If a menacing alien lifeform wanted to take over our world by systematically distracting us, I’m relatively certain they could not hatch a more effective plan than to introduce email into our lives.
They would sell us on the ease, cost-efficiency, and instantaneous nature of the communication. And, used to only phones, snail mail, and fax machines, we’d go all in with little interest in examining any potential negative side effects.
Research suggests engaging with email consumes hours of each workday. Additionally, switching back and forth from checking email to doing other tasks also consumes hours each day. And we switch from email to other tasks and back to email an average of 56 times each workday!
Each of these 56 switches – just the switches themselves – is incredibly inefficient. With each switch, our brains must reorient to the new focus and that means loss of productivity, loss of energy, and loss of time.
We tend to think of distractions as happening to us. We are distracted by something we see unexpectedly (think: squirrel!). We are distracted by the story someone tells that gets the meeting off topic. We are distracted by the text message out of the blue with an immediate need. We are distracted by an emergency phone call. We are distracted by social media because their algorithms are designed to keep us scrolling and liking.
But, each day, we distract ourselves – for hours – simply because we don’t manage a legacy workplace tool better. Imagine a painter being distracted by the paintbrush. Or, a mechanic being distracted by the wrench.
Of course email is efficient, inexpensive, easy, instantaneous, and helpful. But only if we manage it.