Email – wrestling with the beast

Its great how easy we can communicate these days, but at what cost? I can remember first using email at college and finding it the route of easy jokes between friends. A few of us would send quick, daft, messages to each other, and that was it. Moving to university it became a mechanism of keeping in touch with classmates and lecturers, but it wasn’t the only method of getting in touch. I would say my inbox might have had 10-12 messages per day, not accounting for the insipid creep of spam. It was only when moving to start my Phd that email took on a different form, a more powerful enabler. Then followed arranging Phd meetings, asking peers a range of specific questions, casual chat, preparing documents collaboratively etc.

Email to some is what caffeine is to workaholics. It’s far too easy to pass meandering thoughts on keeping control over situations, almost instantly. What is the impact of a quickly constructed email to colleagues? Misinterpreting text can occur very easily and thus lead to feelings of dismay. Then there is the addict receiver who keeps their client open at all times, stopping any work to respond to the ping notification. This is a damaging way to work. The only reason I know is because I often fall into that addict role. It started to baffle me until I started reading around the neuropsychology behind receiving kicks from the instant gratification of responding, which might be internally digested as increments of progress. Most academics are shaped to progress/push forward, so this becomes a fiery mix.

On holiday, emails can be ignored. They don’t have to be, and a quick check can make life much easier on return. But what about day to day? As noted before, I truly believe being instantly available is not a good position to be in. So, I’ve started a slow process of prolonged periods without checking. I can’t ignore them for too long as I have too many projects and people to catch up with. Presently, this largely means going no longer than half a day without checking or sending. It sounds crazy but having a guaranteed slot of 2-3 hours to simply focus is wonderful. I feel less stressful having made significant progress on tasks at hand. This, of course, is not accounting for visitors, but it is much better. I would say I check around 9am and then again at 3pm presently. Time will tell if the external response follows suit, but its important for others to get a feel for how quickly you may or may not respond. No more checking in bed and responding via the iPhone at 1am for me! I can even remember email conversations at that time…*cringe*

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