Things are getting easier as I continue my experiments in curbing email usage.
From the start, I endeavored to avoid email altogether until after lunch today. I’ve found that the later I push back the first time I check email in the day, the easier it is to avoid thinking about it for the rest of the day. This is important since the goal is to see that inbox only once per day.
After “fasting” from email until after lunch yesterday, it was much easier to delay “email time” today. Though the temptation was not incredibly strong yesterday, I felt even less tempted to check my email in the morning today. Receiving no important emails yesterday despite only checking my email once helped to allay any concerns about potentially missing an important message today.
A New Target
Though I’m still not convinced of its practicality, I’ve been thinking more seriously about checking email once per week. The email tracking data I’ve collected so far clearly shows that the majority of emails I receive do not require my immediate attention, so it should at least be possible to do this. There are a few potential issues, however:
After about 24 hours, I had 17 messages when I checked my email today. This is an easily manageable number of messages, but I would have to deal with around 7 times that number (100+) after a week without checking email. Batch-processing emails does save time, but I’m guessing that there is a “sweet spot” for attaining the highest rate of emails processed per minute.
Simply, too many emails at once may actually take longer to process.
I’m not quite sure how to rectify this issue yet, especially since I don’t know at what message volume would the per-email processing time actually start to increase.
Some of the messages that I receive may not be high priority, but are time-sensitive. For example, I receive an email from my local library when a book I have on hold becomes available. From that point, I have 72 hours to claim the book, which would not a problem even if I only checked my email once per day, but it could definitely lead to some lost books if I see those notifications 7 days later (i.e. 4 days too late).
While the email usage data I’ve collected has helped to allay concerns over potentially missing important messages by showing me patterns from past email activity, it does not fully address what may happen in the future.
To that end, one solution that I’m testing is to have a second email account that I can have important messages forwarded to automatically from my existing account using filters. This “priority account” would be synced with my phone so that I would be notified when an important message is received.
Setting up a priority email account presents an interesting twist because it requires me to choose which senders and subjects get my highest attention. This is almost directly the opposite of how things are now, where most of the incoming email is from others forcing their messages upon me and I have no say in the matter.
The primary concern with such a setup though is making sure that the necessary filters are in place to forward the important emails. This may take some time, but the cool thing is that I can add (and remove) forwarding filters on-demand so that I can rest easy knowing that I’ll be notified when a particular message is received. Setting up a new forwarding filter is all it take to free me from constantly thinking about whether I’ve received an email yet or not.
So far, I’m liking this email “fasting”. The next step will be to skip one or more days between email checks.
Other “Reactive” Sources
I am also actively curbing consumption of other reactive sources (news, forums, etc.). I did not look at the news at all today, and I did not browse any forums before starting work today. This is partially because I keen on figuring out what what was causing a bug that appeared at the end of work yesterday in SLB, but I’ll take a good start to the day any way I can get it.
I did a bit of forum browsing after checking my email this afternoon though. Nothing incredible to report though (e.g. must-read posts, etc.), which is pretty much in line with the data from my email tracking (that is, important and time-sensitive posts are few and far between). Just like checking email, knowing that I’m not missing much makes it easier to hold off from checking forums and reading news.
- Checked email: 1 time
- Time: 14:35
- Total messages: 17
- Important: 0