I was addicted to email checking. Or maybe I should say that I still am the same way an alcoholic doesn’t stop being alcoholic, he merely doesn’t drink anymore. So let me say I’m still emailoholic who checks email in controlled manner. Or at least, one who tries to achieve the inbox zero.

Checking email often was exhausting, pointless and stupid. I didn’t like it, so I decided to put an end to this bad habit. In fact, there were two goals I wanted to achieve:

  1. stop checking my email account too often,
  2. don’t let the unanswered emails pile up in my Inbox.

Interestingly these 2 things come together – at least for me. The thing is, that I used to check my email when I had no time to handle it. This had two very negative effects. The first, and an obvious one is, that I was thinking about answering my emails right after I checked my mail account. This disrupted my work, family life or whatever else I was doing at the moment. The second, less obvious effect is, that sometimes I hadn’t answered to emails at all (or I did this after very long time). This one is harder to explain, but my theory (uh-oh, big word!) is the following. There seems to be a certain good time for some things. A book should be read right after you buy it. If you don’t start reading it immediately, you probably won’t read it at all. Similarly, an email should be answered right after you see it.

So, in order to improve the situation I took one resolution: I will check my email only if I have time to process it right away. This means saying no to:

  • email checking while my code compiles,
  • grabbing tablet on my way from dining room to the kitchen only to check my email and put down the tablet on the table,
  • no quick checks in between other activities.

I started with the cleaning of my inbox. This wasn’t very hard, I had like ~40 emails there. Then I removed pinned tabs from my browsers. And hid the email icon from the front page of my tablet and phone.

Since 2 weeks I check email rarely (compared to what I used to do) – sometimes only once a day, sometimes few times a day, but the important thing is, that every time I do this, I make sure my inbox is empty before I switch to other tasks.

meme_email_inbox_zero

There are some issues, though. First of all, my email is also my personal database of various things. Sometimes I need to look there searching for something. To do it, I need to break my promise and take a look at email, even if I do not have time to clean it. Secondly, sometimes I have time to process email, but for some reasons I can’t – e.g. I need to consult something with my wife before answering, or I need to check something at home before I answer. Fortunately, neither of these happen often. Another issue, is that sometimes I wait for an email answer which I need ASAP – e.g. will I meet with X today or not? Then it is hard not to check my email every 30 minutes or so.

But all in all, it works pretty good for me. I’m not so obsessed with my email anymore. People who contact me by email should be also happier as they receive answers much faster than previously. I enjoy email-free evenings, and email-free-thoughts. My inbox is often at zero, and I hope to keep it this way.

Some time later

After 2 weeks – To get rid of unwanted emails I spent some time signing off from all kind of customer survey etc. This takes time (usually you need to log in to change your notification preferences) but I believe it is worth the trouble when thinking in the long term.

After 2 months – It is much easier (at least for me) to keep inbox at zero than to restrain myself from constant email checking!

After 2,5 months – I have never checked my email using phone or tablet. Yes!

After 3,5 months – Block site helps to fight the urge to check my email often. Not ideal, but helps.

It is almost the end of January, but I believe it is still a good time to make some New Year’s resolutions. Today I want to describe one of mine, which I believe could be a good fit for many of us.

As you know, it is very simple to make resolutions but much harder to fulfill them. So before I reveal it, let me tell you why I believe I will keep it:

  • it is not hard to do,
  • no special equipment/weather/mood required,
  • doesn’t take much time
  • requires only a little bit of preparation
  • I have heard many people saying it is a very valuable habit
and last but not least:
  • I have first started doing it and I already like it (and only later decided to make it my resolution – usually first you take a resolution and then you start).

And the resolution itself is very, very simple: I decided to perform a short (5-10 minutes) retrospective of my work achievements each week. Have I done what I promised (to myself or to others)? Have I worked on really important stuff or maybe I spent my time doing 2nd rate stuff? Have I started new tasks without closing the older ones? And so on.

In order to be able to do that, I take notes every day before leaving the office: few bullet points with major things I have been busy with. Then, on Fridays (I set up a reminder so I don’t forget it) I go through the notes from the last wee and ask myself questions. And then I write down some TODOs – like “do X – don’t wait any longer” – but also I praise myself – e.g. “good job with Y!”.

After three weeks I already have few observations and ideas:
  • Maybe Monday would be better, so my TODO list was kind of fresh and I would be able to jump into the action without waiting for the weekend to pass.
  • Why only work achievements? Why not introduce the same idea to my family life?
  • A week is kind of long, at least in some cases. Wouldn’t it be better to have it twice a week or daily to shorten the feedback loop? I’m not sure.
  • I do not have a good way of reminding me about the TODOs I created during the review. A sticker on the monitor doesn’t work for me – somehow after an hour it is like I don’t notice it anymore. Maybe I should set up a reminder for this as well so e.g. every day I got reminded about things I decided to do?
  • I have already been able to achieve some small victories (e.g. doing some stuff I have been putting off for weeks…) so I can say it works for me. So I plan to continue.
There is still time to change this year into something more valuable. Why don’t you give a try to this self-retro idea? I hope it helps you.

Cheers!