Email Detox: Practical Tips To Cure The Addiction

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree April 24, 2019

Email is a persistent disease plaguing contemporary workplaces. It’s the default way of communicating in companies around the globe. But it’s also draining productivity and engagement.

On one count, a ridiculous 126 emails are sent and received daily, per employee. Even worse, white-collar workers spend ~20 hours a week on email. 20 hours a week!

It’s time to detox.

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Detox time

Gloria Mark, professor at the University of California, studies digital distraction. She reports that when people get distracted it can take 23 minutes to get back to the original task. This wouldn’t be too bad if we were distracted once or twice a day. But that’s not the case. Several studies found office workers get distracted every three minutes!

The problem is clear. And big.

Instead of sharing insights from the world’s most progressive workplaces (which we normally do), we now share some of our own experiences at Corporate Rebels.

Email is a persistent disease plaguing contemporary workplaces. It’s the default way of communicating in companies around the globe. But it’s also draining productivity and engagement. Here are practical tips to cure the ....
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Continuous experimentation

We believe in experimentation. If you want to create a truly engaging workplace you need to constantly try new ways of working to become even better. That’s why we run experiments on a regular basis.

Recently, we experimented with email. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Inbox to zero

This is our all-time favorite. Get your inbox completely empty.

The idea is simple: if an email requires action (reply, decision, team discussion, etc.), keep the email in your inbox. No action required? Move it to another folder. Personally, we don’t like to use lots of folders. That’s why we have a ‘shadow inbox’ called “Done”. Gmail and Outlook search functions make it easy to find emails if you need to. No need for complex folder archiving.

We have worked like this for a long time, now. It brings clarity and peace of mind.

Alternative communication

  • Instead of sending an email, walk over to your colleague and actually talk to him/her.
  • Instead of sending an email, pick up the phone and actually talk.
  • Instead of sending an email, use an instant messaging app like Slack.
  • Instead of sending an email, send a damn carrier pigeon.

And, do in that specific order. You will win every single time.

Check once a day

Last month we ran our first email detox experiment. We wanted to get rid of the distractions and interruptions to our work. We wanted more control over our priorities. We thought about the quadrant below (from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and the distinction between urgency and importance.

The experiment? We retrieved and sent new messages just once a day. The rest of the day we set Outlook to “work offline” mode. We spent 30-60 minutes a day emailing. We all felt more at ease and more in control of our work. Because of the success, we adapted and continued the experiment. More on that in a bit.

Studies show similar results. Checking email less frequently reduces stress and, paradoxically, people actually respond 20% faster!

Turn off notifications

Turn off all push notifications on your phone and laptop. Screw those shitty distractions.

To be honest, we even had to hide the email app on our phones. The most pathetic symptom of our addiction? We checked email on the toilet.

Also, don’t check on weekends. Wait until the next send/receive window on Monday.

When to check?

We checked email at 11am for the first month of our email detox experiment. This kind of sucked. Sending/receiving at 11am felt like a productivity interruption. So, this month, we altered the experiment. Now, we switch to “online mode” at the start of the day. So, the first thing we do is dispose of the emails, reduce the inbox to zero, and then get on with the rest of the day.

So far, that works better for some than others. Next month, we’re going to experiment with emailing at the end of the day. We will probably end up with different preferences. We tend to be productive at different times. And emailing – let’s be honest – is not when you need peak performance.

Here’s some solid advice from two ex-Googlers: “You’ll probably have a little less energy [...], but that is actually a good thing when it comes to email. You’ll be less tempted to overcommit by saying ‘yes’ to every incoming request, and less likely to bang out a multipage manifesto when a simple reply would do.”

Stop the madness

Last week we received a hilarious auto-reply. It stated something like: “I am not in the office as I’m attending a training session today. Therefore, my response might be slower than normal.” Seriously? You’re sending an auto-reply because you’re in training for one day? And you’re not even not responding, but responding ‘slower’. Damn, you must be writing emails on the toilet as well!

Join us in the fight against email overload. Set out a one-month experiment to change one or two things about how you handle your emails. After a month, evaluate, adapt, and improve.
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Oh, and stop the madness of endless CC’s. It’s sad, stupid and an utter waste of everyone’s time. Only CC if it’s really, really, really vital.

Join the detox

Join us in the fight against email overload. Set out a one-month experiment to change one or two things about how you handle your emails. After a month, evaluate, adapt, and improve.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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