Thoughts On Taming the Email Monster

As I write this, my email is down.

I use Google to manage my mail (because they’re…um…dependable…usually…), and when I logged in this morning I got a message that there was some sort of error with my email storage (!), and that they’re fixing it – but that it could take up to 48 hours before I can access it again.

Yikes, really? 48 hours?

My first reaction was concern mixed in with a teeny bit of panic: “Holy crap, that’s a long time! “What if I lose all my emails?” What if people are trying to reach me and I can’t respond?”

Then a different type of fear crept in

What will those people think? Will they be upset? Think that I’m some schmuck who doesn’t answer email? Will they LEAVE?

Then Rational Lisa stepped up to set me straight

“Seriously? That’s ridiculous”. Get over yourself. There’s nothing in there that is so important that it can’t wait.”

And she’s right. Email being down is not the end of the world, in any circumstance. Really. If someone needs to reach me that quickly they’ll pick up the phone.

Which leads to the question: Should we really respond to every email, and when is it ok not to?

We check email way too much, and in a society demanding instant gratification, we’ve become ridiculously impatient. I’m as guilty as you are.

We sleep with our smartphones by the bed and check email before we get up in the morning. We have auto-responders telling people where we are every second of the work day. And we feel guilty when we can’t answer every message in our inbox in a timely fashion (or at all).

Ironically, I was just reading this article the other day, where Jocelyn K. Glei talks about email guilt, and what we can do about it.

Seth Godin nailed it when he said. “It’s asymmetrical, and productivity loses to politeness.”

The tool that was designed to improve communication and make us more productive actually kills our productivity. Plain and simple.

So I’m going to take advantage of my forced email sabbatical and get some work done.

Oh by the way, if your inbox is out of control, get a handle on it with Email Triage.

Thoughts? What-if’s? Yeah-buts? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments.

  • One of the best things I ever did was turn off the notifier to tell me when I had a new email message! Now, I check email when I want to, instead of having that thing interrupt my flow and distract me… ooooh! Shiny! You have mail! 😉

    • Yes, Tami, so true! I did that too for both visual and audio alerts. I don’t need any extra distractions.

    • @Ariella – It’s so easy to check email obsessively, or as a method to avoid something else we don’t really want to do. If it weren’t so easy to check it, we wouldn’t do it nearly as often. Interesting that you mention the phone too. At least with the phone for the most part, you’re making a decision to pick up the phone and dial, rather than being interrupted by messages coming at you at random.

      And “depending on the mood” holds true for a lot of us! 🙂

  • Oh my! I am reasonable at managing email but 48 hours? I’d be in a panic. Totally irrational, but I would wonder if customers would pick up the phone to call, I mean how would they know if my email was down?

    • Well I put it out on twitter and FB, and in this post. So at least people reading were aware of it. And it was only 8 hrs, thankfully.

  • There are times when I check and answer e-mail constantly. That’s clearly a time-waster–and it also has the effect of “training” people to expect near-instantaneous responses. Example: I’m at work and heavily involved in some task. Haven’t checked e-mail in a couple of hours. Co-workers walk by my office, stick their heads in the door, and say, “Did you get my e-mail?”—meaning, usually, one they sent 20 minutes ago!

    • Mary, yes! We definitely train people to behave a certain way. That happens to me too, so I’ve been working on my own boundaries in regard to working hours – that will in turn make it easier for me to train people. 🙂

  • You mean I’m not the only one who turns on my smart phone before I brush my teeth in the morning? This makes me sigh with relief. I do know, however, that email – and my smart phone, really – makes me less productive. In a big way. There need to be classes out there teaching us how to handle all the distractions of modern life, don’t you think?

    • Suzanne, you’re definitely not the only one. I rarely shut mine OFF. And I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would be glad to take our money to tell us how to manage the endless connectivity.

      Really, though, I think about this quite often. We live in a “always-on”, “always-connected” world now. And while this is probably invigorating for those people who are natural connectors, it’s downright exhausting for people who need mental space and quiet. So we need to train ourselves (and others in our lives) to allow us to have that space. And that means shutting off the phone and email from time to time – and not feeling bad about it.

  • I decided a few years ago not to be dominated by my email, and applied some simple time management rules – only checking at certain times, and sticking to it…
    Not having notifications on, allotting a certain amount of time to reading, responding to only 5 most important…
    It does work, but the volume of email I receive is still truly crazy, and managing the Inbox fro deletion is a task I have to set aside certain Saturday mornings to attend to 🙁

    • It IS crazy, isn’t it, Christine? So many messages in a day. It’s no wonder we always feel behind. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  • Hi Lisa

    This post reminded me of one incident – when the power suddenly died a couple of years back – some twit had cut through a big fat electric cable in the street. Winter. No heat, no light, no PC, no Internet, no email: Panic for about 5 minutes then the decision to go with the flow and have a long and lazy (almost guilt-free) lunch out… 🙂

    The other thing it made me think of was: If there was an almost continuous stream of postal deliveries to our door, would we drop what we’re doing to run and check every single one, every day??? Crikey, I hope not…

    • It’s amazing how much time we “find” when the power or internet is out.

      I have to say that I’d probably keep checking those deliveries – hoping for presents. 😉

  • It is sometimes comfortable to have those alert sounds on just to keep yourself organized.

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