But e-mail interruptions don’t necessarily have a negative effect, say psychologists. When we receive work-related e-mail messages, they can stimulate the creative center of our brain and make us better at problem solving.
At some point, though, those interruptions no longer make us more productive. So how do you keep e-mail working for you, not against you? Here are some pointers:
Limit the number of times you check your e-mail during the day, say most productivity experts. On the other hand, the stress of not knowing what’s in your inbox may be worse than the interruption.
Try this instead: Trim back the number of times you check e-mail, and limit yourself to, say, 10 minutes each time.
Scan for messages you can answer in two minutes or less, and do those right away. Then remove them from your inbox. You don’t want to read the same message multiple times before you finally process it. Unanswered e-mail tends to weigh on our minds and distracts us.
Turn on the preview function, so you can read the first line or two of a message before opening it. Immediately delete what you don’t need, including chain letters, jokes and departmental updates sent to a long distribution list.
Prioritize messages by using flags (i.e., red for high priority), an option available in and many other e-mail systems. Then sort the flags by color.
Track down old messages using “of-the-moment” search tools, rather than spending time on elaborate filing systems. Examples: Yahoo Desktop Search (desktop.yahoo.com), Windows Desktop Search and Google Desktop Search (desktop.google.com).