4 tips to prevent your work messages from driving you crazy

February 11, 2022
Stress and work

We spend much too much time writing emails, participating in group chats and answering instant messages. On average, office workers spend more than 5 hours a day reading, sorting and writing emails. That’s more than half their work time! And many people find the constant flow of work messages causes them constant anxiety. There’s a pressure to be always on call, responsive and present on group chats to remain identified as a productive team member.

Responding to a continuous flow of messages is a bit like working on a assembly line: it has a pace of its own that you have no control over. If you slow down, you’ll have more to catch up and you risk never being in sync again. It’s extraordinarily stressful.

Obviously, the way you team communicate, the tools that are used and the processes in place can rarely be chosen by one individual alone. But managers have the power to change these processes to create more peace of mind and help their employees be more productive. And if you’re not a manager, show them the following tips!

Here are 4 tips to prevent work messages from driving you crazy:

  1. Make time in your day for deep work. Deep work is more important than messages: in a best-selling book titled Deep Work, Cal Newport writes about the importance of what he calls “deep work”, i.e. the ability to focus for a period of time on something demanding and creative. “To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few is a transformative experience”. “When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.” What it means is that for periods of one, two or three uninterrupted hours, you leave your work messages aside to create something of value. It won’t be for the whole day because you wouldn’t be able to concentrate that deeply for many hours anyway!

  1. Block notifications and use ad blockers to protect your concentration. There are very few messages that are a matter of life and death. Maybe you should consider keeping the notifications on for only one app that could be reserved for emergencies (and let everyone know this app is for emergencies only). Frequent notifications prevent concentration. They’ve also been proven to cause extra stress. Without notifications, you may check your messages several times during the day, but these are times you would get to choose! Depending on your job (and your company’s work culture), 3, 4 or 5 times a day may be enough. With notifications on, we tend to check our phones hundreds of times a day!

  1. Always let non urgent emails “marinate”. You may think it’s best to answer a message immediately and be done with it. But Indistractable author Nir Eyal explains that is a fallacy. You should wait for a day or two before answering non urgent emails: maybe someone else will have solved the problem presented to you in that email, or someone else will have answered the question, or the sender will have found the answer by himself / herself. Waiting for a while can often help you save time because more often than not you won’t even need to answer these emails after a day or two!

  1. In a team, asynchronous communication (i.e. emails) should be the default mode of communication. In It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson explain why: “following group chat at work is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. It’s exhausting.” They write that “chat puts conversations on conveyor belts that are perpetually moving away from you.” If everyone needs to see it, don’t chat about it, is Fried and Heinemeier Hansson’s number one communication rule. Basically chat is nice when you can opt out and no critically vital information is exchanged.