It is currently 7:39 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12th and I have not checked email since Sunday at 5 p.m.
These have been the best 51 hours of my life.
It’s not like I’ve been cut off from communication at large — I’m still interacting with my teammates via Slack. I’m still answering text messages and hastily calling relatives but the absence of email — that is, the illusion of “work” that can’t wait even though it always can — has felt more liberating than a hot, naked bath.
I’ve spent the past year building a thesis around my relationship with email. It started with a rant on whether or not it’s acceptable to refuse to reply to emails. It escalated to claim status over the summer when Gmail publicized its undo send function and as recently as last quarter, I called it the next big danger to efficiency. I don’t think I was that far off. Let me explain why.
In the past 51 hours I have filed exactly 3,371 words. To put this in perspective, I am lucky to file 500 in a single day. At the time of this writing, I am two days ahead of my deadline. When I took the subway way uptown on Monday for a doctor appointment smack in the middle of my day at 3:15, I not only realized that I felt calm, but also strongly believed there was nothing in the world left for me to do between that appointment and the end of the day. I had filed my content, answered questions from teammates, offered approvals where necessary, began an Instagram overhaul and organized a brand spanking new organizational system for the edit team. I also picked a huge fight with my husband and resolved the altercation. Did I tell you I made banana pancakes?
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and carbohydrates.
Woah, sorry, I just blacked out because it occurred to me that this actually has been all fun and carbohydrates. Amelia wants to kill herself because I keep asking her to email people for me, which might be cheating, but I never said I was honest. On my to-do list for tomorrow morning is literally a list of 23 emails to send before the end of the morning and I am sure that once I do open my inbox and this honeymoon is over, the tune of this song will change profoundly. You know what? Let’s inaugurate my inbox’s grand re-opening now. Fyi, it’s 8 p.m.
And now it’s 9:36. The facts now indicate that it took 21 minutes to put the first part of this story together. In the one hour and 36 minutes that just passed, no new words were put on paper. To put the time stamps into perspective, it took me 12 minutes to write the first half of this story but following my inbox’s grand re-opening, my productivity level has been shot.
Here are the most important takeaways.
+Of the 486 emails that came in:
201 were spam
29 were events — be they work-related dinners, press previews or otherwise personal invitations
3 were Uber receipts
4 were lunch order confirmations (Yes, I eat two lunches per day.)
16 were newsletters that I subscribe to (Man Repeller’s batch was particularly fleek-able.)
31 were emails from @manrepeller.com addresses
And the rest were miscellaneous questions — the bulk of which could have, quite frankly, gone unanswered in perpetuity without anyone even noticing.
+I missed an opportunity to exclusively announce the launch of a collaboration with two brands I have never heard of.
+My 1 p.m. lunch today was moved to three different locations before being set back to the original location, which is where I went, without even knowing there had been previous back and forth.
+The world did not stop. Not even close.
And so my takeaway is this: moderation. I have become obsessed with the concept of self-improvement, and I’ll only become the cardboard cut out version of myself once I learn to practice moderation. My mom says that the biggest American handicap is that as a country, we don’t “get” moderation, which I have often agreed with because it sounds good but I think now is the first time I’ve ever properly understood that we need it to survive.
Also, though, we’re not robots. Where we live, they are quietly among us, and sometimes we don’t realize it – they masquerade themselves as humans, but they’re not. And we can’t compete. The inbox will never “burn out.” It will not get tired of serving messages at you. It will do what it is wired to do for as long as it is expected to, so we must take charge. Control when we choose to interact and when we don’t.
I propose to cut down the frequency with which I check email. Henceforth, I shall spend an hour in the morning, an hour before lunch and an hour at the end of the work day in my inbox. Less if it doesn’t require as much of my attention, but never more. In doing so, I will aim to file 750 words per day at first, and have that climb up to 1250. A few months from now, I expect to have learned I’m human again.