Fighting email creep

Last month I tracked all my activity for a couple of weeks and noticed how much time I spend on little stuff that doesn’t move the needle forward much. Email was a big one!

As one of those people who has multiple messages coming at me throughout the day in various formats, I found that I was losing hours of the day dealing with these electronic communications. How and why was I getting so sidelined despite all my best intentions?

It starts with the daily lies I tell myself about how I will only dedicate a small window of time to email each day. This rarely happens!

Once I open up my email in a web browser tab, I tend to leave it open–and then it beeps throughout the day as email begets more email.

A smarter person would probably say, “Self, close that window and focus on your main task for the time being.”

Clearly, I am not that smarter person. I’m the one with 5 million browser tabs open that mimic papers on the desk for projects in progress.

And when I do close all the messaging platforms to focus on other things, I get text messages from people about emails they just sent.

And sometimes I am the offender sending text messages about emails.

If I am working on class related stuff in the Canvas LSM interface, student messages are pushed to the navigation menu alerting me that someone has a question. I tend to jump on these rather than let them sit because I worry that I won’t get back to them in time if I wait. I know from experience this a real possibility. Also, I like to lie to myself that I can shoot off a quick reply to the quick question. As you probably guessed, I rarely fire off quick responses when I can write a thoughtful reply. Or at least that’s how I justify all the time I spend.

I have my work and personal emails combined on my phone, making it ever so tempting to do a “quick” check and response when I am waiting in the line at the grocery store or at the local pub. This, I realize, means I am always on and never stepping away from work.

Over the years, I have taken Draconian measures to control my relationship with email.

I have scheduled strict email checking times on my calendar, I have put language in my syllabus about how I don’t respond to emails outsides of business hours, and I have even taken the email off my phone.

But then each time my computer does a Windows update, the email notifications for Outlook that I had previously silenced begin to chirp again–uninvited. It shows me a preview of the message, teasing me with the contents and baiting my curiosity to open it NOW. I can’t help myself. I must respond!!!!

And then after I check the email, I start to leave my browser open all day long again–forgetting to get in and GET OUT.

And then when I am still working after 5pm because I started my day later than the average bear, I feel compelled to respond since my work hours are just shifted a little later. I tell myself I need to complete my work for the day even if it’s well past dinner time.

And as the boundaries of my work day disappear, it gets so much easier to lose track of time and deal with email well into the evening.

And since I work at home most of the time, I have even less structure around when to work and when to stop.

And then I’m emailing as the clock strikes midnight. And then I’m catching up on emails over the weekend.

It’s email creep–and it can take over if you aren’t paying attention.

As I ponder this dilemma and once again reassess my relationship with communication technologies, I ask you these questions, dear reader:

What communication technologies suck you in?

What does your path to technology creep look like?

How do you manage to stay connected without getting sucked in?

Thanks for reading & I welcome your thoughts

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