How many emails have you sent so far today? If you’re like the majority of Americans, the answer is probably high. The average worker gets about 121 emails every day, and sends out another 40, and those numbers are poised to grow indefinitely.
You might think of email as a necessity of working, and feel like your habits are inconsequential, but the truth is-email could be ruining your life, and you don’t even realize it. Fortunately, once you understand the problem, there are steps you can take to resolve it.
The Psychological Impact
Because each email only takes a few minutes to deal with, and ranges from exciting to depressing, it may be hard to understand how this segment of your life could have such a powerful and negative effect on all the others.
But consider these aspects:
- Cluttered inboxes. When you open your inbox, do you see a clean, empty folder with several clearly labeled subfolders that organize all your important messages? Chances are, your inbox is a mess, with read and unread messages, spam emails, and messages you addressed a long time ago all mixed in with each other. That clutter isn’t good for your mind state or emotional wellbeing; just a glimpse of that clutter can make you feel depressed, and interfere with your ability to work efficiently.
- Constant notifications. How often do you get notifications that you’ve received a new message? Depending on the settings on your phone, you might get a buzz every time you receive a new email on any professional or personal account. That near-constant buzzing, especially during off hours, can trigger feelings of anxiety and distract you from whatever you’re doing.
- Checking and responding. Many workers drop whatever they’re working on whenever they get a new email—even if it’s just to read and understand it. This distraction may not seem like a big deal, since it only pulls you away for a minute, but the reality is it takes more than 23 minutes to restore your focus after a significant break. Over the course of a day, all those distractions add up.
- Demanding recipients. Our culture of instant communication has led to a culture of instant gratification, and persistent impatience. Your coworkers and clients likely expect you to respond to any email they send within an hour, if not faster. This can make email feel more important than it really is and add more stress to your life.
Ultimately, this boils down to three major effects:
- Time. Email probably consumes far more time than you think it does, eating into both your productivity and the time you can spend on your personal life.
- Anxiety. Email produces feelings of constant anxiety, especially if you have your notifications turned on.
- Stress. Whether you’re responding to an email or just hearing a new one come in, email makes you more stressed.
How to Fix the Problem
So what can you do to start correcting the problem? You can’t get rid of email entirely, but you can change your relationship with it:
- Understand the root of the problem. First, work to understand your relationship with email. What’s the main problem here? Are you disorganized? Chronically distracted? Getting too many emails? Analytics tools like EmailAnalytics can help you take a snapshot of your email habits and discover exactly what you’re doing wrong. You can build a strategy for improvement around those metrics, and measure how those changes manifest.
- Unsubscribe. Your inbox is cluttered and your notifications are more common thanks to marketing emails you probably don’t need. Use a tool like Unroll.me to get rid of those subscriptions once and for all.
- Set new expectations (gradually if necessary). Start setting new expectations for response times with your coworkers, clients, and even your bosses. If a message requires a response in under an hour, it should be a text message or phone call; otherwise, your professional contacts need to give you more space to respond appropriately.
- Have “off” times. Set “off” times during the day where you don’t even look at your email account. This will help you focus and decompress. And make sure you aren’t checking your email when you’re on vacation!
- Work to improve efficiency. Try to improve how you write emails by spending less time on each message, and keeping your messages concise and focused as possible.
Email isn’t inherently a bad thing; on the
contrary, it’s a highly efficient and relevant form of communication. But the way we use email, and
the way we let it consume our lives only has a negative effect on our mental,
emotional, and even our physical wellbeing. If you want to continue living life
to the fullest, and prevent the negative side effects from accumulating, you’ll
need to start taking action now.