We all have it…that evil email monster that can clutter up our day, add to our to-do list, irritate us, and completely suck our time away from the work that we should be doing. Conquering the email monster has been an evolving skill I have worked on over the past couple of years learning from tips in newsletters/training at The Principal Center, from David Allen’s Getting Things Done and from Curt Rees, my personal David Allen mentor.
For a tool that can expedite communication, what’s the problem with it? From what I’ve learned, in order to be productive, as you check each email you need to act on it. You could delete it, reply to it, add to your to-do list of what you need to do as a result of the email and add it to your calendar, etc. If you don’t do one of these then it clutters up your inbox (which I often find I then end up forgetting to act on later) and clutters up your mind. Research found what is known as the Zeigarnik effect: “Uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one’s mind. Once the task is completed and the goal reached, however, this stream of reminders comes to a stop.” (Baumeiseter, p. 81)
What does this have to do with your email? If you read an email (even just skimming the little 1 sentence preview on your iPad) without doing something with it, it is still going to pop into your head, leaving you unable to focus on whatever else you are working on or enjoying your family time at home.
This past weekend I somehow got locked out of my school email. It stopped working on my phone, my iPad and even logging into our email access through our school website. I had a 3 day weekend with no email access. What if a summer school teacher was emailing about not being able to find a substitute or some other summer school related issue? What if my son’s baseball coach was emailing a schedule change? Believe it or not, I got over these questions within a couple of hours and realized on Monday morning that I had the most relaxing weekend ever this summer! Yes, I did a little bit of work at home, but the email monster had nothing on me!
I’d like to say that from now on I will never check email from home, because I already did that last night. I will say, I’m going to make a more conscious effort to not check my emails from home unless I have the time to act on them, am waiting for an urgent response on something, and know that it won’t impact my family time.
Citation: Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength, 2011, R. Baumeister and J. Tierney