Should You Install Email on Your Smart Phone? No. It's a Poor Competitive Advantage and Does Not Improve Productivity.

A friend recently asked me whether she should install work email on her smart phone. Here is an edited version of my response with additional notes:
The reason you'll want to set up work email on your phone is (1) to satisfy management expectations and/or (2) to improving productivity.

(1) Management Expectations:
1. Do you currently check email when you're not at work?

2. Is there an expectation that you respond to emails within 30-60 minutes, even if outside office hours?

NB: If your company wants you to be available at all times, they'll give you a phone with email already setup.
Unless your manager or (for businesses) your clients expect that you respond promptly to emails at all times, you won’t need to (and shouldn’t be) constantly checking your email. Doing the work is generates value - checking email doesn’t.

Of course, if you’re providing time-critical and mission-critical products and services, you better be there when they call! But you shouldn’t make prompt response time your primary competitive advantage - because it is not a sustainable competitive advantage. Inevitably, someone else will do it faster. Don’t turn intellectual work into factory work.

Become significantly better than anyone else at something unique. focus on your comparative competitive advantage - that's what businesses do. Manage yourself like you would for a business and build your personal value proposition.

(2) Improve Productivity:
1. If you receive an email on your phone, will you be able to take action directly on the phone immediately? Think about most of the emails you currently receive - will you have to wait until you finish whatever you're doing (meeting, etc.) and get back to your desk to take action?
If you can't do anything about the email other than know that you've received it, that does nothing to improve your productivity and will only increase your cognitive load/stress.

Being aware of what you need to do does not increase your productivity. Being productive is about doing valuable work.

2. If you receive an email on your phone, is it likely to be interrupting any other productive activity? If it'll likely be disrupting other productive activities, you must weight the importance of work being done and email received at such moments (think in terms of probabilities/probability distribution).
Research has shown that multitasking reduces productivity. Adding email to your phone means you will be frequently distracted from whatever you are currently doing and your productivity will decrease.

If necessary, give others your mobile number so people can contact you for urgent and important matters. Because it is impossible to know whether an email recipient has read an email, important and urgent matters should not be communicated via email.


Enoch Ko is an accountant based in Melbourne, Australia.
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