The person that delivers your mail pulls up to your house. They find your mail, and they put it in your mailbox. Then they drive to the next house. They won’t return to your house with more mail for 24 hours.
You want to know what they left in your mailbox. You rush out to the street and open the box, and you anxiously bring the mail inside. You hope there is a check in the mail. You hope there is something interesting or worthwhile. Instead, there are two bills and five pieces of junk mail, nothing worthwhile.
Two minutes later, the mailperson backs up their truck. They forgot something. They open your mailbox and place an envelope inside. You rush out to see what treasure awaits you. Another bill. Nothing novel, but at least your curiosity has been served.
The mail is delivered once a day. You only have to open the box and process your mail once a day. Most of what shows up isn’t worth your time or attention. A good deal of it is routine maintenance, things like bills and statements that, while important, aren’t anything that needs your attention now. Having learned this over time, you are not so enthusiastic about physical mail anymore.
Imagine another scenario. Imagine that your mail delivery person parks their truck right in front of your mailbox. About once every 10 minutes, the mail carrier opens your mailbox and inserts one new envelope. Over the course of an hour, you receive 6 new pieces of mail. Would you walk to the mailbox every ten minutes to retrieve your mail, knowing that there isn’t likely to be anything that needs your attention there? Or would you wait a couple of hours while you do you work before you go and pick up your mail.
This second scenario is exactly how email works. When you leave your inbox or web browser open, you are inviting interruptions. You are allowing yourself to be distracted, knowing that most of what comes into your inbox doesn’t require your attention, and knowing that your most important work isn’t going to be found in your inbox.
The “right now” nature of email is that everything that enters your inbox is treated as being equally important. That newsletter subscription you keep meaning to unsubscribe from is at the very top of your list, prominently on display as the very first thing you have to look at. Beneath that are two news alerts you subscribed to. Now you know the Federal Reserve didn’t raise interest rates, and some team from Cleveland is getting things done. The fourth email in your list is a “for your information” email from a coworker who wants to make sure everyone on the distribution chain is aware that there is “no change” on the status of a project.
Right now, you could be doing meaningful work. Right now, you could be face-to-face with a client, a prospect, or a co-worker getting things done. Right now you could be making phone calls to people who need your help or people who could help you. Most of the results you produce aren’t going to be produced in your inbox.
Turn your browser off. Close your inbox. Do meaningful work for 90 minutes. Take 15 minutes to stand up, stretch, drink some water, and then check your email to see if anything needs your attention. This means you will check your email 4 times over the course of an 8 hour day. You can do excellent, meaningful, on purpose, intentional work in blocks of 90 minutes.