3. Dial down the send/receive frequency
Under Options > Mail Setup > Send/Receive, you can control the frequency in which Outlook checks for new mail. And believe me, the longer the duration you set this option, the better off you'll be.
I used to have this set at a cool two minutes. And what happened? As soon as an e-mail came in, I was on it! Well, great, but is an immediate reply really needed? Would it have killed me not to know about the e-mail for an extra 10, 30, or even 60 minutes? Of course not.
So I now have it set at a respectable 30 minutes. If I don't cheat by manually hitting the Send/Receive button myself, I can actually focus on a task for 30 minutes, before the bright, shiny object that's incoming mail distracts me.
A setting of 60 minutes or longer would probably be even more effective, but hey, I'm still a recovering e-mail addict—it's all about baby steps.
Remember, even by setting this to 60 minutes, your response time to e-mails will be roughly within the hour. That's still pretty awesome and will be a lot less wear and tear on you than the instantaneous response time many shoot for.
And, you can get A LOT done when you work interrupted for just 30 or 60 minutes at a time. The problem is we rarely do!
4. Close Outlook completely
If you really have to get serious about getting work done, how about closing down Outlook? This is an advanced corollary of Tip 3.
Sometimes this can be quite scary. Will the world end? What e-mails might come in while you're actually accomplishing something productive?
I have to admit I haven't yet worked up to this level during working hours, but I've found it a good thing to close Outlook (and/or Gmail) for extended periods at night and on weekends. Mobile devices can really help here, as they allow you to casually monitor incoming e-mails, while making it inconvenient to actually compose one.
5. Send fewer e-mails, especially during off-hours
The familiar refrain "it's better to give than receive" doesn't apply to e-mails, where the more you give, the more you'll receive.
So not only should you focus on sending fewer e-mails overall, but you should be especially diligent about keeping your e-mail habit on a "need-to-send" basis during off-hours and weekends. Again, a mobile-device diet may provide the sufficient discouragement you need.
Since we all check e-mail 24/7 these days, thanks to the magic of smartphones, you've probably received e-mails from fellow workaholics during unconventional working hours. Don't get suckered into their game of looking productive.
E-mail volleying, like little kids antagonizing each other, is a two-way street. And remember, it only takes one grown-up to stop the madness!
Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and firstname.lastname@example.org.