Three Reasons for Batching Email

Psst…I have a secret that I’m dying to tell you. C’mere I’ll whisper it; I don’t really want this to be widely known because it may make things uncomfortable in the office lunchroom:

I sometimes get bored at work.

Oh sure, we all  find ourselves doing tasks that are boring, but what I’m talking about is a good, old fashioned, 12-year-old-boy-in-the-middle-of-summer-there’s-nothing-to-do bored.

Picture of rabbits

Multitasking doesn’t work with rabbits or email. Photo by Tomi Tapio

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time just a few years ago when I was taking home a computer every night and working a couple of hours after the kids went to bed and a few more on Saturday; there was always more to do. That all changed when I discovered the power of batch processing my email.

Handling your email in batches means letting messages queue up until a certain time each day and then processing them all at once. I now process my email only a few times a day, and here are three reasons you should, too.

Batching Email Puts You In Control

We are intelligent, independent, thinking people. We are meant to take charge, to make decisions, to be masters of our fate and captains of our souls.

Before batching email, I abdicated control of my life and gave my inbox the power to decide what I would work on from one minute to the next. It was so unempowering to be at the mercy of a machine that neither knew or cared about me or my life. Now that I process my email in batches, I decide how my time and attention will be spent.

Batching Email Allows You to Finish

Batches are, by definition, discrete units of work with a beginning, middle, and end. When you insist on completing one task before beginning another, you give yourself the gift of “done.”

Today, my to-do list included: “Complete Management Report” and “Write Blog Post.” I knew I would have other tasks as well and that they would appear in my inbox, so until I had finished my management report, I didn’t open my email. (Email also seems like a never-ending task, but when you batch, you can actually finish it…for a few minutes, anyway.)

Multitasking is a Myth

We all love to think that we are great multi-taskers, but study after study has shown that it just ain’t true. For all our brain power, we can still only do one task at a time. Multitasking dramatically lowers both our productivity and creativity.

The old saw really is true: The man who chases two rabbits catches none. So turn off your email program, do one thing, do it well, and move on.

How to Batch Your Email

Batching email is simple to set up but surprisingly hard to do. The first step is to simply choose two to four times a day when you will open your email and process what is in there. I currently do my email at around 11:00 (after getting some self-directed work done), 1:30 (to deal with anything that came up at lunch), and 4:00 (to catch anything that needs attention before the end of the day). Last year I worked on a project that was lead by someone who worked at night on last-minute tasks and so I added a batch at 9:00 a.m.  solely to catch his pressing, overnight assignments.

The effect of batching

You can process the same amount of email in three focused batches as you can in 20 unfocused sessions, and your amount of productive time will greatly increase. (chart adapted from work done by Sandia by way of The Four Hour Workweek.)

Pick times that work for you now and stick to them. Of course, this is where it gets tough.

We love the rush of opening our email and seeing something there, especially when it is something easy and unimportant, and has a cute picture of a cat. Checking our email is a habit…even an addiction. It took me two months to break the habit and it will take time for you as well. Be patient.

What is stopping you from processing email in batches? Let us know in the comments below.