My favorite definition of an email inbox is “a todo list made for you by other people”.
And it never ends. The emails keep coming in. Your list of tasks keeps growing.
As we’ve talked about in previous emails, one of our fundamental human needs is autonomy. We need to feel we’re in control of our lives—like we have free will. Can you think of a faster way to destroy that than a never-ending todo list filled with stuff that you haven’t chosen (and probably don’t care all that much about)?
I think that’s the fundamental reason why people think that email is the worst invention since smallpox.
But there’s another problem with email… the notifications.
Walk through almost any office in corporate America and you’ll hear ping after ping.
“You’ve got mail”.
You may have just been focusing on some chart in Excel, or on how to word a particularly tricky phrase in a report, and then ZAP. You’ve been shocked out of the moment. You’ve lost your train of thought.
It’s even worse with our smartphones. Every second of the day, everywhere you go, you’ve got your own personal nagging colleague.
Buzz. “Hey, Jason… What do you think about this?”
Buzz. “Hey, do any of you have any data on…?”
The todo list grows longer… and your attention is pulled to each and every new item.
Talk about a perfect anti-autonomy cocktail.
Luckily, there’s a way out. Get rid of the notifications. Get rid of the triggers.
Remember the Fogg Behavior Model? Behavior = Trigger + Ability + Motivation?
Well, get rid of any of these elements and you get rid of the behavior. Disable the email notifications and you’ll stop checking email so much. Yes, you’ll still have a todo list waiting for you at the end of the day, but you won’t be consistently reminded of your plight—and pulled in a hundred different directions.
So after you read this email, go into your phone’s notifications settings. Turn off your email notifications. Do the same thing on your computer. Get rid of them all.
Get your autonomy back. You’ll thank me later.