Today there are 3.4 billion smartphone subscriptions around the world. That figure is expected to rise to 6.1 billion within the next four years1. In addition, global technology companies plan to spread the Internet to currently unwired regions of the planet2. This means we are more connected than ever before. (At least, technologically more connected, but not with each other.)
As we embrace the ubiquity of the Internet, and bring it with us wherever we go, we cultivate a habit. What habit? The incessant checking of our devices; expecting notifications at every occasion. A habit that psychologists warn could be a “toxic source of stress.”3
Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, argues that technology and constant connectivity don’t improve our productivity. She compares our relationship with smart devices with our relationship with food: “we are not going to get rid of food, we need to be on a healthy diet with food, and that is the goal, being on a healthy diet with these technologies.” In other words, our devices (our “life partners”) aren’t going away. And we should act accordingly.
E-mail is one of the most prevalent communication technologies, together with instant messaging services and social media. Thus, going cold turkey with e-mail is not likely feasible for many people. Instead, as professor Turkle urges, the goal should be a healthier relationship with electronic mail.
We all can improve the way we interact with e-mail. Here are six simple steps to help:
- Process e-mail in batches. (I do it twice a day.)
- Check each e-mail once. (Embrace inbox zero, process e-mails as-you-go, and don’t let them stagnate in your inbox—you will have to process them again in the future. Every time you process an e-mail, archive it or delete it, but don’t let it sit in there.)
- Unsubscribe from everything. (Unroll.me can help with that. Alright, you might not want to unsubscribe from every single newsletter, but ten seconds to unsubscribe from useless mailing lists can save a lot of time in the future.)
- Send attachments through file-sharing services. (Such as WeTransfer, Dropbox, or the like.)
- Don’t reply unless your response is vital. (When e-mails don’t need a reply, replies only bring more e-mails to your inbox.)
- Don’t use your e-mail as a to-do list. (If an e-mail requires less than two minutes, do it now. Otherwise, transfer the task you need to accomplish to another system that you check more often than e-mail.)
Your smart devices aren’t going away. And neither is e-mail. But that’s okay, because these tools are there to serve you. The question is, how can we become smarter users of these technologies? The tips above are a start. But it’s really a question each of us must answer for ourselves.