The Answering of Emails, the Lack of Writing
I am the type of person who needs her email inbox mostly empty to focus on work. I can’t sit down and write when there are unanswered emails piling up. If we go on a trip, I have a digital folder where I place all messages I need to answer when I return just so my inbox can continue to look nice and neat while we’re away. For me, a cluttered inbox = a cluttered mind.
Keeping that inbox neat steals from my work time, by which I mean my writing time. I not only lose an hour in the morning writing people back, but my finger automatically flicks to my email while I’m working, and when I see new messages, I need to open them and read them and sometimes respond to them. In turn, my writing brain feels jumbled, rushed. Chopped up into tiny fragments of concentration.
Opinionator in the New York Times addressed this as I was debating whether or not to log off email and hide all electronic devices. Wait, scratch that. I know I should log off email and hide the electronic devices. I know that I need to remove the capability of checking email because the temptation is always there. I guess what I was debating is… can I? Do I have the willpower to not check email for hours at a time?
The truthful answer is usually no.
My hopeful answer is, “of course!”
It is this constant background awareness of email that can cause real problems. Unlike traditional mail, email is always active. You can’t fire off an email and then put it completely out of mind; there is at least some slight awareness of the message’s continuing life, the possibility of a reply, the need to keep refreshing the stream of digital correspondence. And that’s the best-case scenario — more often, it is the nagging collection of unanswered emails that weighs on one’s mind.
And they made me gulp with the final point that we pay for every word. I mean, no, not literally. But if I’m answering emails, I’m not writing. And if I’m not writing, I’m not getting paid. So getting a handle on the email situation is a financial concern.
I affixed a post-it note to the top of my desk which reads:
Minimize email while writing. Set timer to check if need be.
It’s a little sad that I need to write such a duh reminder to myself; will I really forget to not check email and get down to the business of writing? Yes. Yes, I’ll purposefully forget since checking email is easy and writing is hard.
So if it takes me some time to return your email, I apologize. I’m trying to get a better system in place; one that allows me to be prompt but not feel overwhelmed or that I’m detracting from work time. I’m sure I’ll reach a balance, right? Like around the time when they implant that computer chip under the skin so I can just think answers and my brain will automatically send out emails on my behalf.
I know people believe that the main reason why I seem to get nothing done is because I’m ruining my concentration playing Candy Crush. And yes, that is true. But the email situation isn’t helping.
How do you feel about your inbox? Does a messy inbox stress you out and keep you from concentrating on whatever else you need to do?