Tips on “Silencing” Email; The Productivity Killer for Your Medical Practice or Small Business

Is email the new silent killer?  At one point in time everyone thought it would vastly improve communication while freeing up time. It still is a great way to communicate and under the right conditions can help create efficiencies for medical practice or small business owners and their staff.

It seems like we wade through hundreds of emails in our inbox each day; the productivity killer arises from those who choose to deal with email as it comes in rather than all at once. This takes the focus off a current project, even when we are waiting for a test result or answer to something we are currently working on.  Thinking about an expected email may make it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.

So why is email such a productivity killer?

The problem with email

A significant issue with email is that many people tend to feel that they have to read and respond to every work email immediately. This means that they never stay fully focused on any one task because they’re often waiting for more emails. When emails do come, they stop work, focus on the email, deal with the content it contains, and craft a response. Then they go back to work, but it can take time to switch their brains back and forth between email and their previous task.

Ever heard of attention residue? That’s a phrase coined by Sophie Leroy after two experiments showed people’s productivity dropped when they moved back and forth between tasks, rather than focusing on one at a time. It refers to the tendency to have thoughts about a previous task in your head even as you move to another task, which makes it more difficult to complete the new task.

So what can a medical practice or small business do?

Switch to other communication methods

Not everything that needs to be said should be communicated through email. Issues that require back and forth should likely be dealt with either in person, via video chat, or through a quick telephone call. The same is most likely true for issues that require an immediate response. Documents that are being reviewed by multiple people should be shared through Google Drive, Dropbox or similar technology. This ensures everyone sees the most recent version of the document each time they open it.

Best business practices show that by creating a list of the types of communication your organization uses and developing guidelines for using them will help the group stay focused and be more productive. List the circumstances under which each method of communication should be used and follow it. Set clear guidelines about when and how those communication methods can be used.

Get email under control

Try setting limitations on when and how email can be used within your medical practice or small business, by doing so you’re already limiting the amount of emails you and your staff deal with. That’s a great step.

Encourage everyone to set aside dedicated email time during the day—say first thing in the morning, right before lunch and once again in the afternoon,    rather than checking in on an ongoing basis. This is a practical approach which limits attention residue and encourages better focus and should yield a more productive day.

Final thoughts

Email can be a productive and useful means of communication, but not if it’s constantly pulling you and your employees’ attention away from work and draining productivity. Setting guidelines for its use, finding other effective methods of communication, and decreasing the risk of distraction will help everyone gain control of their inbox.

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