Email Stress: Kicking the Pecking Habit!

By: ChristopherBjork
Here is Peter, a white rat in cage number eight. Once in a while a little red light bulb in the cage lights up for about three seconds. As soon as this happens, Peter stops what he is doing and runs to a button on the wall and presses it a few times. After a few presses a food pellet drops noisily into a tray. When this happens, Peter runs as fast as he can to the tray and eats the pellet.

There is Paul, an office clerk in booth number 6 on the third floor. From time to time he receives an email notification on his computer. As soon as this occurs he drops everything he is doing and opens his email inbox.

Here is Humphrey, a pigeon in a cage. Humphrey pecks constantly at the red button in the cage. The machine will at random drop a pellet once every 25 pecks. Humphrey has no idea when the pellet will drop, but he has figured out that if he keeps on pecking, from time to time he will get a pellet. Humphrey really likes his pellets.

There is Tom, a sales rep by his desk. Tom clicks constantly on the Send and Receive button of his email system. Tom knows he has a lot of work to do and that he shouldn't waste time clicking on that button, but what can he do? Tom really likes his emails.

How often are you checking your mail? If you use a computer in your daily work, the answer probably is "far to often". Chances are that you have conditioned yourself to check for email in a similar way to Paul or Humphrey in the texts above. Kicking the email addiction can be quite difficult for some people. In fact email addiction is actually very similar to a gambling addiction where, just as with emails, the reward comes at random and unpredictable intervals.
So why do we peck?

Well, besides the reward aspect I discussed above, we also have a tendency to confuse our email inbox with our to-do list. In other words we tend to let our email inbox be the place where we view and "manage" our workload. Unfortunately, using your email inbox as your to-do list has several major flaws:

- An email inbox is only an inbox for email. Therefore it will not take into account other work
- There is no planning of when work is going to be done.
- Emails that require you to take action and emails that don't are completely mixed up. You don't have a clear picture of what work lies ahead of you.
- An email in your inbox has not yet been translated into a task with an objective.

How about trying a little experiment for one day?

You may find it quite difficult to change your habits. Quite probably you will be feeling that unless you are constantly checking emails you are not doing your job. Ironically, the more reluctant you are to trying performing this experiment, the more the reason why you should.

Step 1. Set your inbox to check messages once every 60 minutes. Can easily be configured on most email clients.

Step 2. Find a good task management system that allows for you to set alarms. Create a few reoccurring alarms throughout the day that reminds you to check your email.

Step 3. During the times when you are checking your email, DON'T reply to any emails Instead for each email you open ask yourself the following question:

If I need to do something, what is the quickest, to do it or to add the task to my to-do list?

...and then do the quicker of the two.

Step 4. For long emails or those that you want to reply to. Add a task to your task management system or to-do list with the title or a copy of the mail.

Once you have started getting rid of the "pecking" habit and assured yourself that you actually won't miss anything important by not constantly checking you will start finding that you are able to focus more on the things you are doing and as a result you will also be more relaxed.
Stress Management
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