Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done 1

Email is supposed to be a tool that helps us do our jobs. But the time we spend responding to unimportant messages (and obsessively emptying our inbox to zero) can actually impede our ability to perform key tasks. In Jocelyn K. Glei’s 2016 book, Unsubscribe, she shares strategies for taking control of your inbox. This audiobook distills some of the most salient aspects of Unsubscribe into bite-sized tips that can help you organize your inbox, respond to messages in a more efficient manner, write better emails, and more.

 

Inbox control

Imagine if you had a neighbour who, in the grips of letter mania, went outside and checked his mailbox every 10 minutes. You’d probably be very concerned about this person’s mental health. But consider that at work most of us do the digital equivalent of this every day. We check our email inboxes again and again and again. These blinks reveal that email and similar services are ruining our productivity and flow.

Luckily, as you’ll soon learn, we can stop being slaves to our inboxes.

 

Your email addiction

Addiction to email checking is keeping us from attending from what’s important in life. How many times per day do you stop to check your email? Do you try to avoid it all together, or are you one of those people that hits refresh again and again, waiting for the next message? Even if you know you’re a little obsessive, you may be more addicted than you think. Just consider this unsettling statistic, the average office worker checks their inbox 74 times a day. This isn’t because people are given a 10 minute deadline to reply, it’s because the very act of checking email is addictive. Perhaps you think that an inbox overflowing with unread emails is a daunting task waiting to be tackled, but that’s not exactly the case.Each of these unread messages holds out the promise of a pleasant surprise of some interesting of fantastic news. So, even if the thought of getting back on top of you post weekend messages give you the jim-jams, you’ll still be drawn to the task. We get addicted to the jolt of joy that some messages give us. Our addiction comes from a primal impulse that seeks out positive rewards. It’s this impulse that drives us to check our inbox over and over, even though we’re unsure when the next reward will arrive. It keeps us sifting through the endless junk mail and boring work and family messages to find those rare gems that make us feel excited and alive, whether it’s an email from a long lost lover or a near forgotten friend. However, email effects our psychology in more ways than one. It also provokes a progress paradox. When we put off doing important tasks by opening each email message at the moment it arrives, we’re tricking our brain. On the one hand, we’re productive because we’re reducing the number of messages in our inbox, but on the other hand, we’re accomplishing next to nothing. None the less, getting that number of unread emails to zero is an almost irresistible reward since it triggers the same response we get from accomplishing an important task. But any email that can be swiftly discarded is generally insignificant and has no impact on our long term goals. So, don’t let this feeling of false progress fool you, there are more important things you could be doing with your time.

Email obligation

Emails lack the nuance of real conversations and our inability to respond to them all can lead to negative emotions.Here’s an all too common scenario. You send off an email that was written with the best intentions only to receive a reply that seems flat or perhaps even angry. The written word is obviously very different from verbal communication. Facial cues, tone of voice, body language, an email message can’t contain these things. And yet we often write messages in the same language we’d use in a face-to-face conversation. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman this leads to a negativity bias. The reader of an email will always assume that the content is more negative than was intended. So if the sender felt good about the content the reader will feel neutral. If the sender felt neutral the receiver will take it as being negative and so on. Another problem with our reliance on email is the rule of reciprocity. Which states that people feel obliged to respond to a positive act with a similarly positive act.But given the enormous amount of email messages people receive everyday, this rule has become impossible to follow. It was a different story in the 1970s when sociologist Phillip Coons sent out 600 lovingly made Christmas cards to complete strangers. And sure enough he received a great many responses including hand-written letters that were several pages long. Many of these strangers continued to send him similar holiday greetings for the next 15 years. Coons’ experiment highlights our desire to reciprocate even when we didn’t ask for the original gesture. But nowadays, no one needs postage or even legible handwriting to contact you, not to mention the 50 other people to whom they can send blind carbon copies at the same time. This makes it impossible to keep up with rule of reciprocity. A fact that can leave people feeling frustrated, guilty and ashamed.

 

Be the boss of your inbox

Be the boss of your inbox by identifying what’s truly meaningful to you.At this point you’re probably saying, “I know the problems, but what are the solutions?” Well, you’ll be glad to know that there are a number of ways to regain control of your email. One of the good things about email is that you’re in charge of everything:how it looks, what it says, and when it gets sent. But you also have a say in how many emails you receive.Remember, no one is pointing a gun at you demanding that you immediately respond to an email or that you respond in a certain way. It’s good to keep in mind that the more emails you send the more emails you are likely to receive. This brings us to our first exercise, which is to take a moment to think about how you determine what work is important to you. Meaningful work should be seen as contributing to your life and legacy, so ask yourself, “Am I working on something “that is going to make me better at what I do? “Is it improving my career or the lives of others?” Important work might be writing a book, improving your public speaking skills, or teaching creative writing to others. Whatever it is, you need to identify it, because until you do, you won’t be able to use email in a meaningful way. To stop wasting your time you need to have something meaningful toward which to direct your attention. Only then will you be able to stop yourself from checking your inbox 100 times a day and wasting your time writing meaningless responses. It also helps to write down the different jobs and tasks that contribute to the meaningful work. This will help you prioritize and make sure that whenever you’re using email it will be in relation to something that’s important.

 

Set email times

Set strict times for dealing with email, and devote your morning to meaningful work. Chances are, it would be unreasonable to remove email from your life all together. So the question becomes, how can you figure out the optimal amount of time to spend on email? For this you should create a daily routine that suits your needs. No matter who you are or what you do, it is probably best to avoid starting your day by checking your email messages. If you start going through your inbox before you’ve even brewed a cup of coffee or had a bite to eat, you’re essentially letting other people set your priorities. Before you know it, you’ll be wasting time and energy by responding to meaningless messages. Instead, devote the first 60 to 90 minutes of your day to meaningful work. Sure, your meaningful work might include writing an important email, but sticking to this rule of thumb will keep you from scrolling through all your unread messages and wasting your day’s first precious hour. The morning hours are a valuable time. It’s a time when your mind is fresh and sharp. It would be a shame to waste that clarity on random emails. But mornings aren’t the only time it’s bad to waste your energy on emails. It’s never a good time to waste your energy. The best way to avoid this is to be a batcher and only check your inbox two or three times a day. Batchers have an effective and less stressful approach to email, since they tackle their messages in batches, rather than monitoring their inbox 24/7. This strategy leads to higher productivity, since you’re not being constantly distracted you’ll be able to focus and power through your emails at the appointed time, rather than aimlessly scrolling and replying. It’s also a healthier approach. A 2015 study showed that people who are constantly monitoring their email are more stressed than those who set specific times during the day to deal with their messages.

 

Priorities and expectations

Organize your emails into prioritized folders and use quick replies that set expectations. If you ever looked at your hundreds of unread email messages and thought, there has to be a better way. Well, you were onto something. There are some easy tips and tricks to help you make the most of your daily batches of time. The first is to customize your inbox and create useful folders. With the right settings, your incoming emails will even organize themselves. To start with, you can set up different folders with varying degrees of prioritization. This way emails from your boss and other important coworkers will be directly to a devoted folder marked urgent. Those from other contacts will go into other folders that remind you it’s okay not to deal with them immediately.Separating important messages from less important messages will make it that much easier to maintain your productivity. You can also make a new habit of using quick replies that set clear expectations. It’s only a matter of time before you receive an important message that requires a lengthier and more thoughtful response than you have time for, so what’s the best thing to do? Push aside the more urgent and meaningful work? Type up a rushed response that you’ll regret the moment you send it?Neither of these solutions is ideal. In such a situation, the smart response is to send a quick response, one that let’s the person know that you’ve received their email and that a full response will be given as soon as possible. It might go along these lines. Dear Karen, thank you for your email. I agree we need to discuss these new developments.Unfortunately I’m currently facing a deadline on an important project. I will send a more detailed message by the end of next week when my schedule clears up. Sending a considerate email like this takes just a minute or two and it not only allows the recipient to set their expectations accordingly, it also let’s them know that you’re thinking about the issue and not ignoring them. In our final blink, we’ll give you a few pointers on how to write a scintillating email message.

 

Concise, considerate, and effective emails

Effective emails are concise, to the point, and considerate. These days, everyone seems to be extremely busy. This in large part is due to the many different distractions that we all have to deal with. The endless stream of incoming email and text messages, phone calls, not to mention, any number of social media and news updates. So, how can you get the attention of customers and coworkers, family and friends? You have to write effectively, and the best way to do this is to be concise. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing the receiver’s attention before they’ve really started reading. A great way to prevent this from happening is to make a clear point right at the start. Say you want to invite a professor to speak at a conference you’re putting together, don’t spend the first few paragraphs about how much you admire her work and explaining what the entire conference is about.Provide a quick introduction and get right to the point with your proposal. Also, consider the expectations of your recipient and put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself two questions, are they angry, sad, happy, excited, overworked, and then what are they expecting from me? With this in mind, you should have a good foundation for how to compose your message, and decrease the risk of misunderstandings. This will ultimately make your efforts more productive, since you won’t need to waste your time clarifying or explaining yourself later on. Let’s say you’ve been tasked with making workplace improvements, and are prepared to tell your boss about your new ideas. If you forget to put yourself in your boss’s shoes, you might forget that she’s busy this week, and spend half a day writing a three page email that she won’t have time to read.When it would have been better to send a brief and efficient message that let’s her know that you’re prepared and excited to present your ideas whenever time permits. Whomever you’re writing to, be sure to consider how your message will most likely be read.

 

Final summary

You’ve just listened Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei. The key message in this book is that the days of wasting time on meaningless email messages are over. It’s time to reclaim your inbox and take control of your daily work life. With a few simple changes and some new habits, you can prioritize your life so that you’re spending your time on what matters most. How can you apply the ideas of these blinks to your life? Use VIP notifications. Generally you’re better off if you don’t check your mailbox more than twice a day, but there are always some people you don’t want to make wait. Your boss, for instance, or your most important client. In such cases, you can compromise and setup your smartphone to notify you whenever a message from one of these VIPs comes in. This way you can still refrain, by and large, from checking your inbox except at the designated times.