Email: Channeling Josephine

I excel at checking my email. Responding is another matter.

Back when I was about 14 or so (I can't remember exactly, although I'm sure the technology should place it if you're curious), my oldest and dearest friend and I sat in my parents' basement typing messages back and forth on separate computers that my techie folks had hooked up via a LAN (local area network).

We thought this was amazing. In fact, we couldn't believe it – we could type messages back and forth to each other on computers, without having to pass notes back and forth like in class at school. I should note, we were sitting right next to each other. Who we were afraid of hearing us talk while we sat in my parents' basement, I had no idea.

I think if you had told us that someday we would type messages back and forth on our computers (and eventually phones) – instantaneously – while I was living in London and she was living in New York, we would have fainted dead away. Not to mention the fact that I would someday live in another country!

(It's good I had no idea – I'm sure I would have thought that my life would be much more exciting than it actually is.)

Email has changed our lives in ways we never could have imagined. Good ways. As an ex-pat living far away from my friends and family in the US (and elsewhere in the world) it is much easier knowing I have an easy way to chat with them. If I really need to speak to my Mom, although she's a very busy lady who runs an IT department (did the early implementation of the LAN give anything away?), I know she's got her blackberry with her at all times and I can email her and she'll get it straight away. It's nice having that lifeline.

But the instantaneous nature of email can be stressful. You fire off a bunch and feel caught-up and efficient, with time to put on some lip gloss. And then, nearly two seconds later, your inbox is suddenly populated with bolded items again! Like weeds, or stray hairs, getting rid of them is never done.

I particularly like Leo Babauta's take on email. He recently posted some of his greatest hits on simple living and I think his email one (Email Sanity: How to Clear Your Inbox When You're Drowning) is definitely worth a read.

The problem with email, in my case, is I'm very good at checking it – responding promptly and doing it without feeling stressed is the hard part. I think Babauta hits the nail on the head – you have to actually check it less often to make it more manageable. If every time you click on that program or check your phone, your goal is to actually empty and deal with the items in your inbox, it's much more manageable.

When we check and check and check, we are waiting for something to entertain us and provide a break from whatever it is that we're doing (and often don't want to be doing). We are seeking distraction. And really, we are not actually dealing with our email correspondence. I think it might be fair to say it's an addiction? Or at least a bad habit.

I like to think of the Empress Josephine, Napoleon's wife. Every morning she dealt with her correspondence. It was just the way things were done – you read what came in that day and wrote responses. You didn't run out to look for the postman every 10 minutes.

I'm going to try to channel her as I attempt to get my inbox under control.

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