The Email Trap
Well it happened again. I sat down Monday morning to check email and I realized I have dozens of emails from the previous week that I didn’t answer.
Email is the life line of my business – ignoring it is really not a good idea.
I’m checking it several (okay LOTS) of times every day. How can I have so many important unanswered emails?
Thing is I’m only checking it. Mostly because I’m in the middle of something else when checking and I’m just distracting myself. Or I’m out and about and looking on my phone to fill in the time. Not a good time to respond or take action.
So in all that checking of email – I’m not actually doing anything important.
Except for the really really easy ones. If I have to look up something, or do something that will take more than 10 seconds, or answer a longer question, I pass it by and think “next time I’ll deal with that”. And honestly even some of the easy ones I ignore.
And of course every next time I’m right in the middle of something else. So again I don’t respond. Ditto for the next time. Very quickly the email I was for sure going to respond to gets lost in a sea of dozens more like it and I forget about it.
A whole lot of checking of email and a whole lot of not responding equals a full inbox packed with people waiting for me to respond.
So right – this is not big news. And probably many of you are doing something similar.
Here’s why: Why We are Addicted to Email
Addiction. My little rat brain loves getting new emails – reward reward. “Look someone is writing to me!”
I’ve known this for years. We all know it – checking email is an addictive time suck.
Lots of people have solutions.
I’ve tried many.
- I’ve turned off every notification of every type. I never get interrupted with email. No dings, no popup messages, no little icons in the system tray, no messages on my phone screen. No notifications of any type at all, ever.
- Email does not arrive at my computer or phone automatically – I have to go get my email intentionally – only when I want to read it.
- I’ve shut down my email program so I don’t see it at all so I’m not tempted.
- I’ve made a commitment to check it only a couple times a day.
- I’ve refrain from checking email first thing in the morning.
Sadly none of these things work for me consistently. Email never goes away. The reward for checking email is never gone.
When I’m really diligent I can beat the email addiction. But it never lasts long. A few hints at the reward and rat brain takes over and I’m checking more frequently, again.
While – yes – I am more productive when I’m not checking email often – the consequences of checking frequently really aren’t that high. I still get most of the things done I want to.
I find that the effort needed to beat the email habit is a bit out of proportion to the value it brings me.
So basically I’ve caved in. I admit to having a rat brain when it comes to email. I’m addicted to “checking email” and well, so what.
Well – the what is: I don’t want to be the lame person not responding to emails in a timely manner. I teach online workshops – email is my connection to my students. Timely emails matter.
So here’s my solution…
Three times a week I now have this item on my todo list: “spend 30 minutes responding to email”
This means that I’m actually processing and responding to email. Not just shuffling it around like deck chairs on the titanic.
I have no rules about not checking often – because I have better things to spend my discipline energy on – like not eat huge piles of crappy sugary food in the afternoon.
So what if I’m “checking” email often! I’m now addressing the real problem – unanswered emails.
Lower the Clutter
Until a year ago I had a goal of getting my inbox to zero at the end of every month. The months I was successful at this I did keep on top of my email. The lack of clutter made it easier not to forget important things.
And I liked having an empty inbox so I did deal with things rather quickly to keep the inbox clear.
Unfortunately that fell by the wayside a year ago when I started traveling and my inbox has been a mess ever since.
With my new plan of actually responding to my email the last few weeks, my inbox has gone from over 300 emails that needed a response to fewer than 50.
The back log is clearing, and magically – I find myself “checking email” a lot less frequently now that the clutter has been reduced. No discipline needed – all I need is a todo list time 3 times a week giving me permission and the space to respond to the longer emails.
Decluttering – it’s not just for rooms. It works magic on email also.
What is your relationship with email? Do you have any tips for staying on top of the inbox and either functioning with the addiction or beating it once and for all?
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