Breaking The Email Trance: Embrace The Out-Of-Office Message

IMG_4570Can you believe that people spend up to 50% of their time digging their way out from under a perpetually swollen inbox? Wait, you do too? Don’t be ashamed of being a statistic; I used to be right there with you. In fact, I know another little email secret about you: You sometimes feel a slight sense of thrill at the possibility that any time you check, there are likely to be more messages in your inbox! I’m not a clairvoyant; I simply know this from my research leading up to a recent webinar I delivered, which demonstrated how email is a dopamine stimulator. The anticipation and unpredictability of our inboxes are irresistible, triggering automatic behavior loops which keep us in pursuit of reward. This pattern can be compared with cocaine use, which, despite its little rewards, always results in more anxiety than it inhibits.

Email is the #1 reason we are perpetually distracted throughout the day. It erodes our ability to be creative, imaginative and reflective. What’s more, each time our brain is bounced from one task to another (which is typical of email maintenance), it eats up metabolic fuel like glucose and oxygen. We all know that email is a double-edged sword: we need it as a vital tool to communicate with, but we often end up with a continuous wave of anxiety about what’s accumulating in (and sometimes flooding) our inboxes. There has to be a happy medium, and we must achieve it before we face full-on addiction. Alas, I have a solution for you, and it will save you both time and anguish.

The Triple “O” Solution

Here is a powerful yet simple resolution to the problem of living as a prisoner to your inbox: utilize the Triple “O”, or Out Of Office function on your email server during times when you need to be hyper-focused. Craft a direct and informative auto-response message like “I’m in client meetings all day, and will have periodic access to email. In case of emergency, please call 555-5785.” People will understand, much like the folks in the DRIVEN community, who have adopted the technique of scheduling in 45 minutes of focused work and 15 minutes responding to email each hour. Using the Triple “O” message supports one’s ability to become fully absorbed in that 45-minute block, transforming it into a high-productivity time, every time.

The Psychological Bonus

There’s another reason that Triple “O” is so powerful. Part of our workday anxiety is the subconscious obligation to respond to incoming messages right away. You know the feeling: the message arrives in your inbox, and now the ball is officially in your court. You can practically sense the person on the other end of the message gawking at their screen waiting for your response. Of course it’s all in your head; that other person has since dashed off to the coffee shop and forgot about you the moment she hit “Send”. But your false sense of urgency has held you captive. It’s part of the addictive nature of email, and the Triple “O” message is your cure. Once it’s posted, your brain knows that all email senders are no longer expecting a timely response. Ahhh! Feel the anxiety dissipate.