We’ve all been there. After a long day at work, in meeting after meeting, you look at your phone and see that dot. The FEAR begins. The one that tells you there are 87 unread messages. And you are itching to look at them – but you have to get off home. You get in, and it’s now at 116. You won’t rest until you get the number down, so you log on. It takes ‘just’ a couple of hours to clear all – or nearly all – of them. Hurrah! You feel so very productive. But you’re doing this night after night. And there’s still twitter feed, Facebook updates, WhatsApp alerts and whatever your media-de-jour is to deal with…
In all this electronic activity are you really being productive? Is your job about answering emails – or is it about getting results? Once you’re got rid of the junk, do 67 replies actually deliver impact in your work?
Take a moment to think about Sally, who I met on a recent training course. She was totally overwhelmed by her inbox, staying up into the small hours replying to emails – only to see the mountain pile up again when she got into the office. How did so many arrive when she had been driving? What were these people doing emailing her at that time? The fact that she emailed them all night and all morning was part of the problem.
And Sally was also deeply worried about her growing to-do list. She never seemed to have time to do the things that mattered most?
Sally had given in to FOLO – Fear Of Logging Off. By spending her time on 100 small tasks, she never did the one or two things that would have the most impact. She was addicted to urgency – and to her emails.
Luckily, we had some top tips to help Sally – and you – to log off:
This is a hard one. Turn off your notifications – and even your devices. Stop looking. Ask yourself – is answering emails what you’re all about? Could you do something more useful with your time and energy? Try turning off for 2 or even 4 hours a day and use that time for something more important. When you’ve had a break, then get the number down again.
Emails and alerts are now a fact of life. They won’t go away and, fast as you clear them, there are always more to follow. If that’s the case, what’s the worst that could happen if you just left them sat in your inbox for another 24 hours? Consider your priorities – and only deal with the ones that are most urgent. The rest can and will wait. Or you can delete them…
Just because you can log on, it doesn’t mean you should. It is important to take a break from work and lift your head up. Could you set yourself a hard limit? Try sticking to a ‘not after 6pm’ rule to focus your time. With limited time, you will only be able to deal with communications that are the most important to you.
Just because you choose to reply to every email, it doesn’t mean you should. Ask – who emails you the most? Who do you send the most emails to? You’ll probably find it’s your closest colleague. Talk to them about what you expect of each other. Introduce a ‘I’ll reply within 3 days’ rule. Use the phone if there is a genuinely urgent issue that needs to be resolved before then. Consciously work to reduce the amount of emails you send each other.
If you really can’t log off, don’t make your bad habits other people’s problems. Ask yourself – does sending this email now actually mean the problem is solved? Or am I just passing it on? If it works for you to reply out of office hours, draft the email and send it in the morning. And don’t be upset or offended when you don’t get an immediate response.
Keep this up for a month and see what a difference it makes. Sally has done it, and is now more productive, more focussed, and more satisfied with her work. And she gets more sleep.
We look at this on our one-day Managing Multiple Priorities course, and in a lot more detail. Visit the programme page via the previous link, or call us on 020 7978 1516 to discuss how we can help you and your teams conquer FOLO.
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Clare Segal, Director