One of the most positive changes I’ve made and strongly advocate you implement seems to shock just about everyone when I tell them:
Delete your email app off your phone entirely. Do it now.
It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re addicted to our emails. Search anything related to “email” and “addiction” and you’ll be shocked. The wake up call for me was watching a documentary called The Social Dilemma.
In fact, as I sit here typing this on my laptop in the late evening I have an email tab open and I find my eyes continuously darting to that tab.
I’m closing it now…
What I’m advocating for is not to make yourself entirely unavailable.
What I’m advocating for is to implement a hugely positive mental health boost by removing instant access to you.
Email pulls you out of times of valuable, intense focus. It pulls you out of real life moments that matter most, like your children’s events or a nice dinner out with your significant other.
It’s a critical tool to any modern business, but it also shouldn’t be a ball and chain and it damn sure shouldn’t be something that we’re addicted to.
It’s Not Life or Death
I’m willing to bet with 95% certainty that nothing you do for your clients is time sensitive. It may feel time sensitive, but it almost certainly isn’t. And it’s most definitely not life or death meaning it can wait.
In fact, the vast majority of sane clients won’t even expect a response if it’s after normal working hours, and even if it is, responding at 9:12am to their 2:47pm email is perfectly reasonable.
I’ve made an extremely conscious decision not to take on any client that has any sort of time urgency to their business. These sorts of clients are rare, for the record, and you should be charging a lot for that sort of white glove service, if you even take them on at all.
Even still, after hours client emails are super common. And you know what happens when I don’t even see it, much less respond?
Literally nothing. They’re not upset, but most importantly: I’m not stricken with self-induced panic over this client request. My mind isn’t pulled away from whatever it is I’m doing to think about the size of their logo in the mockup I sent earlier.
They’re upset because the design you sent doesn’t have enough pop? Now you’re not even slightly affected by this, instead of letting the two line gmail preview interrupt precious personal time.
Without email on my phone, my mind isn’t sent diving head first back into thinking about some ultimately menial task while I’m not even working.
“Oh, but Jonathan!” I hear you cry. “We offer uptime monitoring in our care plans and what if a client site goes down? I have to know about that!”
Just set up a Zapier automation that texts you if that happens. Find a way that allows critical information to still reach you, but doesn’t allow any random joe to light up your ceiling while you’re watching TV.
For instance, my team members know to reach me through Basecamp. If they need me, they just ping me. But they also know not to ping me unless they actually need me. That way, a message is left for me in Basecamp and they know I’ll get to it in due time.
The same is true for clients. Many of them are inside Basecamp with us and I tell them from the get-go: Reach me through Basecamp. But I’ve also set Basecamp not to send push notifications to me for any reason after 5pm and before 9am.
It’s a habit you have to break
I’m not going to sit here and pretend removing email from your phone is an easy thing to do.
I started off by disabling notifications in the gmail app. But what that led me to do was to simply go check gmail manually more often than I did before.
So then, I deleted the app entirely off my phone. For the first week or so, it felt like I was missing a limb. I remember consciously thinking “what if I need that PDF or that airline ticket from my email or what if…”
And here I am two and a half years later not having lost a single client or missed a flight as a result of not having email on my phone.
But what I have now is a phone that only alerts me to important things after hours and doesn’t disrupt my working day.
Another piece of this puzzle is to leave your email closed throughout the day. There are many articles and discussions about this already, so I’ll mostly leave this, but I am an advocate of that too.
I often fail at this while on my computer working, I’ll admit.
But I still find that the hours throughout the day where email is closed are my most productive. Bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?
What if I [insert workaround]?
I strongly believe that the most important part of this process is not having the convenience of the app on your phone, right at your fingertips.
Simply disabling notifications or setting focus hours is not enough. You’ll still have that nagging itch in the back of your brain to just refresh your email, just to see.
Ask me how I know!
I would get so frustrated with myself when I just had notifications disabled that I went and loaded my email while on the couch at 7:00pm. What faced me was that one email. I was then left with a feeling of anxiousness that I should deal with that right now or respond right away.
But after some time, I was able to break that habit and everything is happily awaiting the arrival of my eyeballs the next business day.
Is it worth doing?
Like I’ve already alluded to, it’s going to take time and probably a few attempts to make this happen. Email is truly an addiction and I don’t think most of us tech-savvy folk even realize.
But I can absolutely promise you that once you get in the habit of not checking your email on your phone, you’ll realize how much noise falls out of your day to day life.
No more sitting outside on a pleasant Saturday afternoon and then being sucked back into the whirlwind of work. It can take hours to quiet your brain down from a busy work day, but it only takes a single email to suck you fully back in.
I am far from perfect on this. I still can access gmail from the website on my phone, but it’s super slow and does only the absolute basics. It gets me by when I truly need to access email on my phone.
And you know what I realized? It’s very rare that I truly need access to my email on my phone. More often than not, I close the tab before it even loads because I don’t actually need to be in there.
I think we’ve been led to believe that in our world of hyper connectivity instant communication is a way you can get ahead in business, and the opposite is actually true.
Will you take me up on this?
I hope you’ll consider taking this step to disconnect yourself and give a big boost to your mental wellbeing.
This is something I strongly believe will have a positive impact on you, no matter if you’re a solo freelancer or an agency owner with multiple team members.
If the idea of doing this seems preposterous, you probably need it most!
The next level for me is leaving my phone behind more often. I’ve begun this journey, but we’ll see how that goes long term.