05 April 2013

Simple Living Tip: Don't Let Your Email Define Your Day

It has become obvious by now that we live in a digital era, a time when life has a second, virtual persona thus encouraging us to create our own alter egos online and start living an additional life on the Internet.

My Internet day starts roughly at the time of awakening with opening my email. There, I said it. I am not proud of myself.

One of the most unproductive ways to start my day is to open up my email first. I've read numerous articles why I shouldn't do it but here I am, the person who wrote about how to simplify your online presence, why multitasking is bad for you, and why you should unplug on a regular basis, admitting being addicted to getting emails and clearing her email inbox of unread ones.

Checking your email constantly is distraction disguised as work.

On a typical morning I would go through the 50+ unread emails that have accumulated in one of my inboxes since the night before and would often get carried away replying, reading, researching, etc. This might eat more than 2 hours of the most productive time of the day, when I am uninterrupted and my mind is still fresh.

And yet I go on, day after day.

Confession: My email inbox defines my day.

Often the emails I receive override the work plan I have set the night before and I find myself working on unimportant stuff and neglecting my art or writing. And yet I go on.
Photo: uncafelitoalasonce
Even now, when I am determined to write this post I feel distracted and need to check my email. Just in case there is some big news. Or anything to comment on. Or just in search of inspiration.

Two weeks ago I decided I will no longer let my email inbox define my mental activities and I mean to keep it simple and hassle-free. I committed to checking my email three times a day instead of living in my (three) inboxes, torn between hundreds of emails. As a first step I unsubscribed from a few mailing lists that proved to be disappointing. Then I created several filters to automatically mark notification emails from Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus as read.

What happened when I reduced email time
  1. At first I felt restless. Now that I had placed a limit on checking my emails I realized how dependent I was on distracting my mind while I should be concentrating. As days passed, the feeling faded although it hasn't disappeared completely yet.
  2. I became more productive. I am forcing myself back to the habit of staying concentrated for longer periods of time and I can already see the positive changes on my art, writing and real life responsibilities.
  3. Batch process. I stopped replying to emails the moment I receive them, thus reducing the amount of work. Now I batch process, which proved to be more effective both in terms of time spent and in work done. I spend 30 minutes in a concentrated batch-processing boot-camp replying to emails and writing down email related tasks.
  4. I stopped multi-tasking. If you follow me for a long time you surely remember my multi-tasking posts. Well, I am still on and off multi-tasking but I can already see that by taming myself email-wise I am seriously single-tasking again.
  5. My day depends on me. By not going through my email first thing in the morning I am now able to follow the plan I have for the day. Before I easily postponed my tasks for the needs of others, according to the time they enter my inbox. I don't call this egoism but organized sanity. After finishing with my most important tasks I am now ready to face the needs of the world (and I am ready to deliver much better results!)
  6. I am healthier. Plain as it may sound, by reducing the time I spend in my email inbox, I reduced the time I spend on my computer. Every day I make the conscious decision to go out and move more. My eyes are much better. If you remember their collapse after last years' Simple Living Challenge you know. To stop the development of my shortsightedness I have to spend 2-3 hours a day in sunlight. I am surprised that only one week into this my eyes' health has transformed.
  7. I am happier. But of course! I am moving more, I don't feel pressed by outer circumstances, I am more productive and I define the way my days go. What more can I ask of life?!
Photo: another.point.in.time
The mere fact that we all have access to a computer and Internet at home, at work, in our pockets does not justify our constant preoccupation with it. Being always present online robs us of our freedom to chose simple living and that is why we need to make conscious efforts to stick to our priorities and not to let distractions disguised as attractive conveniences take the best of us.

If I can do it, you can do it too!

By organizing your time you will regain control over the way you feel and the way you create. You will no longer feel that your life is controlled by circumstances and your life will be one shade simpler.

Now it's your turn, do you let your daily plans be defined by your email inbox or any other distraction? How do you deal with that?


  1. Very recognizable. I really dislike that I 'need' to check my email a lot.

    1. Isn't it funny that this "need" is created by you yourself but then has acquiered a different appearance?

  2. Well, Sonya, this is a timely post for me because I've come to the realization that I DEFINITELY need to streamline my email and online activity. In my former career, I was conditioned to check email first thing in the morning because my employer's corporate headquarters were in NY, 3 hours ahead of me. I started each weekday at an early hour, but was always at an automatic disadvantage with the time difference and would feel "behind" from the get go. When I started my own business, I intended to shed that morning pressure to check emails, but I admit that I've fallen back into my old routine. On top of that, as I've become more active online with Facebook, Pinterest, Etsy, following blogs and writing my own and so on, I've been sucked even further into the "abyss," as it was referred to by a local speaker I heard on social media/small business marketing a couple years ago. He advised us to avoid the "abyss" by taking the approach you've implemented, Sonya - defining the days/times for emails and online activity. I didn't do so because I thought I had my activity under control, but it has gradually spiraled out of control...it feels like an addiction! It has infringed upon time to create. I've become quite frustrated with myself and have recently taken steps, not enough yet, but some, to manage my online time. On those days when I have successfully structured my time, I've been more productive, more creative and to your point, happier. Yesterday, in fact, I spent little time on the computer as I felt compelled to create 30 mini collage cards as little gifts to the nursing students at our local university who invited me to return to their class (where I had been a recent guest speaker) and participate in a healing art project with them last night. I felt so much fulfillment! My game plan to avoid the lure of the computer and enjoy more days like yesterday is to schedule my online activity in my planner, and in addition, set a timer to alert myself when it's time to get up and walk away. Like you, I've also started unsubscribing from lists if the content isn't compelling to me. Thank you for this reminder of how critical it is to pull myself out of the online abyss!

  3. I also check email first thing in the morning and spend way too much time online, even though I know it's bad for me. I'm really trying to spend less time on the computer (at least during the weekends) and get outside because I also have terrible eyesight and worry that I'm making my eyes worse. I have tried before to limit checking email to once an hour, and for some reason, I lapsed back. I sound like an addict! Haha. Now that the weather is better, it seems like the perfect time to change bad habits.
    Hope you are well, my friend!

  4. When my kids went on Spring Break, I didn't check email as much, and it was surprising how much it piled up. I'm still trying to catch up, but during that offline time, I realized how much I DO get distracted by checking email so often. So, I've cut back, and I think if YOU can do it, then I can do it too! =0)
    Thanks for this!