D o you ever open email as a que for what to do next? If so, you might have a love-hate relationship with email. First let me pile on with why hating email is so easy.

  • Simply too many emails.
  • They never stop arriving.
  • Junk is mixed in with important and timely tasks.
  • Email inbox is filled with too many expectations from others.
  • Too many emails seem unnecessary, especially when you’re a “cc” recipient for who knows why.
  • Excessive attachments are frustrating to sort through.
  • Group emails can expand, becoming more and more confusing as comments create cross talk of several topics.
  • Replying with just the right tone and grammatical accuracy is tedious.
  • Scanning to find a previously read email often evokes dread of all the others awaiting your reply.
  • Hastily written emails can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Urgent requests via email derail your planned agenda.
  • Expectations of immediate replies and people who never reply.
  • When requests require complicated and time-consuming replies.
  • Fundamentally, we lack a shared understanding of an appropriate length for email—some way too long and other far too cryptic.

I hope reading that list was as cathartic as writing it. Maybe you could expand the list.

Love Email—Really?

Maybe you don’t think you love email, but do you click that email icon 20 or more times a day? Or maybe you only open it once and keep it open. You might even open your email while away at lunch or when waiting for a meeting to start, or immediately after a class or meeting that took you away from it for an hour or so.

Appeal of Email

What is this magnetic draw that email has? When you’re overwhelmed with so much stuff to do and much of it evokes resistance, email offers clarity, surprise, and a potential reward.

Clarity:

With email there is no uncertainty about how to get started—simply click the app! Instantly your email inbox presents you with a series of discrete and clear choices. At a glance you see the sender, date, and subject. With one click you can arrange them in your desired order—most resent first, oldest first, or senders in alphabetical order.

Clarity feels so good! Clarity simplifies starting tasks!

Contrast that with committee work, lecture prep, grading, drafting a conference proposal, grant writing, finishing an overdue peer review or article revision, etc. Clear tasks win out hands down over fuzzy, unclear, and multi-step prep work.

Imagine all your other work were that clear. Imagine all your committee, scholarship, and teaching tasks were lined up in order with due dates, essential contacts, clear next steps, organized by level of importance. True, the content of email doesn’t always provide that level of clarity, but for an analogy you get the picture.

Take this Idea and Run With it

Email offers a clear first step and clear at-a-glance tasks. This clarity creates one of emails magnetizing qualities! Important lesson: if you want to deemphasize email and make your far more important tasks magnetizing, you’ll need a clear first step and clear at-a-glance tasks for them. Learn more about how to create this clarity.

Surprise:

You may be able to predict 80% of what will arrive via email, but what about the other 20%? Something unexpected and interesting might be there. Maybe a note from someone you’ve never met who read your recently published article and wants to praise you for the insights they’ve gained. Maybe an unexpected conference or publication opportunity. Maybe a great sale.

You know what I’m talking about. Each time you open your email some part of you is awaiting a surprise—pleasant one of course. This expectation generates dopamine—that feel good neurotransmitter that keeps you coming back for more.

Potential Reward:

This is close to the surprise but more predictable. Email offers numerous potential rewards. You can scan through your inbox and likely find emails to delete. That can instantly feel so good. You might find that response you’ve been awaiting and now you’ve closed an open loop. These quick wins feel productive!

You can also help others. Frequently, email requesters need something you know. The request might simply be your availability for a meeting, and you can quickly provide it. Done! Email might include questions from students, colleagues, collaborators, etc. Helping students, colleagues, and collaborators is valuable and provides instant gratification. You might find yourself craving a few more questions, especially those you can answer quickly and even better if it requires your expertise, your experience, or your insider knowledge.

Apply the Concept to your MOST IMPORTANT TASKS

The clarity, surprise, and potential reward email offers are deceptively enticing. Deceptive because you think you hate email and deal with it frequently because you imagine you have to, but in fact you might be drawn to email because it makes you feel productive, helpful, and literally makes you feel good at times. But when frequent processing and responding to email distracts you from those most important tasks that are going to insure your tenure and promotion or something else equally valuable, find a way to apply the enticement of email—clarity-surprise-potential reward—to those really important tasks