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You Don't Have to Answer That Email: Start Monotasking

By Larissa Weinstein; Republished from Startup Grind

You don't have to answer that email. Not yet, anyway. Multitasking has a funny way of making you feel productive without actually getting anything done. It creeps into your routine via real-time notifications from emails begging you to click, read, and reply to just one more message.

Before you know it, you’ve answered ten low priority emails. But, you wrote only one sentence for the big project you need to finish this morning. Now that you’ve procrastinated, you spiraled into a fury of urgent typing. You get it done just in time and conclude that high pressure work is the only way you can get things done.

Emailing is great for procrastinating, but there’re other ways to create high pressure work environment

Email can either be a constant distraction that enables procrastination or an organized form of communication. It all depends on how you let it play into your life. Here's a hint: if you’re allowing emails to play into your life rather than actively controlling them, you've already lost.

If you answer your emails immediately, senders become accustomed to this level of availability, creating the expectation that it is OK to interrupt your work. Then, with this deluge, it becomes easy to justify constant emailing as necessary and productive.

In reality, it’s creating a vicious and stressful cycle. The solution is to apply monotasking to your emails and other projects, removing emailing from your go-to list of procrastination tactics. Monotasking is a way to create the same level of focus as an urgent deadline without the urgency, allowing you to work calmly.

It's simple to start: pick one task and plan how you will focus

1. Create a list of action items for a project and then choose one specific task to tackle.

2. Keep the task in context. Mentally tie the action item back to its parent project and use a related word or phrase to refocus if your mind begins to wander.

3. Decide if your goal is to work on the task for a set amount of time or to work on it until it’s done. If there’s an upcoming deadline and you have the time, plan to finish the task. If it’s a larger task that requires consistent work over time, it might make sense to put a set amount of time into it and then stop.

4. Set a timer for a check-in point. It could be halfway through a set block of time, or an hour into an undefined block of time. Plan to work uninterrupted until the timer goes off, at which point you can reassess your progress.

Next step: create a distraction-free work environment

1. List the technology tools that you actually need to work on the task. If you’re typing a document, you need a computer but you might not need to be connected to the Internet.

2. Try to cut down this list wherever possible. For example, use an actual calculator instead of the one on your phone and take the phone off the list of tools you need.

3. Remove potentially distracting notifications before you even see them. Turn off desktop notifications for email and silence your phone. Close out tabs and applications that are not in use. Imagine they aren’t there, much like an urgent deadline makes you forget that anything else exists.

The beast in question: how do we apply the monotasking model to email?

1. Make lists of emails you need to send and when you need to send them.

2. Write all of the emails ahead of time in one batch. Use the timing tricks above to decide how long you need to spend on this.

3. Set up your work environment and stay in your mail program while writing the emails.

4. Schedule the emails to be sent at specified later times. This means you can even schedule emails for Wednesday and Thursday of this week on Monday or Tuesday night.

Friends and colleagues will adapt to slower response times as you reclaim your time

Commit to the decision to monotask your emails. People will quickly adapt and learn to let you know if there’s a time sensitive issue that actually requires immediate answers. By monotasking your emails and the rest of your projects, you can stop procrastination by eliminating the need for it.