QuickTip: Fixing The Pavlovian E-mail Twitch

Email has reduced us to the level of salivating dogs.  Whether we are in the office, at home, or in the line at the grocery store, we are obsessed with checking our e-mail.  Ask yourself, when was the last time you went 20 minutes without checking your e-mail or without thinking about checking your e-mail during a workday?  My guess is that you can’t recall.  I know I can’t.

I’m confident that the e-mail pioneers never in their wildest dreams thought we’d one day have state and federal legislation that prevented us from checking our e-mail (among other things) while driving!  Do we need to be told that taking our eyes of the road while hurling two tons of metal down the road at 65 miles an hour is dangerous?  Really?

Be an E-mail Support Group of One

But enough of that diatribe.  Let’s turn back to some ideas on how we can each save our self from the strangle hold this new-age form of communication has on us.  In my work with clients, we often linger on this love-hate relationship with e-mail.  On the one hand, it’s a vital, and often effective, form of communication.  On the other hand, it has created an expectation that people are always available and always responsive, a mindset that is nonsensical on its face. Yet, it persists.

So how to manage the duality that e-mail has created?  My baseline response is that we need to release ourselves from its bondage and regain command of the tool.  That’s a decision every user must make.  Once made, slight changes in the way we manage e-mail are relatively easy to implement:

  • Settle on the Calendar or Tasks View.  Most productivity suites, such as Outlook, Lotus Notes, and Google Apps, provide a group of interrelated tools with e-mail being one of them.  There is usually also a Calendar and Tasks function in the suite, each with a separate screen or view.  Because e-mail is a form of communication, I recommend that it be treated as such.  Since very few people wait by the mailbox all day for letters and such to arrive, I believe that clicking to the Calendar or Tasks view of your productivity suite is a far better place to spend your time – looking at your appointments or to-dos.  Surely, you must check your e-mail regularly – maybe even three or four times an hour – but there’s no reason to hang out in that screen waiting with baited breath for the next one to arrive!
  • Minimize The Screen.  Like settling on a different view, you can also minimize the screen altogether.  This is no different than closing your office door when meeting with someone.  The message is not to interrupt you right now because you’re working on X.  Again, you can check your e-mail as often as necessary, but you don’t have to open each and every one the minute it arrives.
  • Turn Away From Your Screen.  Positioning your computer screen such that you can turn away from it when you are working on other things – like paperwork – is a terrific way to reduce the distraction caused by new e-mails dropping into your Inbox.  Of course, I don’t need to tell you about turning off the new e-mail alert, right?  But, then again, we did need that legislation…
  • Turn Off Your Monitor.  If all else fails, take matters literally into your own hands and turn the monitor off!  Besides, this is the greenest suggestion of the bunch as it uses less electricity.

Take Charge of Your E-mail; Set Yourself Free

When you decide that you control your e-mail instead of being controlled by it, you free yourself of its grip on your psyche.  After you’ve taken that first step, you can implement any of the suggestions above to realize an immediate benefit from your choice.

Think I’ll go check my e-mail …

2 thoughts on “QuickTip: Fixing The Pavlovian E-mail Twitch

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