Perhaps it’s because of women’s hard won reputation as excellent multitaskers. Or perhaps its because we all panic that if we don’t put in our two cents instantly, we’ll be ignored. But whatever the reason, too many of us have gotten into the nasty habit of being “overly responsive.”
As soon as our Blackberrys vibrate or we hear the ping of a new email arriving in our inbox (the tiny envelope icon lingering in the bottom right corner of the computer monitor, taunting us), most of us drop whatever we’re doing and check it out – eager to respond first, or at least to have the option to be the first to weigh in.
But, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to stop. Sure, there are times when major projects are reaching completion or you’re waiting to hear back about an important issue with one of your clients, so you need to be instantly accessible. But, most of the time, you don’t need to drop everything at the first sign of an email communication. In fact, waiting might actually help you.
Here are five reasons to wait before checking your email for the twentieth time this hour:
1. Your productivity suffers
Sure, you’re a great multi-tasker. That’s how you got to where you are today. But, more and more studies are showing that each time you take a break from your work (especially if you’re working on something mentally intensive, like writing a report or creating a presentation) it takes you much longer than the ten second email break to get your brain back into work mode. That’s why sometimes things that should take you an hour wind up taking three. So, I like to institute no-email blocks in the day where I’m doing my most intense writing. Then everything gets done faster and better.
2. Sometimes, time can actually help you
Have you ever stepped away from your desk for an hour, only to come back and see a huge chain of emails between a few of your staffers? You read through the chain thinking, “uh oh, what did I miss?” only to discover that a minor problem both appeared and was resolved in the time that you were away? I think we all want to think that our input is needed (most of the time it is, of course!), but if something truly urgent happens, I guarantee you’ll get a call if you need to weigh in. Otherwise, let your staffers figure out problems on their own, it’s how they learn.
3. The quick answer isn’t always the best answer
The pressure to respond instantly to emails can definitely be intense, especially when a heated debate is rapidly unfolding in cyber-space. But, like above, sometimes it’s best to wait until clearer heads prevail. If it looks like a fight is beginning to emerge, the last thing you want to do is hop in and fire off an angry email that could haunt you for days. Step away from the computer and wait until cooler heads prevail. You’ll be glad you did. In fact, since people are often more likely to be agressive via email than in person (it’s easier to hide behind the screen), you might be better off not responding at all and just setting up a meeting to talk the issue through.
4. It sets a precedent that you can’t escape from
In a lot of ways, email can be a trap. Once people get used to you responding to everything within minutes, that cycle can be hard to break. And, that’s how we get into situations where you spend your vacation with the Blackberry strapped to your ear or find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to check your email. I find that the best way to handle this is to be honest about when you will respond. Tell people how available you’ll be (or won’t be) during vacations and be clear about who can handle issues in your absence. And, as for every day, set aside a few times during the day when you’ll check/respond to email. There’s no reason that anyone needs to be kept waiting more than an hour or two and this still gives you solid blocks of time to do the “real” work.
5. It can give the image that your time isn’t as important as someone else’s
Think about it. If you can take the time out of your day to respond instantly to every single little issue that comes up, what else are you doing? Anyone who’s ever been frustrated because their boss took a day or two to respond to an email knows that the reason that they’re frustrated is because the person their waiting on is “more important” than they are. Remember how much your time is worth, and allocate your work accordingly.
Read more from contributing writer Jennifer Lee Johnson on her personal finance blog, The Next Rich Girl, or follow her on twitter.