If you're one of the many, many professionals who feel huge chunks of their life are being eaten up by email, there's no shortage of solutions on offer. From elaborate systems that turn yesterday's inbox into your to-do list, to pleas for radical mass deletions, and even programs to modify your own behavior and boost your email karma, experts and fellow entrepreneurs have suggested just about every fix you can think of.
But maybe the answer is simpler. Maybe you just need to pay more attention.
That's the fascinating takeaway of an excerpt of One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness by Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts that appeared on Knowledge@Wharton recently. The particular section of the book featured deals with email, and in it the authors argue that a bit of mindfulness is all most of us need to escape email hell. Here are a few of the principles they suggest to help you start getting control over your inbox:
For many people, email has become almost an automatic tick -- we check our inboxes reflexively without thinking and make snap decisions about when to respond to messages. The first step to a saner relationship with our inbox is taking email off autopilot and forcing ourselves to take a second and think about our urges -- and reclaim our power over them.
"When you get the urge to check your email for its own sake, observe it. Before you automatically succumb to that urge, pause. Take just one second. And in that second, you'll come to see there's nothing necessarily automatic about your responses to stimuli. You have a choice. Sometimes, one second of mindful contemplation is all it takes to resist an automatic impulse," the authors write.
2. Take a vacation from notifications.
Just like you need to create space to really consider whether your email behavior is driven by addiction or sensible consideration, you also need to ensure you haven't simply defaulted thoughtlessly to having endless chiming notifications breaking up your day.
"Over the next couple of days, pay attention to what happens to your focus, your productivity, and your well-being each time you're distracted by an email notification. Then try working for a couple days with the notifications switched off. After that, you can make an informed decision about what works best for you," the authors suggest.
3. Set email focus time.
Switching continuously back and forth from your inbox doesn't just affect your other work; it affects bad for your how you handle email as well. The solution is to set email "focus time." Use all you've learned from paying more attention to how and when you email to create a plan that suits the rhythm of your days (just don't handle email first thing in the morning, unless you want to be drawn "into an onslaught of short-term problems" that saps your brain's energy when it's at its best).
"If you're checking and responding to emails all day, you're not fully focused on your work, on your emails or on anything else. Instead of shifting your attention whenever an email arrives, allocate only certain, fixed times during the day to fully focus on email," the authors write.
Are you on email autopilot? Could you benefit from being more mindful about how and when you deal with messages?