Email Habits: How to Use Psychology to Regain Control — Psychology of Stuff — Medium
“This cognitive itch comes in barely perceptible waves of anxiety prompted by unanswered questions. Is there something important waiting for me in my inbox? Perhaps good news? Perhaps bad? Maybe a quick response would scratch the itch to check? Even as I write this I feel the urge to check email.”
Truly an interesting challenge especially if one’s job is essentially a stream of email triage. In the past I have been most successful changing a habit by replacing it with something else. In terms of email what I know helps:
1. Instant messaging – this reduces the amount of transitory emails. By transitory I mean emails that have a deadline built in; if you don’t answer in the next hour, the email is meaningless. How many emails do you get that are no longer useful? They should truly age-out.
2. Use a better system for many things. At Microsoft we used Yammer, this worked pretty well at the time. I have recently tried using persistent IRC, that isn’t as good. I hear Slack is good, we will see how that evolves this year. The key to this is reducing the volume of email so it can do what it does best.
I haven’t tried setting a permanent out-of-office message, I don’t think that would work well for my case but it’s interesting.
These are things to get out of the morass of email. The key of this article though is that checking email is physically and mentally scratching an itch. If you don’t check email, you will check Facebook. Or take a sip of coffee or wine or whatever. I know in my case checking email is frequently a way that I can avoid doing deep-thinking work, i.e. I have a chore to get done and I distract myself with an urgent email.
So this year I will figure out a way to both deal with the really urgent emails but not check email constantly. The solution will be both mental (scratching the itch) and dealing with the deluge.