How many unopened emails are sitting in your inbox right now? Chances are it’s at least in the double digits. Cleaning out that overflowing inbox leaves us with a sense of accomplishment. But behavioural economist Dan Ariely says that sense of progress is false. In his book, Manage Your Day-to-Day, Ariely says that email addiction takes people away from big, creative projects that are important to their business’ long-term success.
Why does it feel so productive to check (and delete) emails? The typical calendar or agenda tends to represent tasks that can fit in 30-minute or one-hour blocks, like clearing out your inbox. Tasks that could take an hour or so a day for several weeks are hard to fit into the traditional calendar format, which makes them hard to cross off a to-do list. That sense of progress you get from zeroing your inbox isn’t there when you’re chipping away at a more important, more time-consuming task.
Why is emailing, specifically, such an egregious time suck? As Ariely says, people make a habit of checking email first thing in the morning, in the handful of hours that could potentially be your most creative and productive time. Ariely says: “Every time you’re doing something, you’re not doing something else. But you don’t really see what it is that you’re giving up. It is very easy for you to see the email. It is not that easy for you to see the thing that takes 50 hours.”
To combat this, Ariely suggests creating more tangible progress markers for creative projects—journaling or blogging about daily progress, saving versions of your work.
If you must email, do it right: 7 Elements of the Perfect Email