August and September were super busy months for me. In addition to the growing pains of hiring someone and deciding to run my own dedicated server and host my own websites, I also had a bunch of websites that were in the launching phase. Launching any website makes for a busy time. Last minute changes are being thrown in. A zillion emails are going back and forth. There’s a good amount of testing to do.
I don’t usually like to have more than one or two websites in the launching phase, but I had six (yes, SIX) in this phase. It was stressful, to say the least. Four of those website have been launched (check out the Portfolio page to read about those awesome projects and clients!) and two are still being wrapped up. During this crazy time, my inbox was filling up with emails waiting for a response and email became a big source of anxiety for me.
Every time I heard that little “ding” from Outlook, my stomach would flip-flop. I’d dread looking at my inbox to see what new problem needed fixing. I already had an overflowing plate of work and new email notifications typically meant more work. I also get email on my iPhone, so every time I looked at my phone, I’d see that bubble sitting over my email app showing how many unread emails were waiting for me. All of these constant reminders were plaguing me and sneakily whispering in my ear, “There’s more email waiting for you. More work that’s piling up. When will you find time to do everything?!”
Then, a book I had ordered on Amazon was delivered. As you know from my previous blog posts, I’m into productivity, and specifically, the Getting Things Done method. But, lately, I’d been feeling that it just wasn’t cutting it for me. Maura Nevel Thomas’ book, Personal Productivity Secrets couldn’t have come at a better time. Thomas focuses specifically on the massive influx of information we receive on a daily basis, from email to social media to voicemails, and she gives specific instructions on how to manage your attention.
Early on in the book, one paragraph really struck a chord with me.
“When you are reacting you aren’t really choosing. Or, at best, you are choosing from a limited set of options, most of which typically reflect other people’s priorities… you are responding to a limited subset of options that reflect how other people want you to spend your time: answering their emails, solving their problems, satisfying their needs.”
*This* was what was providing all of the angst and anxiety I was feeling. Like Pavlov’s dog, as soon as I heard an email notification or saw that red bubble on my iPhone’s mail app, I knew that there was more work waiting for me. Even if the work was something I’d be able to do and manage, it was that lack of control over a system that was constantly piling up more and more work for me that was the source of my anxiety.
So, I decided to take back control of my email instead of letting it control me. Here’s what I did:
- I turned off automatic email downloads in Outlook on my laptop; messages only arrive when I’m ready for them.
- I turned off that little red unread email notification bubble over my email app on my iPhone – here’s a quick tutorial on how to do that.
- I stopped checking email first thing in the morning: no more starting my day immediately reacting to problems.
- I stopped checking email right before bed: no more thinking about work as I am trying to fall asleep.
- I decide what tasks I want to complete for the day, then when those tasks are complete, I check my email.
These five simple steps have made a world of difference in my day. I still check email frequently throughout the day. I do not have a set time when I check email. One method to control email is to only check email at certain points during the day, but my schedule is too inconsistent to stick to that rule. What I’ve found is that by starting off my day by completing items off of my todo list, I’m being productive and accomplishing what’s important to my business and my clients. When email was the first thing I looked at, I was reacting to the many requests that came in via email in the evening, night and morning hours. I found that a day would go by and I’d look at my list and realize I hadn’t accomplished anything on it! Instead, I had spent the day responding to emails, and, thus, satisfying others’ needs instead of my own. This is not to say that my clients’ needs are not important. They are, and that’s why I’m in business. Rather, I’m prioritizing my clients needs and serving them better by setting aside time to complete the work in the priority I’ve designed, as opposed to the unorganized, reactionary downward spiral that unchecked email can create. By taking control and deciding when to check email, I’ve noticed a major improvement in my productivity and huge drop in anxiety over email.