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Email: Productive Tool or Waste of Time

Do you feel like you live in your email?!

How many messages do you have in your inbox today? How many hours do you spend trawling through it every day? What about the messages you file in those umpteen other folders?

For me, email has become a time-wrenching beast that steals my focus from productive work.

I appreciate the opportunity to jump among various tasks and projects, especially creative ones. However, email is not the appropriate place to find content to consume, especially in what little time I feel I have to read, act, or otherwise engage.

I prefer to subscribe to content feeds in various applications and websites. For example, I’m an avid user of Reeder, the standard in iPad RSS news reading according to The Sweet Setup. And, I subscribe to a handful of YouTube channels I enjoy, rather than randomly browsing the Internet for funny cat videos.

Email Correspondence

Do you rely on email for most of your internal business communication?

You may know that I work part-time as program registrar for Wilderness Torah.

For the last couple years, we have been using Asana, a cloud-based project management tool. Asana is a place where we organize all of our organizational and project-based todo lists.

Asana Inbox instead of email inbox

The built-in commenting system enables Asana to replace our internal use of email to communicate about various matters. This is key because every message is attached to a specific task and due date.

As a result, Asana’s Inbox and notification system enables us to easily follow our progress on tasks as we prioritize, work, correspond, and complete them.

I have been championing Asana among my colleagues, asking them to use it exclusively when making requests of me. After all, I am likely to create a task in Asana anyway, so why not skip email altogether? Plus, I am often unable to complete these tasks immediately and I find that they get quickly lost in my email inbox.

For colleagues who struggle to make this transition, Asana enables task creation via email.

Email + News Subscriptions

Do you receive tons of newsletters, petition requests, and such in your email?

A few months ago at Passover in the Desert, one of Wilderness Torah’s festival programs, I was offline for about five days. During this quiet time, I set an intention to make some shifts in my life.

I decided I wanted journal more about my waking and dreaming experiences. With my busy schedule, I would need to reduce time spent with other activities.

I did two things when I got home:

  1. I started unsubscribing from many email lists
  2. I started removing from my news feed several of the sources I was consuming least

A couple months later when I returned from a three-week vacation on the East Coast, I also decided to try to keep my sleep schedule on Eastern Time. I have found I am capable of being an early bird if I have the motivation to get up and do something.

While I have not yet kept a habit of going to bed before 11 pm, I have generally been waking by 6:45 am. Also, I have stopped looking at my email on my iPhone while still lying in bed, which actually was putting a damper on my productivity throughout the day.

Instead, after enjoying 30 minutes of music that wakes me up, I get up and sit at my Mac. I am much speedier there at getting through my messages, which number many fewer than they used to.

Also, I use f.lux, which reduces my display’s color temperature in morning and evening so it’s easier on my eyes.

Email Updates to Family + Friends

How often do you email your loved ones to stay in touch?

It’s been a long time since I sent an email to many friends and family about my life and all the things I’ve been up to.

I am finding that I prefer to talk to people, post brief updates on Facebook and Twitter, and publish articles like this where you can learn a bit about my activities.

Since so much emotion is lost when talking on the phone, I have been speaking with my parents on Zoom, a video meeting platform I started using in grad school.

Zoom offers a more pleasurable user experience than Skype, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangout. I’m grateful that California College of the Arts welcomed my input and chose to adopt Zoom as a school-wide meeting plaform for use by students, faculty, staff — and alumni!

So, I am building a new habit of speaking to distant friends on the phone or scheduling get-togethers on Zoom so we can stay in touch. We have so little time to consume those long emails anyway. Speaking of which, this post is getting long.

Have you learned something useful here?
Are you ready to reduce your time with email?

Please post, tweet, and share this article with others you think would benefit. And, if you or they would appreciate a consultation to explore new ways to be productive and live happier lives with your devices, please be in touch.

Ben

Ben

Mac + Sustainability Coach at Sustainable Computing
Ben
Ben
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