When I go running, there is a field on my route that is filled with grasshoppers. The field looks ordinary from a distance. But once I get to it, grasshoppers start jumping out everywhere.
The first few times that I went through it I would speed up to try and get away from them. But I could never outrun the grasshoppers. They would just jump out as I went along, regardless of how fast or slow I was going. They jumped out where I was precisely because I was there. Going faster didn’t get me past the grasshoppers; it just made them jump out sooner.
So this immediately made me think of email. Email contains a paradox, like these grasshoppers: Going faster doesn’t mean you’ll get less. In fact, it might mean that you’ll get even more, because email responds to your presence, just like the grasshoppers.
So if you try to overcome email overload by doing email faster and more often, you won’t end up getting ahead. You’ll just end up with a lot more email to keep up with.
If you want more email, that’s fine. I’m not against email, and a lot of important work gets done through it. (And I probably don’t say that enough.) But if you want to preserve a good chunk of time for other responsibilities that you (hopefully) have, then the solution is to reduce your number of email cycles.
In other words, if you want to decrease the amount of email that you have to attend to, the main solution is not to go faster.
Yes, you should go faster and be more efficient at processing your email. But if that’s all you do, you’ll just see more email coming your way than you would have before. What you need to do is both become more efficient at processing email and at the same time decrease the number of times that you check email each day.
In other words, the way to create more time for other things is to decrease the number of email cycles in your routine.
Last of all, an objection. Someone will say “but if I check email less, then I’ll be less responsive.” Well, that’s probably true. I’m not saying that you have to do this. But realize that this trade-off exists on both sides of the equation. For if you choose to be almost immediately responsive with email, then you will get less long-term and important non-email stuff done. And that’s a problem, too.
It’s really up to you. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong here. It depends upon the nature of your responsibilities, your strengths, and what your organization needs you to be focusing on. Things may also fluctuate for the same person from season to season. (And, it’s worth pointing out that you can probably find a balance that preserves a good level of responsiveness even if it is less than you might initially default to.)
You make the call. Just be aware of the likely trade-off. If you end up doing less non-email work in order to give more time and attention to email, just make sure that you are doing that on purpose rather than automatically assuming that that is the way it has to be.