Stop Checking Your Email

Years back I mentioned to a colleague my desire to have a day of work – when everything else in the world is on hold – so that I could feel caught up.  He laughed and expressed a shared interest in that “extra” time.  Why, I wondered, if everyone I know is feeling so overwhelmed – do none of us seem to have a handle on what’s causing it?

Here’s what I’ve come to realize…This feeling exists because we never stop working.  

With our ‘smart’ devices we check messages, respond, and review late into the evening and first thing in the morning.  The reason we feel ourselves fall farther and farther behind is that this constant effort actually compromises us – both personally and professionally.  By checking email we:

  1. Reduce our ability to have downtime. To refresh, refocus, renew.  A rested brain is more creative, resilient, and productive.  By doing less, we actually accomplish more.
  2. Forget to respond. Reading an email while in line at the grocery store does not allow you the time (or focus) to answer a question, consult a colleague, or check your calendar.  The result?  You postpone it, and like many of us, neglect to review those older “read” emails on your next day at the office.  Your attempts at efficiency have now delayed a response or cause it to be forgotten altogether.
  3. Create more intensity. Once we read (and respond) to a message, we have volleyed the responsibility to someone else.  Who in turn may feel just as responsible for checking email and getting back to us quickly.  It’s like the game ‘hot-potato’.  And all this does is increase the sense of increasing chaos and intensity.  One of the clearest reasons for this behavior is our concern of ‘forgetting to do it’ which is most likely compounded by the fact that we are checking messages at the wrong time (as noted above).   We are creating our own vicious cycle of read and respond.
  4. Fracture our relationships. By taking “just a minute” to check our messages we demonstrate a lack of respect and lack of care for those around us.  Their level of priority is literally and figuratively lowered.  This is as true when we go to lunch with a colleague as it is when we are with a child.  Does anyone remember the song “Cats in the Cradle”?  Rather than apologizing for our busy-ness, let’s try to stay in the moment – especially with friends and loved ones.
  5. Affect our mood. When a Sunday afternoon is interrupted by worry about a client’s email or the ‘need’ to respond to a colleagues questions, it impacts our ability to be in the moment.  Instead of enjoying a spiritual connection, the sounds of nature, or the view in front of us, we are distracted by work.  Our mood is compromised by the interruption, consequently impacting those around us.
  6. Miss opportunities. Whether it’s the “fly ball” that brought home the winning run or your child’s first time making it all the way across the monkey bars, by looking down at your phone, or being otherwise distracted by work, you pay the price of losing these precious moments that cannot be recaptured.  Have you ever wondered what else you are missing?  
  7. Make excuses for other internet distractions. Email is our gateway drug – once we are done checking those messages, we are given to checking for others on social media, or using the internet to quickly buy or research something.  All of this extending our time online, making us feel at work.  Last year’s viral video “Look Up” put emphasis on the costs of this behavior.
  8. Increase our health risks. Beyond the impact of blue light on our vision, (do you know the 20/20/20 rule?) computer and cell phone usage is responsible for a variety of other medical issues including stress, depression, headaches, and sleep disruption.

So here’s step one:  Stop checking your email when you are not at work.  Whether that means going cold-turkey or beginning a gradual shift, it is a big step in the right direction.  And who knows?  You may finally begin to feel caught up.