No matter what line of work you're in, there's a good chance email is an integral means of communication within it. In fact, think about the last time you took a single vacation day. How many emails did you come back to after all was said and done?

The good thing about email, of course, is that it's a convenient way to interact with colleagues and associates without having to make an effort to pick up the phone, or subject yourself to an actual face-to-face conversation. The moment a thought pops into your head, you can fire off a quick email, and then get back to things without having to pause for a back-and-forth conversation.

Email inbox on laptop screen

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

On the flip side, email certainly has its drawbacks. For one, people don't tend to use as much discretion when it comes to sharing information via email. Whereas a co-worker might hesitate to bother you in person or by phone with a non-critical question, he or she will typically have no qualms about shooting an email your way. And let's not get started on the "reply all" feature, which has caused many an inbox to flood over in its day.

For better or worse, there's no avoiding email in the course of whatever it is you do. But if you're like most people, you're probably sinking too much time into your email. And that's a problem.

Is email zapping our productivity?

Clearly, we all need to make time for email during our respective workdays. But how much time is too much? It's estimated that most people spend a whopping 33% of their working hours answering email.

But wait -- it gets worse. Included in that 33% is time spent addressing emails that aren't urgent, or don't necessarily warrant a response. The result? The average worker wastes 17 hours per week on needless work emails. Given that a good 40% of U.S. employees regularly put in 50 hours of work each week, 17 hours' worth of unnecessary emailing is time many of us would love to get back.

A better approach to email

Since email won't be going away anytime soon, it's in your best interest to find ways to better incorporate it into your work schedule. You can start by flagging emails as priority as they come in, or setting up filters to do that for you. This way, you'll know which messages require your immediate attention and which ones can wait.

Next, block off certain times on your calendar to read and answer emails so that there's less pressure to stop what you're doing every time a new message lands in your inbox. It takes workers 23 minutes, on average, to get back on track following an interruption at work, according to a Gallup study. This means that, if you constantly stop what you're doing to glance at emails, or hammer out quick replies, you could end up wrecking your productivity and creating a situation where you're forced to work longer hours. On the other hand, if you set aside specific times for email, you won't face those same interruptions.

Finally, be open to another method of communication for matters that are complicated, or require deep, ongoing discussion. Email is the perfect vehicle for confirming a quick data point or arranging a meeting time, but if you're dealing with a complex issue, it's probably not worth hashing out over email. Chances are, you'll get much more done over the course of a live conversation than you will going back and forth waiting for responses. Also remember that messages can sometimes get blurred over email, and sometimes, a quick sit down or phone call will eliminate confusion and save everyone involved a fair amount of time and grief.

Though email clearly has its place in the corporate world, you could end up losing valuable working time to an overactive inbox if you're not careful. You're better off limiting the amount of time you spend on emails and focusing on your core tasks and responsibilities -- because ultimately, that's what's going to help you excel at your job.

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