As I wrapped up Day 1 of my Email Challenge last night, I took a moment to jot down some thoughts…
I realized just how much my email drives what I choose to do next on a daily basis. Even though I make a to-do list at the end of each day to guide what I will do the next day, I rarely get to looking at it until after school. I spend so much of my day in reactive mode – jumping around from place to place and activity to activity – driven by what my inbox tells me to do. So, on day 1 of my email challenge, I was forced to go through things in a different order than I usually do.
I was okay with not checking my email all morning because I had a lot scheduled and didn’t have too much time to think about it. But the time period right after lunch was a challenge. It wasn’t for lack of things to do, but I did start feeling like I might be missing something… And then Tuesday evenings are jammed pack for me because I teach my online class in the evening, followed by grading work related to that. I didn’t wrap up that work until 10pm. So I will admit that I didn’t have a ton of time to think about my inbox on day 1…
I must say, though – I’m not sure if I could be doing this without Boomerang’s Pause feature. Even with my inbox paused, I still did cheat once and check. (The way Boomerang’s Pause feature works is that it creates a label in your Gmail to filter out emails during the pause period… So to cheat, you must actively decide to look in that folder, which I did, but just once!) I am noticing that there is something very ‘rewarding’ about getting through a stack of emails and, after lunch, I think I’m seeking some of that reward.
The link between emails and reward reminds me of a section from the book Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done Paperback, by Jocelyn K. Glei. There is an interesting chapter called The Rat Brain: Why Email Is So Addictive, where Glei talks about how getting through our inbox is “rewarding” in a similar way to how rats would seek rewards in Skinner’s psychology experiments back in the 1930s. Even though most of the time, when we check our email (similar to the rats pressing the lever in the Skinner Box experiment) we get something disappointing, every once in awhile, we get something exciting and it’s those random rewards that we find so addictive. Despite being aware that most of our email is annoying/bothersome/mind-numbing, we keep coming back for more in anticipation of that random positive/feel-good/surprise email.
Glei suggests a perspective shift and says that the ‘rat brain’ most often takes control when we are feeling aimless. So instead of using email, think instead of your to-do list as your system of reward. Creating that to-do list and checking things off that you want to get done will empower you to center the day around important priorities and for you to have clarity and momentum in your day. But she cautions not to put too much on your to-do list… because the reward is crossing everything off your list by the end of the day (so as to reinforce the positive behavior).
So with that, I will focus more on using my to-list to guide my day. I will say that I felt much more in control of what I was doing on day 1. And I found myself multi-tasking a ton less, which is absolutely awesome! Hopefully I’ll keep that one up…
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