Why Emailing Kills Productivity for Small Business Owners

Emailing is, in theory, a quick and easy way to communicate. But in practice, emailing can bog down your mental clarity and time. We constantly click the refresh button and nitpick over the do’s and don’ts of signatures, punctuation and “carbon copies.” The channel is a distraction in itself. As you read this blog post, your email window is probably up on your screen, remaining a looming thought in your mind. As a small business owner, you can’t afford this much distraction.


Jocelyn K. Glei, author of the the book, Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done, knows the danger of emailing all too well. She introduces the topic by describing the psychology behind our email addiction, then provides suggestions on how to overcome this problem in order to be more productive in the workplace.

The Endless Task of Running a Business

Glei calls today the “Age of Distraction.” She firmly believes that email-related anxieties hurt our productivity more than email communication helps us. Why is email an anxiety-producer? According to Glei, we have an urge for completion, because completing a goal gives us a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine. We associate emailing with goal completion, even though emailing is an endless task that will never be completed, especially when you’re running a business. To describe this endless march towards completing a task, Glei writes, “While you attend to [email], you have the false sensation of advancing toward a goal, but the moment you look away, the target shifts further into the distance as more messages roll in.”

How to Be Productive in a World with Email

Manfred Gollent, Executive Business Coach at QLI International, a professional coaching and leadership firm headquartered here in the Upstate, has some advice for saving time and frustration with email:

  1. Avoid conversations via email. It is unproductive, creates more confusion and requires 400% more time! Emails are for conveying facts, numbers or data. In essence, use an email to confirm in bullet points what you decided in a conversation. That way you have “something in writing” to document any important conclusions.
  2. Turn off the sound signal and the pop-up notification announcing “you got mail”. If something is important enough that it requires you to drop everything and pay attention, people can call you.
  3. As you plan your day, set aside 3 times to check email. This could be 30 minutes in the morning, at noon and in the late afternoon. Decide which conversations you can switch to a phone call or voicemail– quick and simple.
  4. Make sure you have a good spam filter activated to reduce the incoming load of time-wasters.
  5. Get off the “cc” train. We tend to carbon copy (cc) far too many people that are not relevant to the actual information being conveyed. Request that people remove you from email chains unless it is truly essential that you receive the information, too.


As Mr. Gollent explains, allowing yourself to be interrupted by every email that comes in will kill your productivity, especially when your work requires intellectual processing. Thinking based work like engineering, creative work, legal work, creating proposals or studying requires ramp-up time (typically about 15 minutes) to get to your highest level of intellectual productivity before you can “cruise” in that productivity zone. Every interruption that takes you out of that zone costs you some 15 minutes in productivity. Consequently, 8-10 email interruptions a day steals 2 hours of productive output.

Let that sink in and reflect for a moment. What would it mean to you if you could go home at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.? This is what working smarter rather than working harder can mean! At Countybank, we want local business owners to succeed in this notification-filled environment. The first step is admitting you have a problem.