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Email makes me stressed (and how to cope)

This is a guest-blog entry by a coworker Tanya Reilly.

Something I realised this week:

Opening my (personal or work) email inbox makes me stressed. If the network is slow, and it takes a couple of seconds for my mail to be displayed, that's a couple of seconds where I feel under real pressure. Email, rather than being the source of joy one would assume, brings obligation: this mail needs reply, this question needs to be answered, this bank statement needs to be read, this lovely long catch-up email from a friend needs a thoughtful response. No matter how pleasant an email is, it usually means something new that needs to be done. Worst of all are the mails that are still in my inbox that I've already read. Was I supposed to do something about them? Does someone think I'm a jerk for not replying? Was there something I was supposed to do with my bank account? Have I forgotten to pay for something on eBay? All of this to think about inside a couple of seconds. It's so pointless.


1) Keep the inbox empty. I've watched that Inbox Zero talk that was going around a while back, and the dude has it right: never use the inbox as a todo list. Anything that needs to be done gets noted in the real todo list, and the mail gets archived. I mean, if it's a five minute response, do that straight away, and archive the mail, but if it's a reply that needs any thought, take it out of the inbox and make a note to reply later.

2) Add email-replying to my calendar. I already put "paperwork" in there, for paying bills and filling in forms, and replying to personal emails is just as important and equally worth scheduling.

3) Stop checking mail. Don't read mail on my phone. Don't reflexively check mail during context switches. Don't have email checking be the default first thing to do when I'm online. Email's addictive, and the reward rarely lives up to the anticipation. I will stay away from the email.

Well, it's largely untried so far, but I feel like I've identified something that's easy to change that will reduce my level of background stress. So far not reading email before going to work has made a difference in how much I enjoy mornings. If it works out, I'll report back.

I'm so tempted to do a Knuth and respond to email once a quarter. Wouldn't it be nice? An auto-responder saying "Tanya will read your email on October 3rd. If your message is urgent, please... well, don't phone either actually. Uh. Note it on twitter, maybe? You're smart: you'll think of something."

(If you only get a few emails a week and are happy every time, this must sound so mental.)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

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Don't you find the same thing happens to you with Twitter, RSS feeds etc? So many of them are either:

- something broken which you'll need to update/fix/patch/whatever
- something interesting that you feel you should read (and add to an ever-growing list)
- something which annoys you in some other way (inane, etc)

I just find that I end up with too many things I want to read, and shy away from any new sources of information until I have a decent way of filtering them...
(that combined with wanting to "keep up" with things leads to madness and panic! :)

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