As originally published by MSPmentor on July 6, 2012.

Your inbox. Just the mention of it might give you pangs of stress. The technology that revolutionized business communication less than two decades ago is now commonly a burden or, at best, a distraction. As a managed service provider (MSP), of course you want to respond quickly to your clients’ needs, especially when they have an urgent problem. But stopping to open each email as it pops up on your screen is a constant interruption that affects your ability to focus attention on the broader issues facing your customers and your overall business.

A Microsoft study suggests it takes a worker 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption. IT research firm Basex estimated that the average information worker loses 2.1 hours of productivity every day due to interruptions and distractions. If you stop what you’re working on to reply to emails every few minutes, it certainly reduces your ability to concentrate on bigger-picture goals for your business.

Email overload has become such a common source of stress that you can find numerous plug-in tools, advice columns, and even addiction recovery groups related to managing your email load. But taking back control of your inbox doesn’t require any downloads or 12-step processes. It’s something you can do now by simply changing the way you interact with your email, then resetting expectations with those you’re emailing the most.

Resist the urge to be on your email constantly

If you’re not in a front-line tech support role, chances are you can go an hour or more between inbox checks. Force yourself to try it, and see how it opens up larger chunks of uninterrupted time where you can concentrate on resolving longer-term challenges.

I set aside specific times in the day to read and respond to email. This allows me to have greater focus in my work as a marketing writer, as well as in providing more thought-out email responses. Without the constant email distraction, I can be more fully engaged and in control of other urgent tasks.

You don’t always have to respond immediately

Even if your job role requires checking your email on a very frequent basis, you can take back some control of your inbox by not replying immediately to every email. Instead, set aside certain periods of the day for sending responses. Doing so will help you become a better communicator. For some, this is first thing in the morning and last thing at the end of the day, plus right before or after a lunch or coffee break. For others, this may be every half hour. But keep in mind that, if your co-workers or clients have come to expect an immediate response every time they send you an email, you’ll need to reset their expectations accordingly.

If someone really needs you, they’ll find you

As an MSP, you have systems you need to constantly monitor. But you also have responsible individuals working for you to manage alerts while you keep other critical aspects of the business running. If you’re still not convinced you can go 30 minutes at a time without your email, remember that in today’s connected world, there are many ways people can reach you when they need you. Between smartphones, Skype, and other ways to send an instant message, like it or not, you are always easy enough to be found.

Just as postmarked “snail” mail now comes without the expectation of a rapid response, email will gradually evolve away from serving a purpose of instant communication. But while your in-box is still growing at a pace faster than you can keep up with it, try limiting your engagement with it and see what happens. You may find that by reigning-in your in-box, you are more easily able to maintain the perspective required to achieve your core business goals.

dmortensen