Thinking Through Email: Turn Off Notifications

Email is tough. In the last post I wrote about why we have such a hard time with it, why we’re so often overwhelmed by it. The root of the problem is that it wasn’t built for the things we use it for. So where do we start? How do we get it under control?

I have a couple of ideas I want to talk through, though it will take us a few posts to get through them. These ideas work well for me[1] and I think they’ll be usefull to you as well. They’re not all original. Others have written about so often that they’ve become common practice these days[2].

RELAX

We need to relax when it comes to email. The email alert on our phones and PCs[3] has us so conditioned that we turn to deal with the email immediately. This impacts the quality of everything we do, including email itself.

Consider turning off noticitations. Ignore the inbox when you work on other projects or take a break from your work. Check email a few times a day rather than letting your inbox dictate your focus.

Remember, emails are memos. We don’t get a notification every time someone places a note on our desks. That sheet of paper doesn’t bring the rest of your work to a halt. It waits until you have the time to deal with it.

The more we let incoming email dictate our work, the more scattered and inefficient our work is going to be.

If It’s an Email, It’s not an Emergency

Think back on your last month or two of emails. How many times were you notified of an emergency through email? You may be in a position that invites that sort of email. But you’ll receive emergency notifications through a phone call, instant message or a text[4].

The key is that you have to convince yourself that it’s OK to not see an email the moment it arrives. If you feel you must, use priority options for your most important contacts. Both iOS and Android have a method to ensure some contacts can get through no matter what.

The Recommendation

Turn off your email notifications and deal with all your emails in bunches, rather than as they come in. You’ll be more productive as you clean out your inbox and less distracted when you work on other projects.

Our communication methods don’t own us. Email connects us to the people in our lives at home and at work. It’s a tool that we use to send information. It’s not an end, it’s a means.


  1. On the occasions that I’m disciplined in my interactions with email. I don’t have it together, I’m just trying to get there.  ↩

  2. If I need to attribute one of my suggestions here to someone in particular, let me know: machinecompatible@gmail.com.  ↩

  3. I mean in the Personal Computer sense, not the Windows Machine sense.  ↩

  4. If it’s a true emergency, you’ll probably get all four within minutes of each other.  ↩