By Wayne Turmel

When you have a fully remote team or a hybrid of teleworkers and office folks, one of the main lifelines you have is email. Sometimes, let’s be honest, it feels like that line is wrapped around your throat and choking the life from you. Like so much in life, what’s good for you can also make your life awfully complicated.

There are two main complaints about email; the volume of it, and the constant non-stop barrage that gets in the way of our work. Since we can only work so many miracles at once, let’s take the second problem for today.

How can you manage the constant interruptions and demands of your inbox so that you can actually get some other work done? Here are some ideas that help. Full disclaimer, they sound easier than they are:

  • You’re not a dog. Lose the bell. In 1899, Ivan Pavlov discovered that you could train a dog so every time they heard a bell, they thought they’d get a treat. We have been trained the same way. It’s almost impossible not to respond every time we hear the “ding” of an incoming email. The bad news is that conditioning goes deep into our brains. The good news is we’re not dogs. If you can’t resist that siren sound, make it easy on yourself. Turn off the incoming mail tone. You have opposable thumbs, use them.
  • Ask yourself: is that email more important than what you’re doing at that moment? When you feel the urge to look at or answer an email, take a look at where you are. Is it worth interrupting the other important work you have at the moment? Ask the question, really think about the answer, then take a deep breath and keep working. Your email isn’t Snapchat… it’s not going to disappear after a time. It will be waiting when you’re ready to deal with it.
  • It’s not multi-tasking; it’s being interrupted a bunch of times in a row. Studies have shown that when we constantly switch tasks (like trying to write something, getting interrupted by email, then going back to what we’re doing), we are only operating at about 70% of our full capability. It’s been proven that we process email faster and better in chunks, rather than as they come in individually. The problem is that we’re creatures of habit. Don’t try to go cold-turkey. Start with 30 minute intervals. Work on something, then check your email. Then go do something else for half an hour. Gradually extend the periods until you think your head will explode. Trust me, it gets easier.

When we can spend more concentrated time on tasks, we are more productive. Try managing your email, instead of it managing you.

Learn more about managing your email with our powerful video course, Writing and Managing Email. You’ll learn effective, yet simple techniques and tactics you can immediately implement to radically improve the quality of your written communications and productivity. Learn more here.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute
Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute.

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

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