How much of your day is taken up by responding? Don’t get me wrong clearing your inbox, responding to colleague questions, or texting friends about a catch-up is important, so is getting on with the work that your team and clients depend on you to do. As leaders, what we do can get accepted as how things must be done around here. Set the example you wish the rest of your team to follow. For example, if your inbox is out of control and/or you are playing a lot of “Email tennis” its highly probably that your employees are too!

Email tennis kills productivity

I generally find I play ‘Email tennis’ when I want to clear my inbox, get out the door quickly, or move onto something more important…. when I quickly respond to an email. I read > draft > send > file(maybe) > then move onto the next game.

While this can often be an engaging game when you’ve got a partner and the time to play, it becomes a problem if the recipient of your highly efficiently drafted response is also trying to clear their inbox. Bing! They can return just as quickly. So email tennis begins.

Back and forth you go with the conversation as each side tries to send the winning shot that will not be returned until the next day! If you do want to start playing, the email tennis competition starts around 4:40pm most workdays and usually finishes early in the evening. Some email marathon matches have been known to go until the early hours!

Email tennis is a perpetual productivity killer, plus it is burnout material. There is a solution. If you delay your response you don’t play. I’ve now retired from email tennis and pursue more disciplined approaches to manage my emails.

Block out time

Does that email need to be replied to straight away? Probably not. After all, if you responded to every email as soon as it came into your inbox, you would never get any work done.

Instead, I block out 50 minutes in my day to check my emails. Some days, I may need two 50-minute blocks. The point is, I set myself time to do a task and respond within that time. Once my time is up, I move on to the next job.

When you combine this principle with my other productivity tips, including the 5 Minute Principle and the 5 Sentence Principle , you’ll find that you have more time to actually take on the productive tasks of running your business.

But what if an urgent response is needed?

For starters, let people know that you check your emails at certain times during the day. Add a small note in your email signature, tell your clients in meetings and remind your employees. In most cases, clear communication makes it easy to manage expectations around response times. This way, you don’t have to have the ‘winning volley’ in your game of email tennis.

After all, if an issue arose that was truly urgent and required your immediate response, would they be writing an email or picking up the phone?

I’m reminded of a scene from British sitcom The I.T. Crowd. On discovering a fire in the office, one of the employees sits down and worries over the wording in his email to let everyone else in the building know what’s going on. If there’s a situation that needs your action right away, would you want your clients or employees to craft an email, or pull the fire alarm?

Block out time and stop playing email tennis

The point: Don’t get caught in competitive games of email tennis. Take back control of your inbox (or social media account). Set up some email principles and plan what you’ll do with the spare time. As my father always used to say, “rules are for the strict adherence of fools and the guidance of the wise”. I apply this to all my email productivity principles. They are principles that guide my actions, not rules I obey.

Feel free to apply or change these principles to suit. Do more frequent 30-minute bursts work better for you? Will you block out times week-by-week depending on your schedule, or will the time be rigidly set in your calendar. It’s really up to you to decide what works for you.

Do you want more time in your day to do what’s important to you? Contact me, or your local Prime Strategies business advisor.