Taking a break from the Inbox

A few weeks ago I came across an article by Marc Brownstein on the Advertising Age Small Agency Diary that talks about how stepping away from the inbox can actually boost your productivity and allow you to get more work done. It’s quite refreshing to see a website outside the normal productivity blog circle talk about how e-mail can be a massive time-waste and a distraction mechanism. I’m not as obsessed with it as Merlin Mann is in his Inbox Zero series, but I think there’s a lot of truth in this.

The AdAge article leads me to wonder how many entrepreneurs, small business/agency owners, and solo freelancers can let go of their fear of staying disconnected from their e-mail long enough to truly get some important things done. I understand that this fear comes from a desire to catch each great opportunity as it arises. (Personally I think the best opportunities will allow you time to react, but you may disagree.) Given that anxiety, it can be a challenge to clear your mind of all the tiny little tasks of checking and responding to e-mail that deteriorate your attention.

Here are some excerpts from the AdAge article that resonated with me:

I believe e-mail is diverting our best waking hours from thinking, conceptualizing and dreaming big ideas.

  • Set aside 30 minutes at the beginning of your day, 30 minutes in the middle, and 30 minutes at the end of your day (at home, after my kids are in bed for me!), to go through your e-mail.
  • Let people know that you won’t respond immediately to their e-mails. If you respond immediately, you are only training senders to expect that kind of response every time.
  • Don’t look at your computer screen when someone is talking to you. It speaks volumes about where your priorities are.

Whether you’re a small business boss, a freelancer, or a studio artist, I think the most important take-away here is that it’s important to first identify which interruptions can be avoided, and secondly to develop strategies for avoiding those interruptions, especially when it comes to e-mail. As Jason Echols of Black Belt Productivity put it, It’s OK to disconnect. Find a way to distance yourself from all those little distractions, and you’ll end up being more productive, having banished incremental distractions.

What kind of strategies have you developed for dealing with distractions such as e-mail?