Think about your relationship with your inbox.

It’s gone on long enough.

Email has managed to take hold of too many lives, distracting us from what we really should be doing by sucking us back into responding to messages coming at us on an ongoing basis.

The technology of email is wonderful in that we can actually communicate with each other from opposite ends of the globe or from right next door with just a few keystrokes and a “whoosh” from our computer’s speakers, but it has come at a cost that is getting out of control.

With new technology we often get so excited about what it can do that we forget about what it was intended to do. We start to allow the technology to direct us rather than the other way around. A ringing telephone gets answered because it’s simply ringing, a fax gets picked up because it’s just been freshly faxed. And so it goes with email. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s time to really think about email – from the inside out.

Email is defined as follows:

“…messages distributed by electronic means from one computer user to one or more recipients via a network.” – via Apple’s native dictionary application

Let’s break that down in a bit. But what I found pretty disturbing from the get-go is the sample sentence offered with the definition:

“Reading e-mail has become the first task of the morning.”

Ugh. Not exactly the most productive way to start the morning. But I digress.

Email is an abbreviation of “electronic mail”, which brings us back to the term “mail”, which is:

“…letters and packages conveyed by the postal system.” – via Apple’s native dictionary application

All of this may seem rather obvious to many of you. But let me ask you: Have you ever stood by the front door waiting for the mail to arrive? You may have on occasion, waiting for a particular package or letter to arrive. But have you done so every day, checking every so often to see if the mail has arrived? Probably not.

So why do so many of us do that when it comes to email?

The instantaneous aspect of email has created a reaction in many of us that would be preposterous if we applied it to regular old “snail mail”. Trying to break away from reacting this way to email is difficult because it’s not just your own habits that need to be broken, but the habits of those who are sending you the messages. Trying to explain to them that you are going to be less reactionary when your inbox signals a new message has arrived is a challenge, and it will be a very tough pill for many to swallow.

But it has to be done.

Rarely (if ever) did people let the postal service dictate how their days went. When the mail arrived, it sat in the mailbox until it was ready to be picked up. In some cases, it would be several days before you’d go to the post office to pick it up. Even if you had mail delivered to your door you wouldn’t always jump for it when the mailman arrived to deliver it. We need to start applying the same practice to our electronic mail. We need to be more proactive with it than reactive. We need to rule our email inbox rather than let it rule us.

When your email program signals that a message has arrived, it isn’t a command to go and check it out. It’s an alarm. It’s a notification. You have a say as to when you’ll venture into your inbox. Once you start to take back control of email, you’ll find that going into your email program is less of a chore and more a matter of routine – a routine you’ve designed. Think about it: how many emails are sitting in your inbox right now? Why are they there? Is it because you’ve yet to deal with them and have no desire to? Is it because you are using your mailbox to manage what you have to do on a daily basis rather than using your mailbox as a means of gathering information to add to the place you should be putting them so that you can properly manage your tasks?

Why does electronic mail seem more important than non-electronic mail?

Sure, electronic mail has also replaced the phone in many cases. Yet there are times where we’ve “held our calls” when we’re doing something that requires total focus and no distractions or interruptions. Do we do that for email as well? We should.

Email Alternatives

  1. Instant messaging. Should be used when a response is needed immediately. Think of it as the phone for the 21st century.
  2. Telephone. Still works better than both email to convey the importance of matters at hand. Instant messaging is more efficient at allowing people to track conversations, but the phone is more…human.
  3. Social networks. Takes things outside of your regular email inbox and often works better for sharing items. As long as privacy isn’t the main concern, social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can keep your inbox clutter down.

What’s in your inbox?

It’s time to think about email as it is: a method of communication that is faster than most other types we have available to us in today’s society. It’s not something that should keep us from doing the important work; it’s what should allow us to have the information we need to do more of the important work. It needs to be used accordingly, both by those on the sending and receiving end.

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