27th August 2018

Is Managing Your Inbox Actually Sucking the Life Out of You?

Are you obsessed with checking your inbox? Are emails distracting you from doing actual work?

When you check your inbox too much, it’s a form of productive procrastination. You do it because you’re avoiding accomplishing items on your task list. Checking your inbox makes you feel good. Each time you get a new email, it’s like you’re getting something new and exciting. It gives you the illusion of accomplishing work, but the reality is, you’re not. Your emails are inhibiting you from truly being productive.

Can you imagine your life without your emails? Have you become dependent on your inbox? You spend all this time checking your email waiting for good news. Nancy Colier refers to this phenomenon as lottery brain. It’s the adaptive part of our brain that inspires hope. When you don’t receive the good news you want, it negatively affects your mood. You’ll end up getting disappointed and stressed out. All of these negative emotions further inhibit you from accomplishing your goals.

The University of British Columbia did a study on the effects of constant email checking. The study participants were divided into two groups. One group was allowed to check their email as often as they wanted, while the other was limited to checking their inbox only three times a day. The results of the study showed that the group who checked their emails an unlimited amount were constantly stressed out. The other group was much more relaxed throughout their day.


5 Steps to Changing Your Email Addiction

In order to change your email-checking addiction, you need a strategy. Here are some steps you can take to stop your inbox from becoming an obsession!


1. Check Your Email on a Schedule

You probably don’t think about checking your emails as something you should include in your daily schedule or task list. But when you’re constantly checking your emails, it becomes a time-consuming task that warrants its own block of time on your to-do list. If you add checking emails to your schedule, you’ll actually end up spending less time on the task.

Decide on a few set times during your day that you will check your email. Limit the number of times—three is a good number. When those times to check your emails arrive, do it thoroughly. Read your new emails and fully process any new information you have received. Then, as soon as you’re finished, get out! Don’t linger in your inbox returning to old emails unnecessarily.


2. Close Your Email Application

Leaving your inbox should mean closing the application completely. If you leave it open, you’ll be tempted to check it more often than your scheduled email checking times. With each new notification and incoming email, you’ll become more and more distracted. Most emails don’t require your immediate attention. Exit your email application so you can get real work done. If you wait to check your inbox until your scheduled email-checking times, you’ll be free to completely focus on reading and writing emails.


3. Use Rules, Filters, and Labels

Use your technology to simplify your inbox. In Outlook Express, use rules. For your Gmail account, use filters and labels. Taking the time to learn what organizational features are available to you and then putting them to work will save you time every day. Your emails will be automatically sorted and prioritized. The process of reading and replying to incoming messages will be much more streamlined, and you’ll be more productive. When you open your organized inbox, you won’t be so overwhelmed. This will enhance your ability to focus on the task at hand and make checking emails less stressful.


4. Turn Off Email Notifications

You won’t be able to stick your new email schedule if you’re constantly receiving notifications. The constant sights and sounds of new emails coming at completely unpredictable times are a major distraction from real work. Even if you can receive a notification without responding to the email right away, you’ll still be thinking about it, planning your response in advance. Ultimately that means it’s still distracting you from work. Turn off all your notifications: all noises, banners, and push notifications on your phone, desktop, and/or laptop. If your emails are out of sight, they will be out of your mind.


5. Be Intentional About Email Use

Make sure that when you choose to start a conversation over email, you’re doing it for good reason. The more emails you send, the more you will receive. So before you hit send ask yourself: is this email truly necessary?

Remember that email isn’t the only way you can communicate. Don’t choose email as your method of communication simply by default. Not everyone will necessarily use email as often as you or even in the same way. Another way of communication may yield better, faster results in some situations. Every now and then, pick up the phone to communicate instead of emailing. You’ll instantly be able to complete a conversation without having to deal with the back and forth of email!

Stop letting your inbox control your life. Remember that your inbox works for you, not the other way around. When you end this cycle of productive procrastination, you’ll accomplish so much more, and you’ll feel better. Now go and take back your life!


Carson Tate is a renowned coach, teacher, and creator of the Productivity Style Assessment® with expertise in providing simple solutions that transform individuals’ personal and professional lives. Learn more about her philosophy and strategies for productivity by visiting carsontate.com.