Do you spend too much attention dealing with email? Yes. Let me first say that email is super cool. You probably got this article through email. See? Super cool. Now, the nasty truth. Email sucks. It sucks your attention like a 747 turbine revving up in your living room. It’s time to get it under control, get on top of it, smack it down!
Here are 4 ideas you can try this week:
1. Get messages manually.
This is probably the simplest idea that can make the biggest difference. Change settings so you have to manually get new messages instead of letting them pop up automatically. If you think I’m nuts, then you must try it for at least 3 days in a row. This one trick changed everything for me.
2. Don’t “check email,” “do email.”
If you check email unconsciously like I check the level of chocolate chips in the opened bag in the pantry drawer … yes, it’s a little lower now… you need to get out of this habit†. Even if email is one of the main tools of your job, this change can substantially reduce the distraction checking email creates. Unless you are waiting for one particular email, “checking email” is a myth. Doing email takes time, so, like any task that needs your attention, set more than enough time to read and respond to your emails. Finish doing it. Then go do something else.
Checking email is very hard habit to break. Try setting a trigger, a reminder that helps you to change your habit. Set specific times to do email. If you feel the temptation to peak, quickly do something else, like a summersault or a small drawing of doggies or… oh, gotta go check on those chocolate chips.
3. Don’t do email before noon.
I got this one from my brother who gets huge amounts of email. I used to think waiting till after breakfast was pretty good, but he tries to wait till after lunch. If he can get in 3-5 hours of focused attention before noon, that’s a pretty great day. I agree.
4. Get to Inbox (0)— every time you do email.
Merlin Mann coined the concept Inbox (0) in 2006 with a series of articles on the topic. The idea is simple: every time you check email, take your inbox down to zero: for each email message either delete it, reply to it, file it, or turn it into an item on your Do List. No matter what, get it out of your inbox.
If you want to geek out on Merlin’s Inbox (0), read his articles. He is a very funny man, and he’s one of the role models that inspired this blog.
Please chime in if you have any other good methods for putting email in its place.
†Yes, there are studies out there that confirm that checking for email actually stimulates pleasure, kind of like pulling the lever on a slot machine.