A few weeks back, I received an email from Mark. At the bottom of the email was a line that caught my attention:
Please note that I check my e-mails once per day, often in the morning. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my phone. Phones are more fun anyways.
Checking email only once a day?
Mark’s tagline made me think of the role that email plays in my life. I seem to spend a lot of time on email. The simple email inbox performs so many functions in our lives. It’s an actual inbox or way of storing things to be done. It’s a method of scheduling meetings and of sharing and gathering information. It’s a catch-all for notifications from social media, and let’s not forget emails from friends and family.
I have three email accounts – each having a distinct function. I even have an email address used only for on-line shopping. My default way of managing email is to have it open in the background and often respond to emails as they come in.
It’s distracting and an unsatisfactory way of dealing with mail. In recent weeks, I had noticed how my days seem to end without the usual sense of accomplishment.
Where was my time going?
On a recommendation, I installed RescueTime. This is an application that runs in the background on your laptop and monitors where you spend your time. I was determined to find out where my time was going.
Based on the first week of analysis, I spent 40% of my time on the laptop communicating or scheduling – RescueTime categories for email and calendar. So admittedly I am doing other activities during the day like phone calls which aren’t picked up in this analysis but this figure was annoyingly high. I don’t have benchmarks for anyone else, but RescueTime helpfully categorises communicating and scheduling as ‘very distracting’.
That says it all.
The science of the brain shows that we use different parts of our brain for different activities. Developing a new business product or strategizing a new target market requires different processing capacity power to responding to emails.
Emails make me feel like I am responding to someone else’s priorities – especially when the email application is open in the background. It isn’t the intention of the sender but it’s the impact on me. It’s very hard if not impossible to not be distracted by the incoming alert. I feel like I am practicing tennis against that machine that automatically spits out balls at you at regular intervals. The satisfaction comes in hitting the ball back more than the technique.
And so for a week, I followed Mark’s example and only opened email a few times a day. I don’t quite have Mark’s focus yet to only do it once a day. What I’ve noticed is that email becomes that filler when I have a few minutes or if I’m trying to avoid something.
It’s the comfort food of technology for me. And that’s a tough admission.
I have clients and friends who deal with over 200 emails a day. That requires the intervention of an assistant to get on top and stay on top. That requires you to check emails whilst on holiday or as the plane lands so as not to be overwhelmed by the tsunami of incoming mails. For those people, answering email once a day is probably not a useful solution.
For the rest of us – including myself – it’s time to reflect on the role that email plays in our live and the role we would like it to play. It’s time to find the off button – at least a few times a day to get back from peace and quiet.
If this post resonated with you, you may like my guest post with Insurance Innovation Reporter on how to make virtual team meetings really work.