You've been dealing with email in all the wrong ways
Updated: Dec 18, 2018
I have a love-hate relationship with my email. I love the feeling of answering emails - getting more and more done and watching that list shrink. I also hate the constant inflow of emails that never seems to end. Honestly - getting, reading, and answering hundreds of emails every week is not my idea of fun. And to be honest, I'm pretty sure it isn't yours either.
So what is the core problem here?
The core problem is that we are 100% dependent on email. We use it as the de facto resource for sharing information. We wake up in the middle of the night, check our phone for more emails, and then go back to sleep. That is the definition of a dependency - being unable to do without something.
There are some people who might say they are addicted to their email. Or perhaps they are addicted to technology in general. I don't want to address the issue of an addiction right now - perhaps I'll talk about that in a later post.
For now, let's talk about why our dependency on email is such a problem.
Why is our dependency on email such a problem?
It is such a problem because we can't take a break from it. Anything in excess is a bad thing. Whether it's sugar (already known to be bad for us) or something as essential as water - too much of anything is bad.
An increasing majority of our society is what we would consider a "knowledge worker". In the knowledge work economy, Cal Newport teaches us that some of the most successful people are going to be those who can produce a large amount of high-quality work. These are the people who can focus themselves on what is most important for them to be doing - and do a lot of it really well.
But we are dependent on email. We use it for everything from sharing information with friends to depending on its channels for our latest updates and news. Email really is the core of work in today's economy.
The problem comes when we evaluate how much of our time is spent in Outlook versus actually doing the work we were hired to do. If you had to evaluate your weekly schedule and determine how much of a standard 45 hour work-week you spend doing things in your email inbox, I think you would be shocked.
I took this experiment up once - just for kicks and giggles. I realized that I was spending anywhere from 50-75% of my time just in Outlook. Now that is a problem. Because, if you think about it, the company didn't hire you to be a glorified processor of information. And that is what you are doing when you spend so much time in your email.
But we can't get rid of it... can we?
I would argue that, for the time being, we are going to have to deal with email. I can't decide that suddenly email isn't for me and that I am quitting it. I would love that, but it isn't practical nor would it enable me to keep my job (or get promoted).
But what I can do is set up structures that limit my dependency on email. This is what I would recommend for you.
Rules to limit your dependency on email:
1. Change your mindset
Stop thinking about email as the only way for you to send and receive information. There is a nice permanency about email, but that isn't always necessary. You can ask yourself if you really need to be working out of your inbox, responding to emails as soon as they come in, or if you can afford to do something different.
2. Schedule your email
Plan the times during the day when you will "do email". During those times, work on your email. Respond to questions. Send the questions you have. Then, during your non-email times, work on producing whatever it is that you are being paid to produce.
If you are a manager of others, you are being paid to produce quality employees. Focus on them. Spend time with them. Coach them. Help them.
There isn't a single person in our economy who is being paid to be a producer and consumer of emails - including secretaries.
3. Train your mind
It is very easy to fall back into the habit of responding as soon as you get a notification. So turn off your notifications. If you work to train your mind to focus on the task at hand, you will improve the quality of what you do when you do it. Everyone will win.
4. Get back on when you fall off
No one is perfect. You are going to have bad days. I have bad days. We all have bad days. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying. Eventually you will be more in control of yourself and how you use your time. You will realize that you get a lot more done by focusing on what is most important - and your boss will realize it too.