I Tried the No Email Diet

Leandra Medine | January 15, 2016

And lost 47324256 pounds!

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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.

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; Rings by Eddie Borgo and Sabine G.

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  • SullivanO

    Two years ago I was in the midst of dealing with an eye twitch I’m convinced was brought on by that sound of email notification on iOS. The reflex to stop whatever I was doing to check to see if it was important was making me a maniac, leaving my work disorganized and it would take twice as long to finish anything.

    I discovered that switching my devices to Manual from Push for all my email accounts solved my issues. I don’t check compulsively and I only check when I know I have the time to respond. I have never missed anything important, lost an opportunity (that mattered) or shown up at the wrong place for a meeting. My inbox and work day is so organized and I really feel the much needed separation from work that so many self employed people long for. I may still show up at work all the time because I love it but when I do have free time, I’m not haunted by that notification and the fear that I have to respond immediately. It’s pretty great.

  • there must be a better way! I don’t know how certain super successful do it–but the 5 times I’ve interacted with some people in relatively high places–corporate-wise they have replied to emails right away which made me realize that the I’m too busy excuse will never, ever, be valid.

  • Zara T

    Last year I basically resolved to only check my email in the morning, at noon and one at 7 pm confirming the next days schedule. A year on its been great and I don’t spend hours pretending to be productive rewording emails that could be answered with a simple “Noted.”

  • Rebekah

    Preach on the Never Stop Improving comment. Lowe’s is my constant inspiration.

    But, as some of your previous articles point out and this one touches on, the whole work/life/being productive/not consumed by mindless distractions balance is a hard one to walk. Half of me wants to contribute to the steps of mastering the act, but the other half of me has such angst about the matter. Is talking about this balance only feeding into the fact that there is a disconnect? Do we get caught up in the jargon instead of actually start living in a way where we just resolve to make it work? Is this chatter akin to the idea that the more we talk about the Kardashians, the more they’ll be a household name? Is spending this much time dwelling on the matter actually helpful?

    These, of course, are actual questions, because I don’t know the answer.

    And, is the fact that we are constantly at odds with how life + work = happiness, simply the price we pay for caring about what we do? Honestly, I never want to live the life of clocking in 9 – 5, to then only start living on the weekends / Jamaican vacation. I want who I am and what I do to be threaded together, one an extension of the other, but as we know, that can get bloody sticky. Sometimes work can be absolutely paralyzing… I want it to be great, but so much so that I cannot even start the project / proposal / make the calls, because it terrifies me to do it wrong. Which I know, I know, is not healthy. But is it better than simply living for a paycheck? Yes? Is having this constant inner turmoil the down payment for caring?

    Oh, and emails. Freaking emails.

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  • Oh my god, I can’t do that even if I would love that just for a few days but I can’t. If i stop looking at my mailbox, it ‘ll be full in a few hour.

  • “By March I expect to have learned I’m human again” – Love it. I want to do the same, just need to discover how to unblock my emails alarm system from the computer…
    I’ve done twice an email diet of a couple of weeks, and the world doesn’t stop… it’s us being afraid of leaving the world.

    An especial post today! Check my Puerto Banus Shooting, and enjoy as I did 🙂
    http://www.mgluxurynews.com/posts

    Bests! María