Email Is a Disease (And Why My New Email Policy Is Going to Piss the World Off)
July 24, 2015
The most dangerous threat you’ll ever face in business is yourself.
You’ll be too nice when you should be firm.
You’ll be too lax when you should be disciplined.
You’ll drink too much wine when you should drink water. *looks around room innocently*
Andddddd, not to bring it up (okay, fine, I’M BRINGING IT UP) you will answer every last email that does a cannonball into your inbox…when you should be answering to yourself.
A few years ago when I went on a retreat, I did so because I wanted to rediscover the magic of waking up to birds chirping—not notifications dinging. (Frankly I have no idea how we aren’t all a bunch of axe murderers yet—HAVE YOU HEARD HOW GRATING THESE THINGS ARE?) I wanted to let my head sink into the pillow and smile, quietly and peacefully—as I contemplated what kind of art I was going to make that day. (Paint by numbers counts, you guys.) I wanted to remember what it was like to feel calm, soothed, and, you know…free to work on what I wanted that morning, that afternoon, that evening, on my schedule, without feeling the constant pressure of 1,000 people pulling and pushing and nagging and needing. (Because people can be crazy-making, you know? And I don’t even have kids.)
So, I got what I needed. I left there feeling more creative, more inspired, more alive, more awake, more energized than I had in years. And, in the process, learned two very important things:
1. Tea isn’t as disgusting as I thought.
2. It’s not about making the time. It’s about destroying it.
Before you violently roll your eyes, fantasize about punching me, and then write me off as some smug little asshole who farts fairies and has never known what it’s like to have a busy day in my life, you should know that, first of all, I don't fart. Disgusting.
Second, I know busy. Oh, do I know busy. I know the crime that is the eighteen hour work day, lasting weeks and weeks on end, stopping only to shower, as your hair dries in frizzy little half-witted curly-cues while your knees shrivel up into arthritic little nubs in front of a screamingly fluorescent 15 inch screen. I know what it’s like to have an inbox full of well-meaning strangers asking you to be their everything—and, also, could you do this and this and this and this and this, by, say, tomorrow? I know what it’s like to have the pressure of deadlines, the to-do list that makes you want to weep into a beer, worries bigger than Big Ben’s older brother, and the constant fear that your armpit fat is actually here to stay. (You’re in your thirties now, so chances it’s just baby fat is getting harder and harder to believe. #schoolnurselied )
But no matter how much you have to do, when you need more time, you cannot physically make more time.
Your only option is to destroy some of the things you’re already spending time on.
I’ve always felt this deep longing for more time—ten years ago, five years ago, three years ago, today.
I think it’s so important to all of us as we become more and more dependent on these machines that are definitely doing some nasty things behind our backs that we can’t even predict yet. In a tech-driven world, it’s so important for us to remain human. To spend more time doing the things that make us human.
More time hugging. More time asking my girlfriends, “How are you?” More time sitting there doing nothing but wondering. More time reading. More time writing. More time artfully arranging the bottles in my bathroom, for the love of christ. More time contemplating the articles I read; more time doodling on my hand; more time lingering in Turkish cafes and even more time enjoying the simplicity of washing my clothes. (It’s a stretch, I know, but Tide does smell delicious.) I want more time with my clients, more time writing thank you cards, more time being grateful for the life I’ve built—instead of constantly feeling like I’m watching it from behind a window.
And the only way you or I or anyone else can add that to our lives…is by destroying time spent in other places.
That’s what originally led me to start getting curious about email.
Email has always seemed off to me—like a cultural norm that didn’t feel normal. Like a terrorist who walks onto an airplane. Looks normal enough. Seems normal enough. Yet all along, HE HAD A BOMB.
In the beginning, I used to really like email. An email address used to be a private matter, and getting someone’s email address used to feel like a privilege—like getting someone’s phone number. They were fun to send, and fun to receive, and it felt like your own secret little world, as if you and the recipient were writing your own little story together.
But then email started to become less and less of a privilege, and more of a widespread
expectation epidemic. The more people had an email address, the more of “a given” it became, as if having an email were no different than having a license plate number—and the world was entitled to know it.
Sooner than later, the medium began getting disrespected, with spammers and their penis enlargement; hair loss and the latest African prince. Before we knew it, an inbox was not your own little private place, but a public forum for the whole world to enter at their leisure. And the whole world didn’t just want to be heard—they demanded it.
Now, everyone’s got your email address—and they don’t hesitate to use it. We send emails to be heard, emails to complain, emails to vent, emails out of boredom, emails out of insecurity, and emails to spill our guts to complete strangers on the off chance the stranger might just be the only other person in the world who gets us.
People send email with the same frequency as if it required nothing more than a bat of their eyelash—because, really, it doesn’t cost them much more than that.
But that’s where things get murky. Because, while it may cost the sender nothing, for the receiver, it may cost them everything.
To receive an email is far different than sending an email; when you receive an email, it always requires something far more of you. It is an ask on your time; an assassination on your priorities. No matter how big, nor how small, receiving an email is always work. You must read it, you must contemplate it, you must consider it. Then, you must either take an action requested within it, or take the action of sitting down to respond to the sender–or worse, leave it unread, gnawing at your subconscious for days. Yet even after we act, respond, file something into the “sent” folder, the work involved in processing that one email is far from done, because surely the original sender will, of course, respond again…putting you back at square one, with another merry-go-round of back-and-forth to complete. Meanwhile, of course, as you’re responding to this seemingly endless hamster wheel of an email, the others are piling in, too. One by one they march, like little Nazi soldiers.
Most people accept email as just a fact of life; something we all just have to deal with. But, as the years have gone by, I’ve began to view it as a dangerous, lethal cycle that can—and will—deplete you of your creative resources, your energy, and your greatest potential as an artist, an entrepreneur, and someone who presumably wants to do something else besides type emails all day. And, for what? So we can be good little girls and boys, pleasing the rest of the world, while we forget how to please ourselves?
You cannot make more time, so every email received—every request put upon you, even if that request is merely “read this”—is a direct assault on the time you do have. And that’s why it’s important for you to consider which emails are worth receiving—and which ones aren’t—and then destroy where applicable.
There is a better way, and I insist on exploring it. I believe you can still remain open, grateful and gracious when communicating with other people—email included—without becoming a martyr.
It may require some unusual boundaries. It may require some eyebrow raises. It may required some uncomfortable exchanges.
But I’d rather turn off a population of strangers, if it means turning myself on.
Selfish? You decide. But I hope my forthcoming email experiments, which I’ll tell you more about next week, will serve as permission to help you continue to always question your own habits & routines regarding email, business, life and beyond. You only get to to do this once.
Ultimately it’s my hope that we can all learn how to depend on something like email more as a business tool—and less as the default way we communicate with other humans. Because email isn’t meaningful. And more and more, all it feels like is another heavy-hearted item being put on a never-ending to-do list that even the most disciplined, the most productive, the most well-intentioned person cannot manage.
And I’m not interested in living that kind of existence.
People are beautiful, and I’m all about helping us all feel seen and heard.
But, I think there’s a better way we can accomplish that.
And, I intend to prove it.