How many times a day do you check your email?
And how many devices do you check it on?
My answer to both is “way too many.”
I remember my first email account. Thanks to juno.com and a 56k modem, I could talk to anyone, anywhere. And in a world before Skype, Facebook, and the ubiquity of cell phones, this actually meant something. And I actually did, emailing people long and thought out letters. Receiving an email had the same excitement as receiving a personal letter in the mail. But then someone invented SPAM and you receive the same forwarded message three times (and even though you were warned against it, you always scrolled down to see what surprise was waiting for you). And suddenly email was changed forever.
Now we live in a world where fax machines are nearly extinct and I can receive email in my pocket at speeds that make my family’s first computer look like a bike with flat tires riding up hill (56k modem, remember). Thanks to gmail I can filter (most of) the unwanted clutter from my inbox. Email becomes synonymous with communication. And rather than checking my email with the thrill of going to the mailbox on your birthday, I find myself trembling to see just how high the little red number has climbed.
And then there’s the problem of checking it constantly. Because someone might have something to say to me. And I must hear it. Right now. (Because if it’s truly urgent I’m sure they would send an email rather than call or text, right?) I find myself robotically pulling my phone out of my pocket, unlocking the screen, and tapping the tiny blue “mail” icon. And then moments later I do it again. And again. And again. Or if I’m being honest, I usually rotate between email and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and then back again. It’s my own personally spiral of distraction.
I will be working on a project (or trying to start working on one) but tell myself I should probably check my email first. And so I do, getting a little narcissist high with every new message in my inbox. Most of them end up archived or in the trash, but one of them might actually be worth reading. So I’ll put it in my “Reply” folder and read it later. I can’t read my email now when there’s so much more email to check!
Another email is full of links to videos to watch or things that will make my life complete and lead to my utmost contentment. So I’m off, opening a dozen tabs, each full of links to a dozen more tabs, and suddenly my email binge results in thirty minutes of not starting whatever I’m supposed to be working on.
Or when I finally do start working on something I’m convinced I feel my phone vibrate, even though I turn off push notifications so my phone rarely vibrates. Ignoring the common sense that my phone only tells me I have an email when I ask it, I check anyway. And lo-and-behold, a little red number appears! Somebody loves me! The vibration I thought I felt must have been a premonition or some psychic connection to whoever (or whatever – usually a whatever – the joy of automated mailing lists) is sending me a message.
What do you do when something designed for productivity becomes a distraction?
I’ve been a long time proponent and user of inbox zero. And I’ve read a handful of articles on limiting the number of times you check your email but I’ve never been able to impart this discipline in my life. Darn robotic thumbs checking my email without letting me know it.
And so as a part of my #5daysinarow project I’m taking on my email
addiction habit. Instead of my “refresh whenever I have five seconds to spare” posture, I am only checking my email three times a day: morning, early afternoon, and evening. (“3mail,” get it?) Because if it really is that urgent, they really will call or text. Rather than death by email, I want to focus my time and attention (both of which are limited resources and only one of which I can control).
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