The Addictive Lure Of The Inbox

Opening up your email or any type of inbox pinging, including messaging, can be thrilling and addictive. Who wants to talk to me? What good news are they bringing, or even better, what interesting gossip are they willing to share? That's why the most common sight in a public place these days is people with heads down tapping away. Sure, they're reading news or looking at Facebook, but mostly it's all about the instant gratification of someone reaching out to them.

But once the initial thrill is gone, inboxes turn straight into drudgery. There are usually requests to answer, things to do and decisions to be made. And it never, ever ends. How annoying are those people who once you respond send you something right back and now you have to respond again? (In some ways I feel bad if I do respond right away. But then also gleeful that the ball is back in their court. Ha!)

So this may be the most boring post I have ever written, but I hope it is helpful. If you, like me, like hearing how other people wrangle with the admin tasks of modern life, read on. I have wrestled with my messaging strategy and here's what works for me.  

1. I do check email first thing in the morning.
Read any article about productivity and the one big no-no is checking and responding to emails first thing in the morning. The worry is that if you do this, you'll never get to the really important things you need to get done for the day. But I can't get on with my day in a productive fashion if I have all these unanswered requests waiting for me in my inbox. Also, if I know I have work to get on with it makes me zip through my inbox much faster, instead of the more leisurely pace I might take if I do it when I don't have urgent tasks awaiting my attention.

2. I have adopted the so-called 'batch processing' method.
(Sounds thrilling, no?) This means that you go through your inbox and then that's it. You don't check or respond in-between the set times you have for processing emails. Of course with work I have to cheat a bit because urgent requests could come in. So I have Outlook set up with the function where I get a preview of incoming messages in the right-hand corner of my screen. It's easy for me to assess whether something needs to dealt with straight away or can be answered after lunch (the next time I try to tackle my inbox). At the end of the day, I reply to anything absolutely necessary and do a tidy up -- deleting any junk mail that's come in during the afternoon -- before heading home.

3. I treat texts and instant messaging differently. Instantly.
Because these messages are generally shorter, I try to reply straight away even if I'm really busy when I see it come in. I never used to do this -- my chronic procrastination was really chronic -- even when I knew it would take only a few seconds. Now I just do it as a rule because it normally takes so little time and then I don't have to remember later. And yes, sometimes I do get caught up in conversations back and forth, but it never takes up as much time as I think it will. And if I don't know the answer, I reply saying so, and then add whatever I need to figure out to my to-do list. Then I don't have to worry about remembering.

I generally find when I don't have unanswered messages hanging over my head, I can just get on with other things with a clearer less-stressed mind.

Do you have rules for email and messaging? Or is it just not a problem for you?

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