My email practice

In the last few years, I have found it increasingly hard to create the space, energy, and focus I need to work on bigger projects. I am able to respond to urgent questions and crises – what I’ve come think of as putting out fires – but I feel less able to do the slow, steady work needed to build something creative out of nothing, like writing a book or designing a research project. I want and need to do more than put out fires that other people start.

Email is not the only cause of this situation, but it plays a big role. My email practices have not been healthy. As someone who didn’t have email until college, I mistakenly believed that if I just spent more time on email, I could get caught up. That is very clearly the wrong answer and email will take all the time you give it and then demand more.

As an experiment in creative productivity and professional responsibility, I am trying a practice: reducing the attention I give to email. I open email for no more than 90 minutes each weekday, delete all remaining messages on Friday afternoons, and do not open email on the weekends. My email cannot be infinite anymore. I hope this will give me more time and space to focus on the deeper work I want and need to be doing and, in turn, make me a better colleague and mentor.