A few months ago I wrote “Why it’s a good thing to be slaved to your email“,
it’s now time for a embarrassing confession – that was intended to be a two-part process, with this post standing in stark contrast. Unfortunately, higher priority things intervened and it took a long time before I made time to write this one.
This is a post about how being slaved to your email is slowing you down. Let me clear – I stand by everything in the ‘Why it’s a good thing to be slaved to your email‘ article.
That article was about pulling myself up by my bootstraps to take control over my life and about how using my inbox as a dumping ground helped me develop sensible habits, think more long term and service my responsibilities.
However I’ve now moved on.
This graph shows the times (in red) I’ve had my email open for the last week (generated automatically from this code I’ve posted previously)
I open my email about four times a week (ideally three, but it depends on
some other factors- there are weeks where I have to be online most of
the working day). That’s all.
It took a while to get here, but it’s been worth it.
When I open my inbox. I process every email, reply to everything I need to, delete or archive the rest. Normally I’ll have a set of new emails to send out and they go to. Then I’m out. Normally takes about an hour and I tend to do it around noon (Update – now it’s generally after one).
Let‘s talk about how I ended up here, and why it’s a good idea.
Your inbox gets interesting again
If you check your inbox ever five minutes, you spend most of your time being disappointed and then occasionally getting a important message.
When you process them in bulk you get all of the interesting and cool things in one go – it’s Christmas morning!
Lack of dread
You know that email that you should have replied to. The one that sank to the bottom of your inbox gradually? The one that would have been easy to deal with the first time you saw it, but has now become more and more embarrassing to deal with because it’s been there a week? That stops – when you are processing everything in bulk, there is little time to dread something – you see if for the first time, deal with it, and then
never think of it again.
Oh, the creative time! I get up in the morning and I do code, good code. Or I write documents I’ve needed to write, or sort out funding proposals. I’m far from being an uber-worker, but I’m vastly better than I was.
It’s only when you’ve been used to avoiding your emails you realise what a great joy it is to procrastinate with them.
Verbs are important – ‘checking’ is different to ‘doing something about’
Think about it: ‘checking’ your email is a strange thing to do. There are three things you usefully do to your email: read it, reply to it, and file it. People who are ‘checking’ their email are doing none of those things – they are scared that there is something important that they are missing. I used to be like this. You’d log in, find two messages, read them in case it was vital that you respond to a linkedin, notification or a newsletter about dogs, and do the same thing 30 minutes later.
I’ve stopped ‘checking’ my email. Anyone with something vital to tell me can ring me. If they haven’t got my number – it’s less than vital (I’m free about giving out my number). It turns out there isn’t anything vital. I’ve missed nothing (I originally wrote “I’ve missed nothing important” but I fail to think of anything unimportant that I’ve missed at all). What has happened is that several times people have had important things to tell me
about. They ring me. I pick up the phone, we deal with it. About an hour ago one of the volunteers on the White Water Writers project rang me because, inevitably, I screwed something up. We dealt with it.
(Edit, October 25th I missed free tickets to a Dr Strange screening)
No more checking of email. I process email. You should try it – it’s like checking, but when you are done your inbox is empty.
To tie up some loose ends from the previous post – I’ve moved my todo list over to a CSV that lives on a server somewhere. It still is used to generate the stress graphs on this page, albeit in a slightly different (and better) way. I also sometimes search my email (to pull
out information I got some time ago) without looking at the inbox, for which I have a special shortcut.
There are some more things I’d like to write about this process, how there is a much more complex and interesting version of that visualisation, how when you back process
emails you can do some interesting stuff with filters, and a range of other things, but I’d like to keep this post short enough that I actually post it!