time. Twice a day should be plenty, just provide alternative ways people can reach you in case there is something urgent.Same Goes for Social MediaIf social media is part of your work, schedule that as well. If it’s something you just use in your personal time, still schedule it to avoid sinking into a constant distraction from your social media feeds.Why So Many Browsers? For me, seeing 10+ browser tabs at the top of my screen is just a normal day. Maybe some people can function well in this environment, but for me, it’s an invitation to distraction. The number of browsers you keep open at any given time depends on how easily you can be distracted and the type of task you are doing.

In my case, much of my daily work is writing. Getting that work done takes focus and being in the right state of mind. Sometimes it takes me a little time to get in the groove. If I’m distracted or have to take time for something else, it’s like starting all over again.

Metaphorically speaking, getting back on track with writing is not like running on a treadmill, picking up your feet while it’s still at full speed, then putting your feet back on the track and you’re back running again at the same speed. I have to get the mental motor running again… and it usually takes a little time.

I say all this to emphasize the importance of eliminating distractions in order to get your done. In my case, just a few brief distractions can produce an inordinate amount of unproductive time, due to the need to bury my head in the task at hand.

When I’m writing, I really should try to have two to three browser tabs up (in the best case scenario): one for the Google Doc I’m writing in, the other(s) for my research source material. That’s not always possible for reasons I don’t want to bore you with, but just do your best to have as few tabs open as possible.Get Up and Get Out!If you are super busy, it’s easy to feel compelled to stay on task throughout the day without a break (other than to eat). The problem is, our brains weren’t designed to function that way. What if you could be more productive in less time… doesn’t that sound appealing? Work smarter, not harder, as they say.

According to ADD expert Edward Hallowell, people spend 20 minutes out of every hour dealing with unplanned distractions. He primarily blames that on technology.

Hallowell coined the phrase “attention deficit trait” for the increased number of people who believe they have signs of ADD, but are simply a casualty of their technology-driven lifestyle. He also came up with the phrase “screen sucking,” which likens much of our Internet use to a baby with their pacifier. How’s that for a visual?Dr. James A. Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk, has been a leading voice on the long-term health dangers of a sedentary office environment. He claims that our minds are only meant to focus for 15 minutes at a time, then they begin to wonder.

While you likely can’t take breaks every 15 minutes, maybe you can get up and walk around the office once an hour. Or, take a couple really short breaks each hour by moving around, going for a cup of water, or a breath of fresh air.

Conversely, you don’t want to be tempted to use these findings as an excuse to procrastinate or slack off. If you are being productive for a fairly long stretch, don’t feel compelled to break your momentum. Keep going until you feel productivity waning, then get up.

One of the biggest challenges we face these days is how to harness the power of technology. It can make our lives better in many ways, but only if we know how to properly manage how we use it.

* I seem to like leading my blogs with a confession.

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