Evil Email: How Constantly Checking Messages Is Ruining Your Work Day

Evil Email: How Constantly Checking Messages Is Ruining Your Work Day

Whybin/TBWA’s Sydney campaign manager, Dave Matthews, was wondering where his work day went. He fast realised the problem was right at the tip of his fingertips…

Hi. I’m Dave (pictured below). I work in account management. And I’ve always had a problem. For as long as I can remember working with clients, I have developed an unhealthy habit.



My problem…

… saying it out loud is always the hardest part…

Was checking emails.

There. It’s out!

I checked my emails all the time. It started at my desk, on my work computer, during work hours, but at some point – I can’t remember when – it took over all parts of my life. At work, at home, on my way to and from work,  on my phone at work as I walked to my computer that had my emails on it.

I never actually realised my habit was unhealthy until it was too late. I told myself ‘it’s normal’ and ‘it’s part of the job’, and ‘how else do I stay on top of things?’. That’s right, I was in stage 1. Denial.

Then one day, about four weeks ago, I had a revelation.

I was going through an intense phase at work where I had a higher workload than usual. I noticed that although I had a plan at the start of each day, I would very rarely get through my planned list. I couldn’t figure out why.

It hit me…..EMAIL!!!!

I would spend my entire day with the email screen open and notifications turned on. I would be working on an urgent task, but then I’d get instantaneously sidetracked.

The problem was that when email was on, I wouldn’t determine what I’d get done that day.

Others would.

So I toyed with a crazy idea.

What if I turned my email notifications off, and only ever opened my email at the following times:

9:00am / 1:00pm / 5:00pm..?

I gave myself one week to commit to the experiment, and here’s what I faced immediately:

  1. My clients freaked out. I wasn’t responding to their requests as quickly as I once had.
  2. My (internal) producers freaked out. They wouldn’t get constant updates and immediate responses to questions.
  3. I got a severe case of FOMO. I knew things were happening on my projects that I wasn’t witnessing in real time.
  4. I didn’t get to procrastinate – on the tasks I was subconsciously avoiding.

The discomfort on all the above forced me to make a few observations about account service life in an ad agency.

Observation #1: When a client writes in an email ‘this is urgent’ with no follow up. It’s usually not urgent. When a client writes an urgent email and follows up 2-6 times immediately on your mobile saying something’s urgent, then yes this is probably urgent.

Observation #2: If you tell internal departments that you’re not on emails, they still email you. If you don’t reply within a few hours and they rely on you for information they will either call you or come find you… it’s not a big deal.

Observation #3: When you spend your day cracking on with tasks that need to be done – rather than reacting to emails – you produce work that is more considered, more intelligent, less rushed, and that you’re prouder of.

These were three observations I was able to make from just a few days on my new email schedule.

Now, four weeks in, I’ve noticed two things that I honestly never expected.

First thing: When I’m not dragged into urgent emergencies immediately, I react to them faster and smarter. It’s amazing how knowing that I’m a few hours behind a crisis makes a difference to the approach of a situation. I know I’m always too late offer an immediate solve. So instead, I stop, consider, create a plan, then execute with a clearer mindset.

Second thing: I’ve created less (unnecessary) work for myself. If I answer an email immediately with a question, that leads to another question, that leads to a discussion, that can create a day of work in itself that is not always required. Whereas if I don’t react for half a day, that person who sent the email (and didn’t require an immediate phone call to follow up) may be half a day through solving the problem already, and I can come in to the picture to help them once I have the time and headspace.

Thanks for bearing with me through this. This has been great therapy, and I feel my problem is almost resolved. One of my problems, that is.

You may agree with this way of working, you may hate it. But I’ll say it’s worth asking yourself how many times you’ve been asked in a job interview “how many emails are you able to respond to in a day?”.

If you’re not getting hired for that skill, then why would it be something you’re working so hard at?


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