If Mario was distracted by his email inbox every hour, could he save the princess?
I don’t think so.
Mario is focused on his task, going through level after level, single tasking his way to his goal, and eventually saving the pricess from the evil Bowser. (If you don’t suck at Mario games that is…)
If you want to accomplish something done, whether it be a life long goal or a short term project, you need to take Mario’s approach and undistract yourself from everything else. For most of us, our email in-boxes are huge distractions and ultimately hinder our progress towards our goals.
Most of us spend hours in front of our email inbox daily, whether we are at work, home, or on our smartphones, and it is effecting our ability to get things done simply be human. Sometimes we click the udpate mail button multiple times to make sure that nothing came in that exact second that needed our immediate attention.
This addiction is the reason why we can’t create and why we, as a species, have forgotten how to properly communicate with other. 2 months ago I was ordering a sandwich for lunch when I realized I was checking my Facebook app on my iPhone. I decided to shut off the app and try to talk to the person behind the counter making my sandwich. I couldn’t. I said hi, then remember an awkward silence and some awkward hand movements, some non intentional eye contact, and some weird taring at his hands.
I’m sure I am not alone. Each one of us lives in our own little isolated world, detached from each other, under the illusion that Facebook and email are actually connecting us.
I decided to check my personal email only twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. (I can’t do this with my work email because most of the work that I do is time sensitive and depends on email).
If our society continues to be constantly connected through smartphones, email, and social networks (which it will be) then I fear for our future and the future that our children will grow up in. Being connected all the time is NOT living life. Doing things, talking to real people, and experiencing life IS. I don’t buy that communicating through a Facebook message is the equivalent of a real life conversation.
The funny thing is, when you make people aware of the fact that you only check email once a day, in most cases they’ll understand wholeheartedly. Most people don’t make the decision to define how often they check email, so they end up spending most of their lives checking it.
In most cases it’s essential to give important people a way to get in touch with you for emergencies. Most of us have cell phones, so give your most important clients and family your number and make it clear if there is a real emergency to get in touch with you there instead of over email.
Here are four simple steps to work towards checking email once per day.
1. Set times to check your email that work for you. I check my email once in the morning (around 7:00 AM) and once in the afternoon (about 4:00 PM). When I first did this I thought I was going to miss out on a lot of opportunities. Truth is I realized that the world doesn’t end if you don’t respond to an email in 5 seconds. People understand if you give them a response a few hours later. Writing this, it sounds ridiculous to think that someone will not give you a few hours to respond to an email!
2. Filter all unessential email to the archive or trash and UNSUBSCRIBE. We receive a lot of junk mail. From GAP, Job Services, Advertisements, you name it. When you get an email like this, DO NOT DELETE IT. Instead, go into the email and look on the bottom for the UNSUBSCRIBE link. Most companies will automatically unsubscribe you once you click it. After doing this for a month, I now ONLY receive emails that matter to me. That I actually want to receive. This will drastically lower the time you spend checking your email.
3. Process all emails to done in one sitting. Sit down, open up your email box, and process the whole inbox until it’s empty in one sitting. This means you have to make judgement calls: can you act on this immediately? Do you need to act at all? If the answer is the latter, archive now! If an email will take up a few hours of your time, set it aside on a NEXT ACTION LIST (not a do-do list, those don’t work. More about that in a future blog post). Your inbox needs to be at zero after you’re done. You should not have an inbox full of read messages. Instead, set it up to not show read messages and only display unread ones. This way when you are done checking, you have a blank inbox. Thanks to the archive feature in most email accounts today, your email are still there if you archive them, just not in your face.
4. Respond to most emails with 2-3 sentences. Write email responses like you’ll lost $100 for each extra letter you include. The shorter you are, the better the chances that you will not be misunderstood and the easier responding will be.
If you get the urge to check your email throughout the day, remember Mario. And the princess. Remember your princess, and what you have to do to get her. And go do that instead.