Let’s face it, email sucks.
Each day, I open my inbox to find hundreds of messages waiting for me. Even though I’m a religious unsubscriber, 30% are marketing emails that go straight to the trash. The rest are messages from co-workers, friends, and family members with thinly veiled requests for how I should be spending my time: “Can you send me that file?” “Hey, we really need to think about this new partnership?” “Can you make a reservation for dinner?”
Each time I open my inbox, I'm confronted by this truth: "the inbox," as Brendon Burchardputs it, "is nothing but a convenient organizing system of other people’s agendas.”
I have tried various strategies to mitigate the suffering caused by this daily onslaught of messages. My company LIFE XT has created a compassionate email policy where we try to limit the number of messages we send to one another. I’ve also tried various strategies of avoiding email for most of the day or only checking once or twice.
While helpful, none of these approaches has fully solved the problem. And all of this has led me to the sobering realization: in the modern world of business, there may be no way to escape the tyranny of the inbox.
So I have decided to change tactics. Instead of resisting and avoiding the inbox, instead of trying to persuade others to send me fewer messages, I have begun exploring whether it’s possible to transform the 2 to 3 hours each day that I spend on email into a mildly pleasurable experience.
I call it “ecstatic emailing.”
Like most modern-day knowledge workers, I spend the bulk of my waking hours sitting at my desk. I habitually do email and this position as well. To break this pattern, here’s the first tactic of ecstatic emailing: if you’re writing emails, change your physical position.
Sometimes I go outside. Sometimes I sit back on a comfy chair. Sometimes I settle into a long yoga stretch while firing off emails on my phone.
Tactic 2: The Magical Power of Dictation
I often write so many messages and emails that my wrists and arms begin to feel like they’re on fire at the end of the day. The cause of this is pretty straightforward: typing for hours each day is the white-collar equivalent of working on an assembly line, repeating the same monotonous task over and over.
Enter the second tactic of ecstatic emailing: whenever you are emailing, give your arms a break by using dictation.
This tactic wasn’t even on the table 10 or so years ago. But now, the built in dictation software on our devices has improved to the point where it’s actually more time efficient to dictate than type emails.
If you want to take this one step further, you can even create custom voice commands for all of the major email operations: sending messages, deleting messages, replying, replying to all, forwarding, etc.. For Mac users, you can do this on your laptop using the custom dictation commands in the accessibility feature. With this innovation, you no longer have to use your hands at all. You can just sit back and orchestrate almost every action on email, hands free.
If you want to go all out with this, you can even purchase a relatively inexpensive phone support that wraps around your neck. This allows you to do email on your phone or tablet without the strain of holding up the phone for hours on end. I've been using this for the last year. It's a complete game changer.
Tactic 3: Emailing With Your Eyes Closed
Jason Blalack, a Chinese and Functional Medicine expert, helped me see that there's a pretty direct correlation between time spent staring at screens and conditions linked to excessive mental and physical strain: anxiety, insomnia, irritability, etc..
This visual death grip on the phone or laptop also results in a chronic condition that psychologist Linda Stone has called “email apnea” – a state where our breathing becomes short and contracted for hours on end.
The problem, of course, is that so much of our work these days involves staring at a screen: video conferencing, scheduling, emailing, and writing. One solution would be to eschew screens altogether. You could move to Bali, live simply on the beach, surf, and only look at your phone or laptop for an hour or two each day.
If dropping out of modern life, however, isn’t a possibility for you, then the only remaining option is to figure out some clever way to be on your phone or computer while releasing this ordinary habit of fixating on the screen.
That’s the third tactic of ecstatic emailing: do it with your eyes closed.
Of course, you have to use your eyes to read incoming messages. But when it comes to writing or dictating new messages, there’s no need to stare intently at the screen. You can close your eyes, type or dictate, and then revise your message before you hit send.
All of this might sound like wasted time and effort. But consider this. Consider the state of your mind and body after a two hour, non-stop, email session. Are you left in a state of irritability, rapid mind wandering, and physical tension? I certainly am.
The fact is that the quality of our energetic state during ordinary activities like email leaves a lasting residue that takes hours to subside. That’s why altering this pattern by going on a hike, meditating, or doing yoga can be so profoundly powerful. That’s also why failing to interrupt the strained way that most of us do email can leave us anxious, scattered, and tense.