Here's What Happened When A Company Banned Emails For A Day

Email makes you feel like you're productive, even when you're not.

If you counted how many times you check your email across 24 hours, you'd probably surprise yourself. Or maybe you'd frighten yourself into being less obsessed.

Recent studies show frequent checking of your emails makes you less productive with most of us checking our emails around 15 times a day.

Amantha Imber, founder of innovation consultancy Inventium recently banned email for a day.

These were the rules:

  • No checking emails, no sending emails, no replying to emails.
  • Only in an emergency were people allowed to search for something in their inbox if they desperately needed it for reference.
  • People were officially allowed back in their inbox the following morning.

Imber told HuffPost Australia the announcement was met with mixed emotions.

"Some people were really excited to try this out. But others were worried about how they'd cope, given their reliance on email for doing their work. But when 'No Email Day' rolled around, we all stuck to it," Imber said.

The team at Inventium banned email for a day and apart from realising most of them were 'addicted to email', they were able to make some great changes.
The team at Inventium banned email for a day and apart from realising most of them were 'addicted to email', they were able to make some great changes.

"The next day, we shared our reflections as a team and talked about what we wanted to change in our own individual behaviours."

One of Imber's biggest insights was her bad habit of checking email when she's stuck on something she's working on. For her, it felt like she needed a 'hit' of email to give her a false sense of achievement.

"This is fine if it only happened once an hour, but it was happening many times an hour. So, a task that should have taken me an hour to complete, stretched out for much longer. Without email, people took control back of their day. Almost everyone reported having a more productive and proactive day than usual," Imber said.

"While the day did bring frustrations for some, the overwhelming emotions were around feeling calm and focused. People also became aware of their addiction."

The exercise also showed that most people cannot stand doing nothing. Some of the team struggled to know how to use random times, such as waiting in line for lunch, when reading emails often fill the void.

Amantha Imber is the founder of Inventium.
Amantha Imber is the founder of Inventium.

"It's as if having email in our pocket has trained us to feel either guilty or unproductive if we are not checking it during every minute of 'downtime' we have. Which is ironic, as many people complain about not having enough downtime," Imber said.

"A couple of people realised they'd encourage email 'conversations'. This involves ending emails with a question that needs a response, rather than trying to bring an issue to a quick resolution. This conversational style of course only serves to increase the number of emails received."

In the aftermath of the exercise, the team agreed to shut the email browser when they're not actively checking emails, set aside 'Maker Time' which means not checking email until you've finished a task that requires focus. They'll also be holding No Email Day once a month.

Amantha Imber's Email Tips

  • Close your email program and turn off notifications. When the 'number' of emails in your inbox is visible, it is way too tempting to just take a quick look, which often ends up into several minutes or even hours lost in your inbox.
  • Turn on an 'out of office' responder telling people you only check email once a day and to expect a delay in response.
  • Set 'meetings' in your diary where you allocate time to be in your inbox. Treat them like you would any meeting, where you start and finish on time. This will help confine email interruptions to only certain parts of your day.
  • Let your team know your plan in advance so they know to ask you any urgent questions prior to your 24-hour ban. Or give them the option to call you or walk over to your desk instead.
  • When you turn on your 'out of office', you can explain why you're doing this. When I created an out of office responder saying I don't check emails in the morning because I spend my mornings in Maker Time, I not only had people stop expecting instant replies from me, but people would regularly tell me this idea triggered them into changing their own behaviour too.