In the pre-COVID world, my daily work routine involved many meetings outside my office. I love being with people I know, and meeting new people.
In the shelter-in-place world of COVID, I work all the time in my office (now located on one end of my dining room table), and my only meetings are virtual ones, often on Zoom.
Spending all day on my computer, I quickly realized I needed to better manage electronic interruptions and distractions.
Before COVID, I had begun to use the “Do Not Disturb” feature on my cell phone every night and while I was in meetings. But during the parts of workdays when I sat a computer, text messages from family and friends were often a welcome break, as well as a healthy refocus of my gaze.
In the early days of COVID, communication about what was going on in the world was incessant. I needed to control the interruptions and I began using “Do Not Disturb” all the time. I may keep that habit long-term, controlling when I want to look at my notifications.
As to e-mail, an interview with Sendhil Mullainathan, a Professor of Computation and Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago, helped me think about one of the aspects of my e-mail management. (The interview was on The Ezra Klein Show, a favorite podcast of mine.)
Mullainathan said he doesn’t look at his e-mail right before a meeting because thoughts of what he has seen in his e-mail may distract him from the subject of the meeting. (Similarly, he chose to be interviewed by Klein on a day when he did not have a looming deadline: he knew if he did, he would be thinking about the deadline, and it would be very distracting to the conversation.)
He also no longer looks at his email the minute he wakes up. He works out, showers, gets dressed, and eats his breakfast before he looks at e-mail. As a result, he has experienced an enormous amount of creativity he had not previously experienced (when he had been distracted by what he had read in his e-mail.)
On a related note, because my job pre-pandemic called for me to be out of the office most of the time, I tended to have my work e-mail open on my phone from Monday morning through Friday evening. Now that I am never out of the office, I don’t use my phone for work e-mails. As a result, when I wake up and grab my phone, looking at work e-mails is not the first thing I do, nor is it the last thing I do before bedtime. That’s been a good way to achieve a separation between work hours and non-work hours, which many people have complained about during the pandemic.
Before listening to the interview, I had been playing around with how I handle my e-mail. I had largely shifted to not looking at it first thing in the morning, but hadn’t considered not looking at it before meetings. I have had the experience he described—the distraction resulting from pre-meeting e-mails and e-mails I have read just before dinner with family or friends, or before attending a play or watching a movie or a TV show—and I’m going to be more conscious of that from now on.
How do you manage your e-mail?