True life: I kind of suck at email

Most days, I avoid my inbox before 1 PM. And I’m notorious for letting days pass before replying to emails that would distract me from making meaningful progress if I responded in real-time.

While this can be interpreted as pretentious, my intention is simple: To spend as much of my finite energy each day on producing creative output that generates new value, improves my skills and places me at the peak of my market — and as little on the ordinary tasks that don’t.

Email often fits into the latter category. And as Cal Newport writes in his bestseller Deep Work: Rules For Focused Work in a Distracted World:

“The default social convention surrounding email is that unless you’re famous, if someone sends you something, you owe him or her a response. For most, therefore, an inbox full of messages generates a major sense of obligation.”

In Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done, Jocelyn K. Glei nails why we feel this obligation:

“The true source of our love-hate relationship with email is that we treat it like a task when it’s actually a tool. We cede control of our workday — and our to-do lists — to the dictates of others in pursuit of a mirage called ‘inbox zero.’ Rather than focusing on what’s outgoing, we strive futilely to keep up with what’s incoming.”

Once I released the burden of judging myself for not being as responsive as I (or other people) thought I should be, it empowered me to focus on the creative priorities that served my community and earned the human currency to design my life on my terms.

The irony though is that email is at the core of my business. Besides my personal website that hosts this blog, my email operation is the only other mechanism I use to build my community, promote my offerings and share my creative point of view. And email’s value to the sustainability of my business exponentially increased when I decided to opt-out of social media.

What happened is I took a step back to realize that email is best used as tool — one that can carry the weight of damn-near all my business functions on its back — and not a task that traps me in a dizzying maze of what Greg McKeown calls the “trivial many” in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and pulls me further away the “vital few.”

So when I do carve out a few moments each afternoon for email, I relate to another one of Newport’s assertions in Deep Work: “The inbox is now a collection of opportunities that you can glance at when you have the free time — seeking out those that make sense for you to engage. But the pile of unread messages no longer generates the same sense of obligation.”