Email & Your Mental Resilience: 4 Steps Toward Transcending The Inbox Enigma

In the grand pursuit of positive mental energy, it would often seem that we need to become the conquerors of our digital domains. This means unraveling the paradox we professionals find ourselves caught in with respect to our inboxes. There’s an art to balancing the good with the evil in the realm of email, requiring each one of us to carefully distinguish it’s benefits from its pesky, distractive elements, and cleverly keep them separate. Master this art, and be rewarded with the kind of mental resilience possessed by the great achievers in your field.

As you may have discovered in my recent article The Front Burner Effect, even those of us who typically are resilient need to actively maintain the attributes responsible for keeping us that way. And in the face of a business environment entrenched in digital technology as its main communications platform, that maintenance takes on a more incessant nature. As I’ve often reiterated, it’s never been easier or more difficult to be productive. So, for all of us, now is the time to start making longer strides toward controlling the email enigma before it devours us. This article is written for precisely that purpose, propelling you further along on your journey toward GRACE In The WorkplaceTM, and affording you the focus and mental resilience you deserve.

The Lowdown On Email

Email is perhaps the most important business communications ingenuity of the last half-century. It also happens to be the biggest guzzler of mental energy. Your inbox is, by design, addictive, holding a place in your brain even when it’s not right in front of you, and literally rewarding you chemically each time you engage. To complicate matters further, enter: the smartphone, which allows you to take the show on the road, and to the dinner table and even to bed. This “cocaine of the 21st century” may be even more fatal to your career than the real thing, since, thanks to handheld devices, it is always in front of you.

What was devised as a revolutionary step forward in communication is simultaneously a colossal step backward for our mental health. Clients of mine have cited email as the greatest challenge to their careers, with entire days misspent each month (or week) pursuing inbox management. Many of these folks are up against a constant flood of email correspondence from their sales teams or bosses, and feel compelled to respond even when away from their desks. For some, it keeps them perpetually behind in their careers, unable to complete the tasks they were hired for. For one such professional, actual panic sets in regularly, sabotaging her job performance, and compromising her mental energy daily.

Are these inbox-related resilience-busters resonating with you? What I’ve been informing my clients through our GRACE programming is that it doesn’t have to be this way. By employing some practical time management techniques and setting some professional boundaries, anyone can turn this desperate situation around. Here are 4 big steps you can take starting today.

1. Stop Treating All Incoming Messages As Urgent.

Think about it: When every incoming message commands your immediate attention, you’re reinforcing a habit that feeds your email addiction. Being a supportive manager or subordinate doesn’t mean that your role is to respond like a 911 dispatcher. Redefine urgency for yourself by communicating with your boss and colleagues about their response time expectations. Once you’ve come to an agreement, begin the good habit of closing down your inbox while focusing on your career-advancing work, peeking in for urgent messages at the top of each hour and responding accordingly.

2. When It’s Email, It’s Email Alone!

Sometimes, you will need to immerse yourself in email, for the purpose of getting your house in order and assuring that you haven’t overlooked any important outreaches. Commit to the task for only one hour at a clip, and make it your exclusive activity during that allocated time. Your goal, in addition to reading and responding, should be to file each message effectively so that it doesn’t need to be processed more than once.

3. Set Those Boundaries With Colleagues.

Much like you, your colleagues sometimes need everything done yesterday. This can prompt them to email you more often than necessary to check the progress of their requests. That’s your cue to set some polite boundaries, saving you some much-needed time and mental energy in the future. Reply to such messages with a date indicating when they could expect your completed efforts to arrive in their inbox. Couldn’t be simpler, or more effective!

4. Impose A Little Self-Intervention.

This bit of advice is sometimes received as a big ask, but as you become more comfortable with it, the payoff will seem even bigger: Make a pact with yourself to unplug when you’re not at work. Post an out-of-office message each Friday afternoon, and when you’re at home with the family, commit to remaining digital device-free. Nothing says you can’t give yourself a little time late Sunday evening to peek in and preview your inbox for the week. It will allow you to more easily resist that reflexive early Monday morning email check, thereby avoiding a destructive mental energy sap. If you commute by train, use the ride as your first hour of exclusive inbox time. After all, in business, just as in life, remaining paced and focused is your formula for renewed mental resilience.