Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Serenity Enemy: Email Encroachment

Every so often, I get questions on ways to make work life more serene. Have one? Send it to heather (at)

Today's question is:

My chronic work problem as a self-employed writer is compulsively reading and responding to emails like this. If that sounds snide, the snideness is directed at me and at no one else!

I hear you. As I've said before, I definitely know the allure of the email siren song. There's something so gratifying about the ding!, isn't there?

Tomorrow, I'll write about a new management technique that's allowed me to feel less beholden to my email. But before I share it, I think it's important to talk about motivation--that is, why are you obsessed with your email? Ask yourself:

* What should I be doing instead?
* Do I want to do it?
* What are my feelings about my assigned task?
* What am I afraid of?
* What am I ashamed of?
* What do I really want to be doing?

Email procrastination can arise from a number of sources, and to figure out how to squelch this serenity enemy, you have to know what yours is. Some of the reasons I hang on every single email are because I don't have enough information to start writing, I want to go to the gym but I feel guilty for leaving work, I'm stressed about money, I'm resentful or deflated that a marketing effort got rebuffed.

Each of these requires a different treatment. It may be that going to the gym will actually make me more productive than sitting at the computer and trying to talk myself out of going to the gym. It may be that I need to get honest aobut why I can't write and figure out who else I need to call. It may be that I need to call a work support person and get consoled about my flagging marketing efforts. Maybe I need to make a to-do list so I feel less overwhelmed. Maybe I need to look at my expectations of myself and see if I'm being too rigid.

But before I can do any of that, I have to be willing to tear myself away from my email and figure out what it is. Sometimes, it's easier to sit with email--and feel bad about it--than it is to face the thing you're avoiding. Indeed, email procrastination may be an attempt to avoid dealing with my 1 percent.

Think about that and tomorrow I'll bring you a few tips.

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