Dark stories, tales of whimsy and random brain droppings.

Your Inbox Is Thine Enemy

Last week, I made the case that email was the dominant communication tool in business and would remain so.

Yes, there are other tools– even better tools, but email is still king.

Today, I want to offer a counterpoint of sorts. Not to say that email isn’t important and vital, but that email culture hasn’t been great.

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I posit that, behaviorally, our relationship with email borders on the toxic.

A few weeks back, I shared my combat strategies with another toxic digital relationship. What I said there applies equally and perhaps more directly to email.

You see, if we consider that social media apps were inspired by casinos to be the addictive dopamine-generating slot machines of the attention economy, then we’d also have to admit that email is the grand-pappy one-armed bandit that started it all.

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I blame Blackberry, or Research In Motion, if you prefer.

It all started with the red splat. Or maybe it was the ding. Or the vibrate. Whatever. The popularity of having your email on your hip was a game changer. Blackberry brought it to the corporate western world. Apple brought it to mass-market consumerhood.

Anyway, we are behaviorally conditioned to react to a new email.

Ding. Splat. Scan. Reply.

Rinse-and-repeat ad nauseum et infinatum.

Most of the time, we miss a few steps like ‘Read’ and ‘Think’ and ‘Compose’.

Correspondence shouldn’t be like that. There was a time when letter-writing was a craft.

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It’s a pace thing. Even if we were to use more appropriate tools like chat or voice or (gasp) in person interaction, we’d still get trapped in to the same one-way conversations.

It’s that old cautionary about active listening: listen to understand instead of listen to respond.

It’s even worse with email. It’s all surface-level interaction.

Scan instead of read.

And then rush to reply instead of considering the weight of response.

We say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ too quickly.

Because we are all under the misunderstanding that speed trumps quality.

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Shenanigans.

It’s time to slow our roll a bit. Rare is the job description that mandates a 30 second response time on email. Show me a job that does and I’ll forever cross it off my career list.

I’ve said it a few times and it bears repeating:

Being good at email is not a high-value job skill.

I turn off all my notifications for email on my desktop and I turn off all my email notifications on my phone except from VIPs: my boss and my bride.

I also allow notifications for emails that have the phrase ‘Awaiting Management Approval’ in them from Service Desk because it is my job to reply to those timely-ish.

Every other email can wait. Literally every email. If it is urgent, I’m available on other real-time channels (chat, text, phone).

Of course, I’m not as good as I’d like to be often enough, leave the damnable email client open and end up losing time playing digital whack-a-mole. I feel tired at the end of it, because it’s activity. The thing is tho: it ain’t productivity.

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Email is busy-work. It’s a conceit, a cover for doing easy things instead of deep work. Email is the worst of the low-hanging fruit. Most of the time, it’s empty accomplishment. Like eating cookies, it’s a quick sugar fix.

But I fight it. And on good days, I try to limit my email processing to only a couple times a day.

When I do, I get more done. A lot more. Every time. Straight up empirical observation.

I’ll leave you with this:

Reflect upon your relationship with email. Are you being intentional about email or ruled by your inbox?

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