From the very start of this experiment, I’ve been actively avoiding unscheduled rendezvous with the inbox because if I saw that I had unread messages, I knew that I would be tempted to check them. Remember, ignorance is bliss. Not knowing if I had any messages awaiting me was the easiest way to forget about checking my email.
It was nice while it lasted.
Staring Temptation in the Face
Today, while loading up a web site, I must have clicked the wrong bookmark because when the page loaded, I was staring at the familiar Gmail interface.
And I had some unread messages.
Just a few mind you, but in the brief glance I had before I realized what I was looking at, I saw that at least one unread message was a reply to an ongoing conversation (it had a “(2)” appended to the subject, meaning it was the 2nd message in a conversation).
Realizing what I had done, I quickly averted my eyes (I admit it felt silly to do so), and focused on the address bar to load up the right site.
So was I tempted? Yes.
I fully confess that in the moment before hitting the enter key and getting out of dodge, I thought,
“Hey, I’m here, I see that I have messages– at least one of which is a reply– maybe there’s something important. What’s the harm in looking?”
“Maybe there’s something important”— the same question continues to dog me after nearly two months of devising ways to keep those four simple words from enticing me to check my email. Will I ever be free of this nagging curiosity?
I continued to be haunted by the thought that perhaps one of those unread messages was important but simply had not been accounted for by my filters that forward messages to my priority email account.
The Perfect Test
That’s when I realized that closing the browser window knowing that I had unread messages would be the perfect test of just how strong the temptation could be. Up until this point, I purposefully avoided subjecting myself to such a test because I knew I needed to build a foundation for counteracting that temptation first.
Perhaps I’m ready now? Irregardless, this whole experiment is really about will power anyway, right?
So I closed Gmail and moved on.
Am I still tempted even now? Yes.
Let’s list the worst that could happen by not immediately attending to those unread messages:
- A family member needs something — My dad is traveling, perhaps he emailed because calling was not appropriate/possible at the time. Ding! Messages from family are forwarded to my priority account.
- A business opportunity — If the opportunity was no longer available a week from now (i.e. the next time I checked my email), then it wasn’t a serious opportunity.
- A user needs help — This is actually the most likely option and thus is the one I am most concerned about in this case. However, users generally contact me via a few different channels, which I have forwarding filters set up for, so there is little chance for a user’s message to be missed for an entire week.
I can’t really think of anything so terrible that would make it necessary to check my email today. Unfortunately, this only serves to make the temptation stronger– perhaps the “worst thing” is something that I haven’t even considered.