So, let’s imagine that you’re in your office, and have about 15 minutes before you need to walk out of your building to get to a meeting. What do you do in those 15 minutes?
Many readers probably answered “check email.” Checking email has become the default work-ish activity for many professionals. I said work-ish because while checking email may be work-related, for most people it is not a central activity of their work.
In fact, checking email can easily become a kind of distraction, keeping you busy with urgent tasks (or seemingly urgent ones). If responding to emails quickly is indeed a key part of your job (if you’re advising students during registration, perhaps) then that’s important. But for many people, email can take away time that could better be spent on a high-importance but non-urgent task.
And what exactly are you doing when you “check” email? The language of “checking” implies either that you want to look and see if something arrived that you’re waiting for, or that your email is something that must be constantly monitored, like a pot on the stove about to boil over. One approach gives the brain little jolts of anticipation, the other little jolts of fear -- either one can start to function as a false source of energy.
Another problem with “checking” email is that it often leads to just skimming or glancing at email -- reading, not processing. Leaving already-read emails in your inbox to be dealt with later just means you’ll need to reread them later. But the unread messages will seem more urgent, so you’ll start with those first, and then the emails pile up. Choosing to read email only when you have the time to actually process it (that is, decide whether to respond, record a calendar event, file a piece of information, create a to-do item, or delete the message) helps eliminate that snowball effect of half-read and half-remembered messages.
So, you’ve got a few minutes. What could you do in that time, besides check email?
- Take a walk
- Read intentionally, things you’ve chosen to read later, either for work or for fun
- Write: a few words, or a few minutes
- Do a workout
- Breathe. Count backward.
- Make a to-do list
- Do a mind sweep
- Drink some water
- Take a nap
- Clean your desk
What would you like to start doing instead of always checking email? Let us know in the comments!
(Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Eddie Welker)