Home > Books, culture > Is email in control of your life?

Is email in control of your life?

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Why don’t you stop working on the computer, come downstairs, have dinner and talk to people around the table?” my wife gently urged me last week. What I did not know was that the kids were saving me a place at their table.  You might guess what happened–I came down late, had to set up for the meeting and only began to eat after the kids were done and other tables were full.  After going through burnout, you would think that I would have learned a thing or two but how easy it is to fall back into old patterns!!

So, when I read a book summary by David Mays on The Tyrrany of Email, a book by John Freeman, I had to make a post on it.  You can subscribe to Mays or find his full book review on Freeman’s book here

First a few of my favorite quotes from Mays summary:

  • Turning on your BlackBerry in the morning while having coffee can feel like someone has invaded your head.  (103)
  • One research group estimates the average office worker spent 41% of his day reading and responding to emails in 2009. (104)  Your inbox can become a rolling to-do list.  When you see twenty emails in your inbox it is clear that everyone is waiting for you.  The faster you respond, the faster the replies come boomeranging back to you.  (105)  The work day becomes a multitasking exercise. Because facial expressions and body language are absent, the tone is often misunderstood.
  • “We sneak a peek before going to work and clock in before going to bed.  It’s our midnight snack, our reminder we are needed, the mother of all time killers.” (108)
  • “Nothing is fully protected once you hit the send button.” (129)
  • “E-mail has become a way to be reminded that we exist in a world overloaded with connections, that we are needed.” (138)
  • “Reading and other meditative tasks are best performed in…a ‘state of flow,’ in which our focus narrows, the world seems to drop away, and we become less conscious of ourselves and more deeply immersed in ideas and language and complex thought. Many communication tools, however, actually inhibit this state.” (142)
  • An e-mail to a friend may, if clever or embarrassing enough, be read by hundreds of thousands of people.  An e-mail to a large group may not be read by any of them.” (147)
  • Three trademark symptoms of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of individual accomplishment.  Excessive work hours and expectations make work a major cause of health problems.  (161)  “As e-mail use grows, the stresses of working at this frantic pace will only compound, becoming an ever-stronger feedback loop.” (163)
  • “What we are losing … is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading.  Virtually all tests show a universal decline in reading ability and comprehension.  Yet reading comprehension is one of the top skills in demand for well-paying jobs.  (179)
  • “Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do….  In short, we need to slow down.” (191)  Emailing “is encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world….  We need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives.” (192)

Again, from Mays, “Some of the author’s recommendations:

  1. Send a lot less.  Ask whether each message is essential.
  2. Don’t check it first thing in the morning or late at night.  Reinforce the boundary between your work and your private life.
  3. Check it twice a day.  Be fully present when you send messages rather than slipping quick answers in the midst of doing other things. Train others to expect you to respond at only two times during the day.
  4. Keep a written to-do list and include email as part of it.
  5. Use email well.  Start with the subject line.  Use it.  Keep messages short. Separate questions so the recipient will see each one.  If it’s complicated, call on the telephone.
  6. Read the entire email before responding.  Otherwise you will miss significant information and get caught in a flurry of follow-up emails to get it straightened out.
  7. Do not debate complex or sensitive matters by email.
  8. And several others, such as, swivel away from your computer to work in a separate space to concentrate on a task and declare a media-free time every day.

Need to do a book review/summary of The Shallows that I finished last month but I have too many emails to which I need to respond!!

Which of these eight suggestions do you need to implement this week?  Which of them seem impossible to you? What needs to change?

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