I am not, when it comes to computers, a model power user. Like a lot of people I have my idiosyncratic ways of using Windows XP and the software I have running on it. I am rarely one for stopping how I do something to see if I can do it more efficiently, I’d much rather get it done. But I’ve come across something that has made a significant & noticeable improvement to my work flow, my ability to concentrate and “get stuff done”.

At minimum I get maybe 5 – 10 emails every hour in a working day. Let’s assume the busy end of the scale so that’s approximately 80 emails a day. 400 emails a week. It sounds like a lot, of course it depends on your role but in mine these can be anything from news to large job requests that require hours of work. I was finding that while instant messages could be easily answered and then forgotten about, email wouldn’t go away as easily. Sometimes urgent requests would cause immediate disruption or difficult questions would intrude into my thoughts on whatever I was trying to work on.

My reasoning was that urgent messages needed to read as soon as possible so automatic send & receive in my email needed to stay on. So I tried to find ways of flagging emails with “Urgent” red flags and setting aside time during the day to “Do Email”. But the problem of difficult questions intruding on my thoughts still existed. Closing email solved the problem of getting new email “Ha! Try and email me now!” but email is so embedded in how we work nowadays that I was constantly opening email to reference saved and sent messages. And of course, as soon as I opened email I automatically pulled down anything new.

So the obvious presented itself. Turn off automatic send & receive. The notion of this seemed very “Mum & Pop” to me, I preferred email coming in on its own and going out as soon I clicked Send. Clicking Send and then Send & Receive? Every time? It didn’t seem very sensible. And I just knew I’d start clicking Send and forgetting to Send & Receive and end up with time-critical emails sitting in my Outbox. But I thought I’d give it a try. My Inbox was out of control and I was starting to fear every new email, I was willing to sacrifice time to try and fix the problem.

The improvement dawned on me slowly. Sometimes I was forgetting to click Send & Receive to clear my Outbox. But I noticed I was getting more done, my ability to concentrate was vastly improved. I was impressed, I hadn’t realised email had been disrupting my work as much as it had been. And I noticed I was coming to natural points during the day when I would take a break, reply to any new messages and then move onto the next job. Being able to write email without replying was a pleasure too. During the day reasons to send email would come up so I’d compose an message and put it into my Outbox for the next Send & Receive. This worked better than considering new email (and new questions) at the same time.

I think this solution is probably specific to the type of email I get and high level of concentration I need to do on a daily basis. And I know there are those out there who can just block out pressing concerns and focus on the task at hand. I am not one of those people. So my advice: reduce the intrusion email makes during the day. And those urgent messages? If it’s really urgent you will get phone calls. Trust me.