Ignoring your inbox: When is it acceptable?

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If you’re like me, you check your email before bed and again when you wake up. You glance at your phone during meetings to make sure no urgent emails need your attention. You listen for the chime of arriving messages, stopping whatever you’re working on to check out your inbox. By constantly monitoring your inbox, you’re in control. But did you ever stop to think that maybe your inbox is controlling you? Have you ever (gasp!) considered ignoring your inbox? 

With the flood of daily messages — hundreds a day for many people — email can actually become a distraction and hurt productivity. The key to making sure your email doesn’t become your foe is to develop a strategy that doesn’t hinder your communication with people, but rather improves your ability to avoid unnecessary distractions. As much as we pride ourselves on the ability to multitask, we may be unwittingly creating roadblocks and bottlenecks instead of pathways to efficiency. 

There is even science, as shared in this New York Times article, supporting the idea that constantly checking your email makes it difficult to be productive and creative. Experts agree that you should look at checking your email as you would any other tasks — designate a specific time to review emails. Stop jumping from your email to a task and back to your email every time you see notification of an email. 

Strategies for ignoring your inbox

Part of ignoring your inbox is about managing expectations and boundaries. If you receive an email after hours, you can check your phone and ask if the email requires an immediate reply. If it doesn’t, reply in a responsible manner, but don’t stop everything you’re doing to shoot off a quick message that can wait 24 hours.  

Educate your managers, employees, coworkers and friends that if something is urgent, you need to receive a phone call, an IM or a text because you don’t check your email constantly. By setting these boundaries, you will know what distractions are valuable and which ones can be ignored until later. 

Another strategy for reasonably ignoring your inbox is to simply change your smart phone’s settings. For example, I have changed my iPhone’s notification settings to not alert me every time a new email arrives. Not seeing that little red dot next to your email app really does cut down on late-night stress. Again, if something is truly urgent you are always available for a phone call or text, right?

If it seems like too big of a step to designate a specific time to check your email, take baby steps. When you hear the email notification chime, pause and ask yourself if you really need to stop what you’re doing to check your inbox. 

Tell us ways you’ve taken control of your inbox. Tweet us @trackvia or comment below.