Reactive work is the downfall of productivity

It’s an obvious statement but one I can’t help repeating: Email is not your job.

I used to wake up, check my email immediately (awake to screen time of 0.01s) and then get to work answering queries. It would take me roughly an hour to plough through my emails and respond to those who needed a response. I’d add items to my to do list and then ignore them. I’d sit back and wait for people to reply to my replies. That’s what I thought my job was; email threads.

In fact I think a lot of people think that in the age of email a job consists of managing an inbox. This is reactionary work and unfulfilling. I hate email with a passion and it hates me back (yes, it is alive and can hate).

Recently I realised that it’s quite difficult to accomplish almost anything that I need to accomplish via email. I can’t sell subscription socks via email very well. Sure it’s possible but it’s more difficult than I’d like it to be. I can’t design new socks via email. I can’t increase SEO visibility via email and waiting for email replies wont help me make more money, that’s for damn sure. I can’t network with new connections via email. As you can tell, there’s very little that I can practically do via email that helps my bottom line.

Email is a communication tool that can be used to help you do your job. But email is not your job.

Email can help you keep in contact with existing customers. But email is not your job. Good customer relations is.

Email can help you with customer support. But email is not your job. Customer support is.

Email can help you maintain business relationships. But email is not your job. Business development is.

Email can help you save a sale when a customer emails you. But email is not your job. Acquiring more customers is.

Email can help you better communicate with your suppliers. But email is not your job. Working with your suppliers to make the best product and receive it on time is.

Misunderstanding the tool for the job is a mistake that I see many people making. The problem with treating email like it’s your job is that you become a reactive worker and problem solver not a proactive one. What’s the difference?

Reactive problem solvers wait for others to email problems that need to be dealt with. Proactive problem solvers find relevant problems to work on to increase sales, increase traffic or aid any number of key metrics in a business.

Reactive workers allow others to define what their day looks like and what their key focus is for the day.

This is a key discovery in my current work methodology. Right now I spend time answering mail from around 10am after I’ve been awake and working on my own to do list for 4 hours. I then try my hardest to forget about email.

Anything that is import will be brought to my attention somehow (phone call, text message, tweets, Facebook messages, etc etc).

There is no perfect way to deal with email but shifting my understanding of email as a tool and not actually being my job was immensely liberating.

Focus on your actual job and the various facets that make it what you want to be doing. Don’t let email overcome the tasks that you need to complete.

Email is not your job.

Here are a couple of things I do to try and help me manage my email better:

Use Gmail more effectively

This story originally appeared on my Medium.

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