Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Misery of E-mail

Now, before I get deep into the message of this post, I want to make it clear that I depend on e-mail just as much as the next guy. With a mostly introverted personality, e-mail has been a saving grace in many personal and business encounters. I'd much rather communicate an issue or conflict through e-mail, if appropriate, than have to deal with someone face to face.

But my intent with the mindfulness sections of this blog ("The Joy of ___" and "The Misery of ___") is to reflect on the things I can change to make my life more mindful and meaningful. I think a great place to start is e-mail.

I read an article recently entitled "How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work)." Author Jessica Kleiman has a Q&A with productivity expert Julie Morgenstern to address the effectiveness of multitasking (spoiler alert: it's not effective!). Morgenstern affirms that we have become an e-mail addicted society and I agree.

Think about it. How often do you check your e-mail on a daily basis? Do you have more than one e-mail account that you check?

When I was working full-time in an office, I always had Outlook  open and I was constantly interrupted by new e-mails throughout the day. It was against policy to check personal e-mail, so I would go home and check that a few times in the evening, as well as check my work e-mail again sometimes. Now that I am working from home, I have both work and personal e-mail accounts and I can have constant access to both on multiple devices. And I don't even have a smartphone!

The fact of the matter is, this constant e-mail checking is causing our brain to shift too many times throughout the day, and our productivity levels are going down because of it. Is this really the way we want to function?

E-mail was a pretty new addition when I began college. Here at the UW, students had to go to a DoIT lab, insert a floppy disk (you youngsters out there even know what those are?!) and load a Eudora program to access your e-mail. It was a task and so you checked it pretty infrequently.

Today, e-mail is predominant in our daily routine. We are constantly devoting our brain power and time and energy to this "extra" piece of life. But that doesn't have to be the case. E-mail does not have to rule our lives. It didn't 20 years ago and I think we were doing just fine then, don't you?

Think back to that estimate you made of how often you check your e-mail. Now, tomorrow I want you to actually count how many times you really check your e-mail in a day. Challenge yourself to reduce that number the next day. And the next day. And so on and so forth. Even if you reduce in small increments, I believe it will make a difference in your productivity and the meaningfulness of each day.

How much did you reduce your e-mail usage? Did you notice any changes in how you felt? Please leave a comment!

Today's post is dedicated to Albert Einstein, who made some great successes in his life without ever sending an e-mail:
"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
--Albert Einstein