Almost every article on improving your productivity recommends focusing your email activity on specific periods instead of checking your email every 10 minutes (or more frequently). While this is a great idea it doesn’t really work for me.
Most of my data is stored in email and I need my previously received messages as a data source. I can’t close my email for hours as it contains a lot of the information I need to work with. Now, what happens typically is what we all know all to well: I’m trying to find this one message and get distracted by incoming email. Before I know it I forget what I was actuallly looking for and wonder off.
The solution: Every email application needs a big pause button that temporarily suspends fetching new email! Sure, a similar result can be achieved by decreasing your fetch frequency in your settings. I wonder if there is a difference in behavior though when you consciously hit pause vs. just decreasing the frequency. You’re basically declaring that you want to focus on a task. And there is no doubt that there are no new messages. In the latter case there is always some uncertainty which might lead you to check.
I’ve been toying around with this idea for a few weeks now. Then this week a change on the corporate Mail server broke my Mail setup and I stopped receiving emails. It did indeed increase my focus and therefore productivity for a while as it reduced distractions. However once I realized that I’m not receiving any messages at all I started investigating what was up and trying to solve the problem. I’m not sure if there was a net benefit in productivity in the end. However it was good to experience that the world didn’t end just because I didn’t reply to any messages in 4 hours.