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Technology and Expectations: Email

Oh man, this post could be 8 miles long. I’ve already written a couple posts over the dangers of time spent on the computer. Limiting the time spent online seems so simple, yet in reality it’s such a hard thing to do. Especially for people working on the computer for a living (which the number is growing daily). The big beautiful internet and its email gives us so many more freedoms and choices, yet also gives us new expectations that traditional mail never could have dreamed of. Why? Because just like the cell phone, we use our email for both personal reasons and for work. We’ve blurred the line between work and play.

You see, we use email for just about everything. Project management, social communication, humor, news updates… basically almost every source of information we digest on the web can come from our email. So when we go to check our email looking for an update at work, we may spend 15 minutes just replying to Aunt Sally about her poodle’s new sweater. And to top it all off… email can be pretty addictive. So to review, we have a function that controls almost every aspect of our lives, and is also addictive. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Old vs. New

Traditional email is a thing of productive beauty. Once a day (save for Sundays) you recieve your email in an unobtrusive box outside of your home. You check it when you want. When you do check it, you can easily sort it into piles and label it without even opening it, like “bills” and “junk”. It’s non-committal. You deal with it when you can. Because traditional mail isn’t the quickest or most cost-effective way to hold a dialogue with someone, you can guarantee that each letter is going to provide the most amount of information in the smallest space.

Email is night and day to postal mail. First off, most people have desktop-based email that alerts us everytime we recieve an email, no matter whether it’s junk or valid. In order to sort the email, you have to read the whole email. And there are tons more junk emails than with traditional mail. It’s a much more time-consuming task to keep up on email.

Not only that, but people have started relying on email so much that it is common place to use it as your primary source of dialogue between people. So because email is kind of an ongoing thing, the expectation on how often and when you’re “supposed” to check emails has definitely increased. Bosses send email all the time, yet they don’t think twice about having their workers check it after the normal “work hours”.

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The Sensation of Seperation

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: The key to productivity with new technologies is learning how to seperate types of usages, like “work”, “friends”, “projects”, etc. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do with email. I’m going to give a couple of quick steps to help get us back on track with email productivity.

1. Use Seperate Email Addresses

You should really have (at least) a work email and an “everything else” email. And you shouldn’t check the two at the same time. That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it 😉

2. Only Check Work Email During Work Hours

Take a deep breathe, exhale, and repeat. I know it sounds scary, but it can be done. On my own experiment on not checking email before going to sleep or after waking up, I found that most of the email that came after hours was junk email anyway. Unless your job depends on it (like it’s explicitly in your job description), just try it for one evening. See what happens. See if you get fired. I bet you won’t.

3. Check Less Frequently (turn off auto notifications)

Try turning off your auto notifications if you have them on your desktop mail client. You’ll see a HUGE spike in clarity and productivity just by this simple change. I try to check my email only in between tasks, sometimes every 30 minutes, sometimes after a few hours. If I’m really crackin’ away at a project and I’m in the zone, I won’t check my email all morning. And believe it or not, the world hasn’t stopped turning 😉

4. Lump replies together

Allot time to pound out a chunk of email responses in one fell swoop. Instead of replying to each one as they come down the pipe, you’ll find that the time spent checking your email will go waaaayyyy down.

Takin’ Back Our Mail!

Email is a great tool. In some ways it’s leaps and bounds better than traditional email, and is very valuable. However, the expectation to 1) always have it available and 2) respond immediately are what makes the digital inbox so invasive. The expectations set by bosses, co-workers and clients to keep these unwritten rules is a big mistake. This is why it’s so crucial to stand your ground. You’re going to get more done if you aren’t constantly checking your mail, which any boss can should appreciate.