Banishing The Tiny Red Circles

Banishing The Tiny Red Circles

Shane BarnhillThursday,4 September 2014

The Snap:

Email is notorious for causing stress and distracting us from more important tasks. But it’s hard to get away from email. It’s at work. It’s at home. It’s on our smartphones, desktops computers, and tablets. According to one report, “over 182 billion emails are exchanged” each day, and the load is poised to get even heavier. So what can be done, if anything, to break free from the distraction of email to become more focused and less stressed? Well, I have both good and bad news for you.

The Download:

First, the bad news. From a work perspective, you may be screwed. In a recent article for Mother JonesClive Thompson writes, “If you think you’re distracted now, just wait. By 2015, according to the Radicati Group, a market research firm, we’ll be receiving 22 percent more business email (excluding spam) than we did three years ago, and sending 24 percent more.” Thus, depending on not only your job, but also your employer’s size and culture, it may not be possible to reduce your email load. In this case, take a look at these possible productivity boosters:

1. Don’t ever check your email first thing in the morning. A good way to think about email is that it represents “everyone else’s needs,” and not your own, meaning that you should focus on your own goals well before opening your email inbox. Writing for The Huffington Post, Alexis Kleinman calls this concept “The 1 Thing Super Successful People Never Do In The Early Morning.”

2. Of course, it can be tough to stay away from email entirely in the morning, but Forbes has you covered if that’s the case: ‘Don’t Check Email First Thing’ Is Unrealistic For You? Try This Instead.

3. If you’re the change agent type, then take a long look at introducing Slack into your workplace. Started by one of the co-founders of Flickr, Slack is gaining a reputation as a productivity-boosting email killer. Slack is so popular for this reason (see chart below), that it’s even being offered as a key perk to lure top talent into companies. The tool can costly, however — $7 per user per month for Slack’s standard edition, and even more for premium versions.

Now that I’ve gotten the bad news about work-related email out of the way, let’s turn to the good news: It’s easy to break free from personal email. At least it has been for me, as part of a recent experiment that has evolved into a permanent practice.

What I did was simple: One day, a few months ago, I just removed all of the email icons from my device home screens (Gmail, Apple, and even old school Yahoo), and resolved to stop proactively checking my email inbox, unless a push notification alerted me to something truly important that needed immediate attention. This may sound like a radical approach at first, but it really isn’t. If you have push notifications turned on for your email app of choice, then you’ll still see nearly all messages as they come through.

However, there is a very important distinction. With this approach, an email inbox no longer becomes a destination; instead, it’s merely a stream of messages that pass by on your screen — something closer to Facebook’s News Feed, or to Twitter’s timeline, than to a physical mailbox. Sometimes you click, tap or respond to messages in a stream. But more often than not, you don’t. You see a message as it passes by through the stream. But once it’s off of your screen, it’s simply gone. Forever.

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking: “But, but, but… I’ll miss important messages!” And the truth is, you might. But in my experience, fewer than 10% of email important messages slip through without awareness via a push notification, and of these, about 90% are from people who know how to follow up with me via other channels, such as Facebook Messenger. Or Twitter. Or best of all, a simple text message: “Hey, I sent you something by email. Please take a look and let me know what you think.”

This approach has been incredibly liberating. The home screen on my iPhone is now completely free from those tiny red notification circles that used to pique my curiosity and pull me away into the time suck of email.

In summary, there are a handful of methods for overcoming email overload. At work, new habits and better technologies offer productivity benefits, and for personal email, a change in perspective can free up some time. My new personal approach is working well, and I look forward to using my extra email-free time to focus on building a case to implement Slack at work. After all, it’s going to be a lot harder to root out email at the office.

Lastly: What if I do end up missing some email? I’ll just let the GIFs below answer that question.

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Hat Tips:

The Telegraph, NTT Communications, The Radicati Group, Mother Jones, Lifehacker, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Wired, The VergeImage Credit: Flickr

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