This is my stated routine for handling email:
- When I start my workday, I skim through the list of email subject lines in my inbox just to make sure there are no actual urgent items that need to be handled. (If there are, of course, they get handled!)
- At the end of my workday, the last thing on my calendar is a time block of 1-2 hours. This is when I go through all of my email and other communications, handling what needs to be handled in the moment, and scheduling everything else.
- Outside of the one skim in the morning and the focused time block at the end of the day, I don’t read email. Period.
- And no notifications.
So that’s the stated routine. But, for quite a while, I wasn’t very good at sticking to it. I’d sneak a peek now and again, just to see if anything new or exciting had come in. I’d do a subsequent check and clearance of my inbox after dinner. And maybe before bed.
The result? An increase in FOMO (fear of missing out) — whether a business-related matter or something personal. That’s it. Not something real; just a fear. I didn’t see increased efficiency or happier clients or experience a sense of productivity. In fact, it was the opposite of that last one. It felt fractured and like there was always an impending distraction. FOMO.
So I ran an experiment. What would happen if I actually held myself to what I tell everyone is my routine? Pot / kettle — I called myself out. And I added social media into the mix. In my time block at the end of the day, after going through emails, I get a few minutes to check in on Facebook, look at messages, posts, notifications, etc. Outside the time block, no Facebook, either. The routine is the law of the land.
Guess what happened? I was more focused during my client work. I was actually more productive across the board. And I was a bit calmer all around. By not allowing myself to automatically switch to social media or email when I had a few moments of downtime, I’d take care of some small task that had been waiting forever. Or read something interesting that had been on my list. Or just breathe and look at the world around me. More frequently, I felt myself being present in my life at that moment.
I struggled to resist FOMO for a while. That struggle continues, but it has faded significantly.
I don’t want to go back in time to the days before easy communication (email, social media, texts, etc.). I just don’t want the availability of easy communication to turn into an obligation of availability that ends up detracting from the quality of my work and the quality of my life.
Do you have a routine for email & the like? And do you actually stick to it? Maybe give that a try. I’d love to hear how you get on.