A psychologist and management consultant has warned leaders about an incredibly common bad habit, saying it often holds people back from truly focusing on the task at hand.
“The majority of knowledge workers and office workers have really bad email habits where they’ll have their inbox open all day and they’ll constantly be doing quick checks of their email,” says Amantha Imber, CEO of Inventium.
While some leaders may think regular email checks will keep them up to speed, Imber says it actually leads to a psychological addiction due positive random reinforcements.
“One of the ways to make things as addictive as possible is to randomly provide positive reinforcements so not every time but sometimes – kind of like how pokey machines work,” she explains.
“In our email, as we know, we’ll get a really positive or exciting email every now and then – maybe some great feedback or news that a proposal has been accepted – so when we’re bored, looking for an excuse to procrastinate or feeling a bit stuck on a project, we often turn to our email addiction on the off chance there’s some good news sitting in there and that gives us a little dopamine hit.”
According to Imber, the addiction has become to prevalent that many people can’t last more than 10 or 15 minutes without checking their inbox.
“That means because they’re constantly switching from one task to another, they’re not able to really focus and can’t get deep meaningful work achieved because they’re constantly staying in this task switching state,” she says. “It’s such a drain on productivity.”
While a constant attachment to email may seem like way of life for most modern leaders, Imber says it is possible to kick the habit with a little self-discipline and perseverance.
“It’s about training a muscle just like you would at the gym – just build it up slowly by slowly and then over time, you’ll start to notice some behavioural change,” says Imber.
For those who are keen to kick the habit, Imber suggests setting small goals to start with.
“That could be switching off all notifications for the next hour, closing down your email program or turning your phone on silent,” she says. “Then gradually you can start extending that period until you can work for three or four hours without checking emails or being interrupted by notifications and you’ll find you’ll be able to focus on deep concentrated work on a project that matters.”