It is 11:00 am and I am just now getting started with my real work today, despite the fact that I’ve been at the computer for about three hours. Why?
Something must be done.
It’s driving me crazy how frequently I end up spending twice as much time at the computer than anticipated. I’ve worked hard to ensure that I only need to get paid for about 4 hours worth of work a day, and yet I routinely spend 8-12 hours a day stuck behind a screen. I know that email is a huge part of this and I’m determined to figure out a way to get a handle on this issue.
I’ve written before about the idea of not checking email first thing in the morning. I still believe that’s a brilliant idea, but I haven’t been able to stick to it. I can’t seem to get settled into work until I’ve checked my email. But here I am, three hours into my workday with nothing but “checked email” accomplish.
Honestly, spending time first thing in the morning handling email might not be that big of a deal if I didn’t also constantly check email throughout the day.
I tend to use GMail as my homepage. I take advantage of labs and have my Remember the Milk task list, Google Calendar reminders, and a list of my most frequently accessed Google Documents all readily available right next to my inbox. Unfortunately, I am constantly aware that someone, somewhere, wants something from me. It pulls me out of my flow or prevents me from even getting into a good flow in the first place.
Something must be done.
This morning, I decided to set up an autoresponder that would let people know that I am only going to be checking email twice a day. It would provide a way to get a hold of me if something is really urgent. I had received similar autoresponders from colleagues before and thought it was a great idea. I headed to Google for autoresponder suggestions, and stumbled on an insightful blog post from Peter Shankman.
The gist of the post is this:
Autoresponders in most cases are a pain in the butt for the people receiving them and should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.
He made a point. In fact, he made several really good points. And his commenters went on to make more points, one of which really resonated with me:
In trying to make myself more productive, I would end up making everyone else less productive. How much time do people cumulatively have to spend deleting those “I’m trying to be more productive” autoresponders?
I hate it when people don’t respect my time. I loathe the “reply all” function on email because it is used about 100 times more often than it is needed. I hate mailing lists that don’t have the option to respond to just the original sender. I have, as I’ve mentioned (am mentioning), a big enough problem with handling email without having to read “Yep!” and “LOL” from 23 different people.
How can I expect people to respect my time if I’m not going to show them the same courtesy?
I’m not going to be setting up a “I’m terribly busy and so only check email twice a day” autoresponder. Instead, I’m going to attempt to tackle my email problem by:
- Checking email twice a day - no one needs to know this. They can see if they aren’t getting an immediate response from me and figure out that they need to try another means of communication if it’s urgent. Most people already know that email is not for emergencies.
- Setting a timer when I check my email - I work best under pressure. I’m going to try and fake a sense of urgency that pushes me to get in and get out of my email.
- Not using GMail as my homepage - I can’t decide if I’m going to try accessing my email through Outlook or another pop server in order to help with this, or if I’m going to rely on self discipline. Sadly, discipline alone has not worked well for me in the past.
- Turning off all unnecessary notifications - I don’t need to know every time someone tags me in a photo on Facebook. I’ll find out when I log into Facebook, which I’ll be less tempted to do without constant email notifications.
- Setting all group emails to digest mode - I’m nervous about this one because I work with a few groups that rely heavily on Google’s group email function, but the reply all feature gets seriously abused.
- Unsubscribing - I’ve been doing this slowly and hope to continue to do this. If I notice I’m constantly deleting the same emails over and over again, it’s a sign that newsletter or notification site is not a priority for me and needs to go.
That’s my current plan. I’m most worried about having the discipline to NOT go to GMail. It’s a procrastinator’s best friend and I am a master procrastinator.
Do you have a handle on your email? Have any tips you can share with me?