Reading emails early | Would you rather? 001
Would you rather read your emails on Sunday or leave them until Monday?
This post, believe it or not, is being initiated on a Sunday. The final day before returning to work after a week away from the laptop, email traffic and Microsoft teams. After the handful of days trying to remove these from my mind, this morning I found myself with a creeping anxiety. An anxiety induced by the Schrodinger's cat of emails. What lies behind the opening of the laptop hinge? Pandora's inbox, or an early Christmas hamper.
Typically I would be all for the 'address the problem' approach. This deals with the anxiety through exposure to the inducing event (to be done incrementally for those experiencing more anxiety than others). With the type of anxiety we're talking about here being termed 'anticipatory anxiety', this is the feeling of anxiousness for an upcoming event.
By the nature of email-for-work, our inbox is not for musings with pen pals and is instead for the exchange of 'business-critical' information. Maybe you are cc'ed into emails for you to take some information, these are not the ones we are worried about. The ones we are worried about are the emails requiring you to give information or decision. What if the information request was urgent? What if someone else responds with the wrong decision or action? Have I indirectly hindered the business by not being available? Will my career be negatively impacted by something which happened in my absence? In this scenario, it is important to understand that more likely than not, the contents of the inbox will not be catastrophic and can easily be dealt with if it's negative. In fact, there's probably a lot of positives in that inbox!
So there's our answer, right? Just open the laptop and sink a couple of sacred Sunday hours into digesting the inbox. Because let's face it, digestion is all it will be as you will rarely receive a Sunday reply to a Sunday email. Though on a Sunday I find an invisible force holding me back from checking in. This is my time, for my activities. A fun day, a day of rest, a Sunday.
Clearly here i'm talking to the vast majority of people who are skewed away from the 'what we love' portion of the ikigai diagram. But if you are, like me, someone who balances their ikigai by looking forward to downing the workday tools to focus on their passion in their spare time then you will likely find yourself in the same stubborn mindset as me, refusing to give efforts to your workplace during your 'leave' time.
Which leaves us in a bit of an internal conflict. On the one side we want to resolve our anxiety by checking the email straight away, and on the other, we want to keep our work and personal lives as separate as possible.
Many people are in a similar situation to myself during the current pandemic, finding the physical space of home and work merging into one. I personally have tried to section areas of my flat to maintain some form of distinction. That being said, this has still resulted in my waking working hours being spent in the same room as my sleeping hours, just in different 'zones' of the same room. Without doubt, this will be having an impact on our work/personal habits and our mental wellbeing. Hence why I find myself being bitterly stubborn towards the Sunday work inbox!
The alternative to addressing the problem is to leave it for our future selves, hoping that we turn into a carefree Sunday lover in the meantime. It wouldn't have been too many years ago that I would have fit this description myself, but as a career engrains itself as a cornerstone of my life and career trajectory becomes a facet to nurture, the anxiety remains despite the decision to take the Monday approach.
There is a tool I have found to help with the escapism or distraction from issues which are still within my sphere of influence but are actually hypotheticals and 'what-ifs' generated by a hyperactive thought-space focussed on the future. I first observed this 'tool' from a friend of mine who I think naturally lives this way. This tool is to immerse oneself 'in the present'. I did just cringe a bit and this all sounds too hippy for my liking, so let's unpack that statement.
For me, 'being present' in practice means focussing on what is in front of you here and now. Our email inbox, strictly speaking, is tomorrow's problem so is not here or now. I often find it difficult to change focus though, because the thought of those emails is an immediate issue. Though there is comfort in the decision of postponing to Monday, reinforced with a rule that Sundays are for me and Mondays are for work. Having made this decision it's our duty to honour it and change focus.
This is most easily done – in this lockdown era atleast – with a walk and a thought-provoking podcast, ambient music (not the gym playlist!) or no earphone consumption at all. The goal for the walk is to absorb the natural stimulus it provides, let our thoughts and imagination run with it and forget it's even Sunday. Focus on the dogs galloping around the park, give the trees a passing thought for what they have seen during their years, remembering that there are plenty of others in this pandemic situation with us and think about how they're spending their time too. Letting our innate creativity (or boredom) take our minds where it wants to within the parameters of our walk; from the tree to the branch, from the branch to the leaf, the leaf to the ground and so on. Letting our mind wander as we wander has allowed us to immerse ourselves in our surroundings and in turn, the worries we previously had have slipped away. In our current era, we rush so much and have our heads nearly permanently in the virtual and the tomorrow that the physical and the natural has become the great escape.
Whilst the walk is temporary, it's aura lingers and has shifted our perspective to today and the remainder of Sunday, forgetting Monday existed. Back home we then begin to engage in the remaining tasks for our Sunday. Emptying the dishwasher, doing the laundry, watching the rugby. With an enlightened view that now we get to complete these tasks today instead of having to complete these tasks in the future. (Shout out to Atomic Habits).
Whether you are team #emailsonsunday or team #emailsonmonday there's another 'would you rather' that has probably become exacerbated by working from home during the current pandemic. Amplified by having less distinct spaces to perform distinct functions e.g. the office for work, so too has our work and personal time become less distinct. Almost as if our acknowledgement of the blurred lines between work and home in our heads, has become a reflection of the blurred lines in our work vs home space-time. With this in mind, perhaps the real w-y-r here is: would you rather have less potential time for yourself but it is distinctly yours or have more potential time for yourself but it is not distinctly yours?