Productivity Tip #6

You don’t have to say you are away to use your “out of office” feature. You just have to be bold. My favorite flavor of bold is the Texan Dean who declares in an email bouceback that the eight people and email addresses listed serve as portals for specific types of emails, including the category “everything else”—and none of the addresses are hers.

Since most of us won’t get to use that version, others with appeal include:

  • “I monitor my email several times a day. For urgent needs reach me at: [CELL PHONE/PAGER].”
  • “Research finds the brain is less efficient when multi-tasking. As an exercise in sequential tasking and concentration, I am checking in on email once mid-morning and once mid-afternoon. Thanks for awaiting my most accurate and focused response.”

Or when you need extra focus:

  • “I will not be in email until 1pm today. If you need to contact me before then please call or text [cell number].”
  • “Our team is completing a grant this week; we will handle admissions emails once early in the day and once in the afternoons. Don’t hesitate to call [KEY PERSON] for more urgent needs.”

The current Edge for Scholars poll considers whether “setting an email away message to have time to focus”

  • Gets me too far behind on email
  • Nags at my conscience about what I might miss
  • Is a secret weapon for concentrating

Looks like 77% of us can’t shut it down because of fear of drowning or guilt for not babysitting our in-box with sufficient attention (the first two responses). Maybe more of us should be bold and publically timebox our email, assuring real time to concentrate. We miss real opportunities to be in the creative flow of our work when we respond to every email chime.

I hope we can agree that very little in our work lives is actually on fire. There should be no need for guilt if we prefer to exit and enter the stream of messages when it best fits in our plans for navigating the day.

Katherine Hartmann, MD, PhD
Associate Dean, Clinical and Translational Scientist Development
Vanderbilt University

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