For many of us, emails are an essential source of information. By reading these messages, we know what is happening in our team or division. We are informed about the changes and tasks that we should manage.
If we check our email inbox at the proper time and frequency, it is a good habit. Unfortunately, it could also be harmful, distracting behavior, especially in one of the following situations.
We check our email inbox:
a) every time we get a new message (result: unnecessary distraction, chaotic work)
b) 30+ times per day (result: procrastination, being busy, not doing the most important tasks)
c) at the very end of the working day (result: thinking about work after work, disturbed work-life balance)
d) at the beginning of the working day (result: reactive behavior [answering requests, messages] instead of proactive behavior [doing priority tasks])
Let’s look more closely at why, in some cases, it isn’t the best idea and how we can improve our habits connected with emails. In this analysis I will cover only the first situation, to illustrate you the mechanism of changing bad habits.
Checking the inbox every time we get a new message
1. Why can it be a problem?
It is tough to remain focused if, every 5-10 minutes, something interferes with our work. Even if you just look at a new email and then close your inbox, the damage is done. It will take you from 5 to 15 minutes to achieve a high level of concentration.
2. What can be a trigger in this habit?
• Notification (on your smartphone)
• Pop-up (on your computer)
• Special sound announcing that a new email has arrived
• A feeling of boredom, tiredness
3. Why do we stick to the harmful behavior, even if we know it is bad for us? What kind of reward do we get?
When we are bored, tired, or get stuck, checking emails (or any other messages) offers us relief and entertainment. “Oh! New message! I wonder what it is about?” Satisfying curiosity or reducing tension (when we expect terrible information) hooks us to this habit.
4. How can we change this habit?
If your trigger in this habit is external (notification, pop-up, sound, etc.), you should turn it off. Without the trigger, this habit won’t be activated. It is much better to be proactive (check emails when you decide it is the best possible time to do it) rather than be reactive (every time you see or hear the trigger, you stop work and check the inbox).
If your trigger is internal (a feeling of boredom, tiredness), try to replace this habit with a new one. Look for behavior that will give you similar rewards – relief, entertainment, satisfying curiosity, or tension reduction.
CHANGE the Old Habit: AFTER I get bored, I will IMMEDIATELY check the inbox. THANKS TO THAT I will feel entertained.
INTO a New Habit: AFTER I get bored, I will IMMEDIATELY take a short break and listen to a podcast/audiobook. THANKS TO THAT I will feel entertained.
The trigger and the reward remain the same. The only thing we change is the behavior. In other words, we react differently (in a better way) to the same stimulus.