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Email is Not the Problem – You Are

Email is Not the Problem – You Are

Can you count the hours you spent on emails this month? How about this week, or even today? I’m pretty sure you can’t.

In the maelstrom of our office and personal life, email has become a cornerstone of our daily activity for good and bad. Spending countless hours checking email has become a habit ingrained in our subconscious. Checking and managing email has the potential to become a sinkhole for just about anyone.

In 2013, the typical corporate email user sends and receives an estimate of 115 emails; that’s roughly 2.5 hours every day spent only on writing them. That doesn’t leave the “typical corporate email user” much time to do anything else and is why we must learn how to process email better.

“Our biggest job is to define what our work is.” Peter Drucker

Keep in mind that email is just a tool for doing your job; it’s not meant to replace your job specs and objectives.

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Measuring and monitoring your email habits will bring much needed structure, and since we’re dealing with a considerable chunk of your day, it will also raise your productivity.

We might start with the best of intentions, but unless we deal with some “hidden” forces, the battle won’t be won. There are a few things that you need to know about your email habits — things that aren’t entirely within your control…

Force number #1: Our lizard brain

There’s a part of our brain that always strives for perfection. It drives meticulous behaviors and ultimately, makes us waste disproportionate amounts of time on tasks that are sometimes trivial in nature — our lizard brain.

“The lizard brain is on high alert to make sure that everything is okay. The lizard brain can’t rest until it knows that everyone likes us, that no one is offended, that all graphs are ticking up and to the right, and the future is assured. But of course, the future (and the present) isn’t perfect. It can’t be.” Seth Godin

By the way, that’s why we mark emails as unread. We want the conditions to be perfect when we open our email, and “the here and now” is never perfect, so maybe later. Try to understand, the conditions will never be perfect, so you’ll have to make things work for you. That’s why you should never open an email, and mark it “unread;” make sure you only touch it once and process it (coming to you from the GTD Master – David Allen).

Force Number #2: FOMO – Fear of missing out

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a behavior we’ve cultivated through years of evolution. Evolution, through natural selection, preferred the “FOMO gene” and pushed it up the ladder because a hunter-gatherer with FOMO is a better hunter-gatherer. Curiosity and a need to reap as many rewards as possible brought us to this point in time but, alas, nowadays, FOMO doesn’t serve us as well.

FOMO is one of the major reasons we open emails the second we receive them. Our Smartphones (or perhaps I should call them something else…) even help distract us with sounds and flashing lights each time a new email or text message arrives. Yes…text messages are just another form of email — the name doesn’t trick me.

Sure, you’re probably telling yourself that it’s just your way of managing your tasks better. But you fail to realize that you are managing nothing! Your emails and texts are managing you! This may be a key driver in missing deadlines, failing to set priorities, and not completing tasks, which ultimately may prevent you from sleeping well at night, i.e. the Zeigarnik effect.

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That’s why you need to schedule opening emails during a designated time frame and no more than two to three times per day.

Force number #3: Depression

Yes, I said it…Depression. A study published on 2011 by Sriram Chellappan from the Missouri University of Science and Technology suggests that people suffering from depression engage in a very high level of email usage.

“Study participants with depressive symptoms tended to engage in very high e-mail usage. This perhaps was to be expected: research by the psychologists Janet Morahan-Martin and Phyllis Schumacher has shown that frequent checking of e-mail may relate to high levels of anxiety, which itself correlates with depressive symptoms.” Sriram Chellappan NYTimes 06/12.

This doesn’t mean that if you spend hours upon hours on emails, you’re suffering from depression; it means that people who are suffering from depression tend to spend more time on emails. Why? Because you may be looking for ways to lift your spirit, and your brain remembers how to occupy you in pursuit of online happiness.

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To make things worse, we also find ourselves nowadays surrounded by environmental forces influencing our ability to process emails, like increased email consumption via mobile, which prolongs the amount of time we spend on emails.

Add to the mix an unsatisfied lizard brain, a FOMO tendency, and the above mentioned Zeigarnik effect and you get one depressive concoction that makes things worse for people who already suffer from depression, so be aware.

Historical statistics show that the amount of emails we process on a daily basis is only going to increase as technology progresses, challenging us both physically and mentally. Preparing ourselves and learning about ways to process emails more efficiently and in a more organized way is a must if we want to be more productive!

More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

Have you ever caught yourself in a daydream where you’ve gone for that upcoming promotion, and you’re now the boss at work? Or how about the one where you’ve summoned up all your courage to quit a job where you’re feeling stuck in your career and live your dream instead? Or when you’ve changed career paths to do what really makes you happy?

Then, you snapped back to reality and realized that you’re not the boss, not living your dream, and not even happy in the career path that you’re on.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals who’ve told me they feel stuck in their careers, that something had to change for them to break free and be happy, but they lacked the confidence to take that step. My mission is to make sure that nobody feels stuck in their career because of a momentary lapse in bravery that’s dragged on for too long.

Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work. .

Here are my top ten tips for becoming unstuck in your career.

1. Make Time for You

If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or unhappy with how your career is panning out, the first step is to work out why.

Maybe you’ve arrived in your current career by accident and haven’t ever made time to deliberately think or plan what you’d love to do and how you’d get there.

Prioritizing time to think is the first step you need to take to stop feeling stuck and start getting ahead. Book some time into your day where you can have an uninterrupted meeting with yourself. This is your thinking time.

Work out what makes you happy at work, what doesn’t, and where you might want to go. Decide on the steps you want to take to progress your career in the direction that you want it to take.

For example, are there training days, evening courses, or online learning that you can do? Have you considered getting a mentor to help you get ahead?

By booking in a meeting with yourself, it signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your day and filling it with a meeting.

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2. Grow Your Network Before You Need It

Who you know is more important than what you know for career progression. Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck in your career to start expanding your networks. Do it now.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, says you’re 58% more likely to get a new job through your weak ties than through your strong ones. Your strong ties are those in your immediate circle whom you interact with often. Your weak ties are your friends of friends. They move in different circles to you, they know different people, make different connections, and are more likely to introduce you to new and different opportunities[1].

When I was thinking about setting up my current company, Lucidity, I turned up to every networking event. I drank a lot of coffees with a lot of different people to understand what they did, to ask for advice, to unpick what their problems were, and to look for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

It paid off because, when I launched my business, I let my network know how I could help them, and soon I had my first clients.

Pay attention to building and nurturing your networks and focus on how you can add value to other. That’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

3. Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

According to Tim Ferriss, “You are the average of the five people you most associate with,” and his associations with different people ebbs and flows depending on what he’s working on and trying to achieve[2].

For example, if you are trying to be fitter, it’s easier if you hang around with people who love doing exercise–they help you to up your game.

If you want that promotion, a career change, or to set up your own business, seek out people who are excelling at it already. They’ll have valuable things to teach you about breaking free and getting ahead.

4. Work on Your Personal Brand

Jeff Bezos defines a personal brand as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” People will talk about you when you are not in the room anyway, so you might as well be deliberate about what you’d like people to say!

Your personal brand isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. That can actually keep you feeling stuck in your career. It’s really about being your best “real you.” It’s about owning your strengths and being purposeful about how you want to be perceived by others.

What do you want to be known for? By being more deliberate about how you want to come across and what you’re looking for in your career, you’ll increase your chance of attracting the right opportunities.

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Once you’ve given your personal brand some thought, make sure that you show up online. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? And if you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it communicates what you want to be known for and that it’s consistent with your other social media profiles.

Try these 5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding.

5. Be Accountable

Achieve your career goals faster, and grow and learn by making yourself accountable. Tell other people your goals and a timeline. and have them to hold you accountable.

For example, you might want to get a promotion by the end of the year, have decided the sector you want to move to by the end of the month, or have got your new business idea before the next pay day. Whatever your ambitions are, you can tell a friend or a colleague, or share this with a mentor or a mastermind group.

When we tell other people our goals and intentions, they hold us accountable, and we are more likely to make progress faster.

6. Make Sure Your Values Are Aligned With Your Company’s

All the professional development, goal setting, and networks in the world won’t make you happy if you’re working for a company that ultimately has opposing values to yours.

Figure out what’s important to you in a job. For example, does your company’s product help people live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your company’s ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allows employees to be themselves and shine? Or maybe flexible working and more holidays for employees with families is where your heart is?

Some companies put their employees well-being at the core of their business; others put profits first. If you feel that your values don’t match the core values of your employer, it could be a reason why you’re feeling stuck in your career and unhappy.

It’s important to work through this and identify whether it’s the job that is not right for you, or if it’s a great job but the organization or sector is wrong for you.

7. Get out of Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is your safe place. For any change to happen, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It’s actually much easier not to change anything and to keep grumbling on about how you’re stuck and unhappy in your career than to step outside of your comfort zone to address the fearful unknowns associated with change. It’s part of human nature that we’d put up with the devil we know rather than risk the devil we don’t.

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This is true even if the devil we know is a boring, unfulfilling job because we’re wired to think that making a change to find a better option might actually leave us worse off.

If you feel stuck, it might be that your confidence has got the better of you.

To get ahead at work, start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Consider what you’re scared of that is stopping you from making a change. Then, tackle that in small steps.

For example, if you know that to move into the job you want, you’ll have to do more public speaking, but public speaking terrifies you so much it’s stopping you from going for the job, then start small to build your confidence. You can speak up more in team meetings, then slowly build from there.

You might also choose to set up or be part of a specific group. One of my clients, who found that confidence was holding her team back in achieving work goals, set up a “get out of your comfort zone club,” where they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

8. Learn to Embrace Failure

Failure is part of life. A New York University study found that children learning to walk averaged 2,368 steps and fell 17 times an hour[3]. Failure is simply the natural path to success.

The truth is that we don’t get everything right the first time. We fail, we learn, we pick ourselves up, and we try again.

In my experience, it’s common that whilst the theory of learning from failure is supported, the reality of being open about failures to enable personal learning is much harder to achieve.

We don’t like to admit that we’ve failed. We have a fight or flight response to failure. It’s a normal gut reaction to ask ourselves: “Will I get away with it if I don’t tell anyone?” We are fearful of criticism, of losing face in front of others, or even being fired for failure.

However, if you’re going to stop feeling stuck in your career, you must be open to learning from failure.

Reframe failure by viewing everything as an experiment because you can’t have a failed experiment—you just learn whether something works or not. Think of Edison inventing the lightbulb, when he said:

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“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

9. Build Your Resilience

Resilience is the ability to tackle difficulties and setbacks, to bounce back, regroup, and to keep going.

Getting unstuck in your career, taking a different path, and achieving the results you want will take resilience. Having resilience is also the capacity to choose how you respond to the unexpected things that life throws your way and adapt and thrive in times of complex change.

Given that the world we live in is in constant flux, and the only thing that is certain is uncertainty, the ability to adapt and bounce back is an important life skill, as well as a career skill.

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth’s research shows that when measuring success, the ability to persevere beats talent every time.

Learn more about how to build resilience in this guide: What Is Resilience and How to Always Be Resilient (Step-By-Step Guide)

10. Ask for Help

It can be hard to ask for help, as it can make us feel vulnerable.

No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a group of people that we can go to for help, people who can pick us up when we have setbacks and also help us to celebrate success.

My advice is to be deliberate about creating your group. You can do that with a tool called a “Me Map”:

  1. Write down all the things that you might need support with, like help with career progression, interview practice, making new connections, talking through business plans, learning from failure, etc.
  2. Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
  3. Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.

Final Thoughts

You can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work by applying the tips in this article. Start small by incorporating three new things in your first week, and then adding more as your comfort zone and capacity expands.

Remember, no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change and land the career that you truly want.

More Tips to Stop Feeling Stuck in Your Career

Featured photo credit: NEW DATA SERVICES via unsplash.com

Reference

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