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Breaking free of email slavery

You know the feeling when you’re doing some work that’s not important enough to switch off the phone, and you receive an uninvited sales call? It’s a really irritating interruption. So why do we let email intrude in the same way?

I’m not just talking about desktop or mobile email notifications, which everyone should have switched off. I’m talking about our obsession with constantly checking for new emails. Don’t pretend you don’t do it. Surveys show many of us check for emails a hundred times a day. This surely has to stop.

It’s an addiction

The excuse many people give for this addiction is that the emails could be from important customers. But here’s the thing. When we send an email to someone, we do not expect an instant reply. If we need that, we telephone or use instant chat. Similarly, your customers do not expect an instant reply from you. So don’t use that as an excuse for checking emails every five minutes, or having pop-up notifications. Accept that it’s an addiction that needs to be overcome, in the name of increasing efficiency and reducing stress.

I write this as a partially-recovered addict. I still check email many times a day, it’s true, but at least it’s now on my terms. I still use GMail as my to-do list (which I’ll admit is a questionable practice) but I use a software extension to hide my inbox when I go there. Many equivalent solutions exist; in Outlook, for example, I believe you can make the calendar the default instead of your inbox. I’ve also set up my mobile phone so that the only persistent messages on the home screen are missed calls, or SMS text notifications, as there aren’t many of these and 90% are from my family, rather than work. Most people seem to have at least half a dozen services leaving pop-ups.

Not an instant process

It’s taken many months to cut down on my email checking, but now that’s been cut down drastically, it’s made me understand how many times a day I was looking at my inbox. It’s easy to see now how a hundred times a day is commonplace. I’m now doing much more work on my own initiative, instead of being driven by email requests, which had made me into a support desk for other people. I don’t know of any colleague or customer who’s found my longer response period to be a problem – indeed I’d bet that most haven’t even noticed.

I’m also considerably less stressed than at any point in the last few years, and although I can’t definitively say that’s down to freeing myself from being dictated to by emails, it must have helped.

Now I just have to break the Twitter addiction.

2 thoughts on “Breaking free of email slavery”

  1. Hi Chris, this seems to be a bit of an obsession with you as you have blogged about it before. I hear what you are saying but this doesn’t apply to all people. I disagree that people don’t expect instant, or at least prompt, replies; particularly new potential customers. We are a sales organisation selling networking and communication equipment. We live and die by how quickly we respond to sales enquiries which predominantly arrive by email or web page contact form (delivered by email). We have made many sales precisely because we responded within minutes and before the other companies that they contacted, even when we were more expensive. Conversely, we have also lost sales when we didn’t respond quickly enough due to travelling (for example). We don’t all run businesses where we have the luxury of being able to plan our day and resist the need to check our email. For the same reasons, I absolutely disagree that everyone should turn off notifications. They are our lifeblood in my business.
    I value your marketing insight considerably which is why I have read your blog for many years. May I respectfully suggest that you resist the temptation to tell others how to organise their working day ? Kind regards.

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