One Life Change I’m Making Because of My Email Detox

November 28, 2012

Last week I went on an email and social media detox.

That’s right: I didn’t read or respond to emails for a week, and I didn’t touch my social media channels. (With a few minor exceptions — I had to go into my email to retrieve my flight itinerary, for example — but they were so minor that it was certainly a #win.)

Sometimes we need a break even from things we love.

Sometimes we need a break even from things we love. (Credit: Flickr’s br1dotcom)

The detox went off without a hitch. In fact, I prepped so much ahead of time that I didn’t even feel swamped when I got back.

The lesson? Taking a vacation when you work for yourself IS possible. And probably more feasible than you think.

But there’s an even bigger takeaway

I almost didn’t write this round-up post because other than feeling revitalized and ready to work again, nothing much has changed. And writing a post about how nothing has changed is boring.

But then I realized something HAS changed. Something I’m hoping will help me maintain a better work-life balance going forward. Something that might seem like a small change — but could have big results.

I haven’t turned my phone’s email alerts back on.

Why? Because I realized that little Gmail envelope in the top left corner of my smartphone was ruling my life. Email is how I correspond with everyone — I am a remote worker, after all — and I get a LOT of it. A lot as in 275 unread messages waiting in my inbox when I got back from my week-long detox. And that didn’t even count all the mail that filtered automatically to my “not important” folder. Nor did it include much correspondence from my clients because they knew I was on vacation.

So that Gmail notification shows up on my Android phone every minute or so. Which means I’m constantly interrupting whatever I’m doing to see who emailed me and what they want.

But you know what? Most of those emails do not require immediate attention.

So I’m trying life without email alerts. Yes, that means I’ll check email often when I’m waiting for an important note, but it will be a conscious decision to check email, not a reaction to a notification that probably doesn’t need action at that very moment. That technology will still be still at my fingertips, but not tapping me on the shoulder every 30 seconds.

This is just one of the tweaks I’m constantly making to increase my productivity and focus with the goal of doing better work in fewer hours. To be a proactive worker who chooses my own priorities, rather than a reactive one. The best part? These tweaks are all experiments, so I can always change my approach or drop a strategy altogether if it doesn’t work out.

What tweaks have you made to streamline your digital life?

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17 Replies to “One Life Change I’m Making Because of My Email Detox”

  • Caroline says:

    Great post! I’m always looking for new ways to unplug, but like you, a lot of my life and business involves being online. Recently, I turned my laptop into a “desktop” and made a rule that it wouldn’t move from my desk. This has stopped me from bringing my computer with me to the couch, bed, dinner table, etc. and just made me more aware of how much time I was spending on the computer and when. I’ve actually thought a lot about turning off email notifications lately, too. This post has inspired me to try it out!

  • My rule is not reading anything related to social media in bed! I have a book on Pinterest I’m struggling to getting round to reading, and I have to ensconce it in my office in the evening, lest I accidentally reach for it…because reading ‘work’ books at night is waaaaaaaay too stimulating, ends up in me going downstairs to have a go at whatever the book/ebook suggests, and then I have crazy work dreams all night…!
    So for my own sanity, and to avoid sleep deprivation (did enough of that when my kids were teenies, thank you very much) I strictly only read for leisure at night!

  • nidhi says:

    Great post, Alexis! And more power to you with turning off the email alerts- one of my productivity downfalls as well! I hope you update us on how it’s working for you.

    I recently wrote a post about staying distraction-free while working. The tools I recommend in this post have really helped me stay productive, hopefully it’ll help some of your readers out as well!
    http://www.nidhithapar.com/483/how-to-create-a-distraction-free-environment/

  • I am soooo impressed! I could do it for a day or two max, not sure I could it for a week!!!

  • Amy says:

    Interesting fact: it takes approximately 2.8 minutes to refocus every time you are interrupted while completing a task. Think about how much time you will be saving by turning off that notification, and how much more productive you can be! It’s soo worth it.

  • Abby Butts says:

    I setup my work email to only sync during work hours and it does not sync on the weekends. Not seeing that a new message has arrived helps me be more present at home and leave work at work. I think its easy to fall into the trap of only spending your day in your inbox and counting that as “real work”. I’ve never been able to cross a project off my list by only checking and replying to email. Reading and responding to emails are a part of my job but not my only responsibility.

  • Kola says:

    as much as possible, i ignore my email all day, open it after work in the evening, reply everyone all at once. close, rinse, repeat : )

  • Cassie Ranae says:

    My boyfriend encouraged me to/kind of made me turn off push notifications for email on my phone last year on our trip to Indiana to visit my family for Christmas. At the time, I was getting a ton of email, even overnight (some of my clients were international). I thought not knowing the state of my inbox would stress me out even more than I already was, but I LOVED it. I hadn’t realized that hearing the little ding indicating new messages had such a negative effect on me.

    I kept notifications off for a good six months after that. My work environment has since changed, and the notifications are back on, but they no longer affect me like they used to. It was a worthwhile exercise, and an important lesson!

  • Betsy Talbot says:

    Hi, Alexis. Congrats on your week-long vacation from email!

    Your suggestion on the “not important” folder in Gmail a few months ago has saved my life. In addition to this, for the past 2 years I’ve done the following to keep myself sane:
    * No email/internet in the evening. I have to tune out or I can’t sleep.
    * No laptop in bed…ever.
    * I also use my laptop as a desktop most of the time, creating a workspace wherever we are and only working there (we travel full-time, so no permanent home base).
    * When I’m writing or doing other project-related work, I turn off Facebook/Twitter and email. It’s not as easy to flip over and check it if you have to log in each time.

    Last, but probably not something everyone else will try, is that we don’t own cell phones and have not for 2 years. When I’m away from my laptop, I have no idea what the hell’s going on, and that makes being in the moment a lot more fun.
    Thanks for the great tips – I’m looking forward to the guest post seminar on Wednesday!

  • I stay away from the news. If it’s really important I will know via twitter, FB or friends and family. All of that negativity gets in my way.
    I might take up a weekend detox from tech but that could really get my wheels spinning
    Good post

  • Nicolas says:

    Hi Alexis,
    I stumbled upon your site thanks to Tom Ewer’s twitter account and I love this article. So many people complain about not being productive and don’t realize how disruptive emails or Instant Messages can be! I also like the part about not being “reactive” but “proactive”. You put words on my own feeling.
    On my side, I only check emails at home or work every 1h30 or 2 hours, after completing a task. I don’t have my Outlook or Gmail opened unless I am actively checking my emails. I removed all notifications for a long time ago already.
    One extra tip could also be to only check your emails/social medias after completing a certain task. I mean, NEVER open your emails or Twitter accounts when you get up from bed or enter to your office : You’d rather complete one task (write a blog post, analyse this issue, …) before anything else.
    I know that your life revolves a lot around social media, but I’m sure it’s not all of it – and I’m also sure you often end up spending 1 hour checking social media when you initially planned to only check your accounts for 15 minutes, no?
    Good luck and thanks again for the post.

  • I can’t tell you how badly I need to follow your advice here, because… its been my advice for years. Not just turning off the email notification, but also just setting times when I am “connected” and not. I feel torn all the time in way too many ways with my online life.

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