Dear Email Inbox, You Can’t Have Me Until 10 am
Recently I’ve taken a hard look at my daily practices. I’ve cut or seriously reconfigured some staples in my life.
Two big examples stand out.
First, I ditched Facebook. (Note: I’m nearly two weeks into that change and I’m still alive, informed, and my business had it’s most profitable week EVER. My life and peace of mind are noticeable better. Yes, there’s life after Facebook.)
Second, I took control over my email inbox.
Confession time… I was a serial email checker. I don’t know exactly how many times a day I checked it but it was a lot. Like totally compulsive, unhealthy, and just bad.
I did it at all hours of the day including first thing when I woke up. (This is a really bad practice. More on that in a bit.) I did it when I was hanging out with my family. I did it whenever there was a gap in the day.
Beyond that cycle just being a nasty addiction of sorts it wasn’t helping anything.
And that’s the funny thing about all our now socially acceptable digital addictions. We keep doing them over and over again and the net value add to our lives is nothing. If fact, it drives us into the negative.
Before I could go about fixing this I had to figure out why in the world I was doing it in the first place.
Beyond the normal discussions of chemical hits from seeing the little red number indicating we have a new message or the new text highlight when we pull down and refresh, I think are even bigger things going on.
Why We Keep Checking
We want to feel important and needed.
If people are emailing us we can get sucked into the notion that we’re valuable and needed. This of course is ridiculous because most of the email we get is worthless, negative, or neutral at best. This is the same make believe delusion that getting lots of “likes” on a Facebook posts means we’re popular of loved.
We’re locked in damage control mode.
Funny thing about serial checking be it email or social media, we tend to do it even more when things are not going so hot in regular life. One reason of course is to numb the noise in our lives we may not want to face. The other is that we’re constantly patrolling our lives looking for fires before they rise up or to put little fires out quickly so we can think we’re totally in control.
This is fueled by scarcity thinking. We don’t want to lose, get hurt, fail, etc… So if we get to the email faster, then we can deal with the problem faster, and thus we’ll be ok and stay above water. So goes our delusion.
Avoidance activities can take many forms. Checking social media or email constantly, binge watching Netflix, or cleaning our desk for the millionth time. There’s normally something significant that we should be working on but we’re avoiding it with things like email. Because hey, what’s easier than checking email, seeing a random issue in there, that we then make a priority and do “work” on all the while avoiding the thing we really need to do?
There are a lot smarter productivity experts out there that probably have apps, charts, tools, and systems to manage email. I have no doubt some of them work really well. I’m a pretty simple guy, so here’s how I got out of the serial email checking cycle and in turn got a lot happier and more productive.
I stopped checking my email first thing in the morning.
Nothing good lives in your email box first thing in the morning. I firmly believe mornings are sacred time. What comes in front of our eyes early on can have a big effect on our moods and focus for the day.
I took a quick survey of what was in my email in the mornings. And here’s the basic breakdown.
Distraction/Noise: I subscribe to a lot of lists. Despite organizing via folders and using Unroll Me, stuff still gets through. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, they are a distraction. Every click on them opens tabs in my brain. I have all day to have tabs open, first thing in the morning I want a lot less tabs.
Bad News: Bad news can take many forms but these are emails that have something negative associated with them. You get a hit on your credit report that your monitoring service sends you. You have a late notice on your cell phone bill. A customer is requesting a refund. Whatever it is, it’s not good. It may not be earth shattering bad news, but it’s still west of neutral or positive on the emotional scale. That’s the last thing I want in front of my eyes first thing.
Annoyances/$5 Hour Tasks: This almost falls into the noise category. These are annoyances that are BEGGING to steal your time and they don’t pay very well. (For a great conversation about managing priorities and not doing low dollar an hour work in your business, check out this conversation.)
My email box does not get opened until I feed the basics in my life first. For me that list is simple.
- Readings (20 minutes)
- Bible time with my wife (20 minutes)
- Exercise (30 minutes)
- Writing (30 minutes)
- Reviewing my goals/targets for the day (10 minutes)
- Showered, shaved, and dressed (15 minutes)
Then and ONLY then will my email box get opened.
I stopped responding to everyone.
I think it’s the years of customer service work I did that programmed me into thinking that everyone needs a rapid response right away regardless of what they are asking me.
Not so much.
I would spend time (usually first thing… ugh…) answering every question under the sun from students, team members, you name it. In doing so I was
a) Training them to expect a fast response
b) Disempowering them because I was answering them instead of having them figure it out themselves
c) I was wasting untold amounts of time.
Not everyone deserves a response. Please read that again slowly. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean they deserve an answer from me or you.
I organized my Inbox
I use Gmail. No tutorials here but I began using basic filters and folders to organize things before they hit my inbox. I also used UnRoll.Me to grab the bulk of subscriptions to put them into one place. I also unsubscribed to a lot of stuff keeping only those things that no kidding added value to my life TODAY. There are many things we subscribed to at one point when we had some interest but those interests may not be a big deal now. If they aren’t important, get rid of them.
I check 3x a day… period
I check at around 10am, around 1, and then before I close up shop around 4:30. And I don’t go back. You may be saying, “What if I miss something important?”
Friend, if it’s no kidding important, someone will use a phone and call you. After hours the only businesses that are going to hit your email are marketers not your mortgage company or your kids school.
Turn it off, give you brain a break and go fully engage with your life. You’ll be glad you did.
Email Isn’t The Devil But…
I think we all know that email isn’t evil.
It’s a valuable tool in communication. But like many other tools, I’m afraid it’s owning us instead of us owning it. My approach may not be perfect for your world, but try some of these ideas on and see how they may fit into your space.
There’s no question, less email would not make your life worse. It would clearly make it better. We may not be able to stop people from sending things to us, but we can control how we look at all of it.
Before You Go…
If you speak entrepreneur and the thought of a day job nearly gives you a panic attack, you’ll be among friends here.