In my efforts to be more efficient, I've logged my time for several weeks over the past few years. Inevitably, I'm depressed by just how much time I spend checking email. I start a serious project -- perhaps even my top priority project for the year! -- and then 15 minutes later, some little gremlin whispers that wouldn't it be great to see what's in my inbox? Or even worse, I'll be playing with my kids and hear a ding in the other room, and I get up to see what it is. Half the time it's a J. Crew ad.
Writing down exactly how I'm spending my time, in black and white, usually inspires me to get serious about checking email less often -- at least for a while. But what's even more inspirational is to see how little actually goes wrong when I don't check email at all.
A Test: Stop Using Email for 5 Days
I went on a complete email fast over the holidays. I was traveling outside the country, and so my phone didn't really work. I could have stopped at an Internet cafe (or borrowed my husband's Blackberry, which I eventually did after 5 days), but as an experiment, I decided to let things pile up.
And, in fact, I did miss some emails that normally I would have responded to instantly. A newspaper reporter wanted to interview me, and his deadline came and went. I was not on a radio show. But an opportunity to be on a panel was still on the table a few days later, as was a request for a quote for a different article. And everything else turned out to be pretty flexible. Or just not very important after all.
Now, to be fair, this was over the holidays, and during a week when a major snowstorm kept many people on the East Coast at home anyway. My husband's phone did work, so family members could reach us in an emergency. But it's always good to remind myself that if a few days away from email doesn't produce some sort of cosmic explosion, most likely a few hours on a regular workday -- so I can focus on projects requiring deeper thought -- won't hurt anyone either.
What's the worst thing that's happened when you let your email pile up?