‘Check your emails twice a day: six tips for a better organised life‘ – good advice in The Guardian.
The links in the piece are also helpful – especially this piece on interruptions and how long it can take to refocus.
I think one of the key things with email is differentiating between things that need a quick reply and things that actually require work. For me, following various time-management plans I work along these lines.
- If something can be done in a minute or two, just do it.
- If it requires longer than that, then it goes onto a ‘to-do’ list that is separate from ‘doing email’.
- If it requires a reasonable amount of time – say more than 30 minutes – then you need to schedule time for it.
I don’t always succeed in following that advice, but I still think it’s a good model to aspire to. All too often it’s easy to get sucked into email-triggered tasks that take so much time that you either lose focus on the key work at hand, or the flow of emails coming in overtakes the processing of them. I’m a complete convert to the ‘inbox zero’ rule – which does not mean that all emails are replied to, or associated tasks done, but that all emails are processed, and I only return to an email if I now intend to do the associated work.