How Not to Let Email Ruin Your Life
Exhausted, but Unable to Disconnect: The Impact of Email-related Organizational Expectations on Work-family Balance could the boring-est ever title for the story of my life. But actually it’s the title of new study which concludes that all of those after-hours emails that we are assaulted with cause “emotional exhaustion.” Also that “the modern workplace technologies may be hurting the very employees that those technologies were designed to help.” A few thoughts. 1. I could have told them this. 2. Email is ruining the world.
I take raging against the tyranny of email pretty seriously. Once upon a time, having to get up and talk to someone or pick up the phone and call them provided a filter, a basic threshold for things worth saying, however slight. But now, just as no fragment of a thought is too inconsequential for a tweet, none is too unimportant for an email. I receive around 200 emails a day. Most are harmless, but asinine. A few are important.
Some emails have taken months off my life.
But there is also a far more nefarious grade of email… The angry-grams that make you wonder why you can’t just get a job baking cupcakes or sweeping floors. Like the gun-to-my-head-demand to produce something that is nearly impossible for me to produce. (Along the lines of booking a tampon marketing spokesperson on Conan. I exaggerate, but you get the idea.) Or the unhappy client tirade with my boss on copy. Or, most upsetting for me, any critique whatsoever that is warranted.
“Mixers” vs “Segmenters”
Some people like being connected to work all the time. Some just don’t mind. Others would rather be locked in a room with Donald Trump, Megyn Kelly and that guy from the Danish Girl, than read one more freaking email.
I fall into the third group. The above study confirmed that certain people are indeed less stressed out when work and home lives mix. But for those, like me, who crave a separation of church and state, never-ending email is the ultimate peace and sanity buzzkill.
The problem isn’t the amount of time spent on work email at home. Rather, it’s the “anticipatory stress” — the impending doom you feel when faced with an obstacle or challenge that you are not mentally prepared to tackle. How many times I have read an email on Sunday night that led me to feel physically sick. Yet once I was at my desk Monday morning fresh faced, dressed and caffeinated, I dealt with it only to find that it wasn’t nearly as daunting as it seemed in my pj’s while watching Battlestar Galactica. The worry is often for naught. But a steady drip of foreboding during your off hours is bad. Living in a constant state of anxiety stops you from being mentally present at home with your spouse and kids. It stops you from relaxing and recharging. It kills your creativity.
You’re doing it to yourself.
We’re often our own worst enemy. Even though many of us live with a ludicrous work culture, especially in NYC, not all of our bosses come right out and say they expect round the clock connectivity. Here’s some free advice: if your boss is not calling you out for not answering her email at 10:00 at night – then don’t do it.
There’s also is a lot of “I want everyone to see that I am working” email pollution. It has to stop. It’s a scourge. Email begets email.
My Email Coping Strategies:
- Unless you are a surgeon or a drug dealer, your services are not required around the clock. Never ever ever check email at night, on the weekend or on vacation. Don’t worry about emergencies. That’s what texts are for.
- Your email inbox is not a to-do list or an open-ended repository. File non-actionable emails that you need to save in appropriate folders, as many as you need. Write to-do’s on your to-do list. Limit your inbox to imminently outstanding items. I always strive for an inbox I can see in its totality, without scrolling. If I can’t see it all, I feel like there are unknown things nagging at me. It zaps my mental energy and focus.
- Do not send emails that say “thank you.” But if you must, do not CC people on your “thank you” email.
- Actually, stop CC-ing so many people. You are CC-ing too many people! No one reads emails that are addressed to the entire universe. They assume someone else will handle it.
- If you get an angry-gram, respond immediately and delete! All stress will pass. But you have to deal with it as best you can. Do/say whatever you need to. “You’re totally rights” and “It won’t happen agains” can be wonderful balms. Then get it out of sight, where it can no longer hurt you. (Incidentally, this approach works for a parking ticket as well. Instead of looking at it on your desk and re-living the financial anguish every day for two weeks, pay it immediately, then forget it forever.)
- Don’t keep email conversations going a moment longer than necessary. Try to include everything up front instead of waiting for people to ask the questions you know they are going to ask. They are not going to pleasantly surprise you by shutting up.
- Unsubscribe to everything. Everything.
- No response is the new “no.” Delete and ignore. Every professional has to make calculations on what matters. What does your boss care about? You’re not going to get any medals for responding to every email.
- During off hours, only sync your personal email account on your phone so that you don’t even see your work email. A one-second glance at a nasty subject line is all it takes. Opening it is irresistible. You think maybe if you open it, it won’t be as bad as it looks. Guess what – it’s worse.
- Resist the urge to stop what you are doing every five minutes to check email because your brain is bored. It is slowing you down. Whatever you were trying to focus on – it is most likely way more important that anything in your inbox.
- Don’t answer emails that people send you off hours, even if they are not a big deal. This sets a precedent. People now expect you to be available. I get that some people like to clear some stuff off their list at night after the kids go to sleep or whatever. But they don’t expect me to respond to them at that time. Because I never do.
- “If nothing good will come from responding to an email, and nothing bad will come from not responding, don’t respond.” This was one of my favorite things ever that I learned from the book Deep Work, which I can’t, CAN’T recommend highly enough to anyone who struggles with this kind of stuff.
I always tell the younger girls I work with – you can spend all day answering email and feel like you are working. But you are not. Deep down, most of us know this. If you are going to waste some time at work, at least do something fun.
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