“Google Inbox is my life…”
A cringeworthy statement I often said beaming with pride. I was an entrepreneur with “stuff” going on. “I’m busy”, I’d say. As if it was some sort of accomplishment.
How horribly wrong this was…
Earlier this year I decided to reinvent the way I operate. A full restart.
I questioned everything I did and sought to make changes that optimized my effectiveness, efficiency, and overall happiness.
(It’s made a massive difference — post on this coming soon.)
The first thing I did? Quit Google Inbox. And here’s why…
1. To-Do Lists Don’t Belong In Your Inbox.
Let’s backtrack to our world before the Internet. Would you have put your To-Do list in your mailbox? Of course not. That sounds ridiculous.
Those important items belonged on your desk, or maybe even the fridge.
Mail was meant for a (maybe) once-a-day check to see what had come in. If important, a resulting action from that mail would then be placed on your To-Do list.
2. The Great Bundling of the 2000s.
Enter the Internet. Enter Microsoft Office and, notably, Microsoft Outlook. Soon Outlook became a one-stop stress shop.
Let’s take a tour…
“Hello and welcome! Here you’ll see a mountain of email that need replies. On the left is a calendar that shows you’re booked solid all day. And down there you can see tasks and reminders that actually are important work but, due to the former, you’ll have no time or energy to do.
Now that an overwhelming sense of stress has come over you — let’s spend the five minutes before your next meeting firing off some emotionally-driven emails. Make sure they’re rushed so your anxiety and suppressed rage show through. The resulting miscommunication and confrontation will surely lead to more meetings and email.
Thank you for visiting the Stress Shop… have a terrible day!”
At a glance, coupling mail with tasks and reminders made some sense. Each requires you to take action (although inherently different), and both things could technically be “snoozed” until later.
But this coupling was driven more out of feature expansion than actual productivity thought. The two were soon coupled everywhere, leading up to Google Inbox where they are treated as one in the same.
If you think about it— these two were never meant to be together.
Technology enables us to bundle everything into a screen or an app. While incredible in certain use cases, for others (read: this one), it’s detrimental.
3. Debunking the “I’m Working” Fallacy.
Let’s establish something very basic: mail is NOT work.
Work has forever consisted of certain tasks that need to be completed in order to make progress. AKA “getting shit done” or “moving things forward”.
This is productivity.
Mail, on the other hand, is a communication mechanism. And definitely not the most pressing one (we’ll get to that). Mail has the ability to create tasks for you. But mail itself is not a task.
By constantly checking email you are wasting time that should be spent on productive tasks. This makes you less efficient.
By stopping those productive tasks to check email, you are forcing your brain to switch contexts. This makes you less effective.
Email can wait. Stay focused on real work. You’ll finish in less time (efficient) and create a better result (effective). And yes, I promise— the emails will still be there.
All of this underlines the cultural fascination with constantly “working” and “being busy”. With email being the means to that end.
So an app (Google Inbox) that bundles all of these emails, tasks, and reminders into one place? Gold.
Now back to me…
Every day I would wake up, excited, ready to work. I’d open Inbox to see which tasks and reminders I needed to work on…
…of which there were hundreds.
(A topic for another day. Short version — digital To-Do lists can be harmful because there’s endless space to add things. Limit & prioritize.)
As if this weren’t enough — what do you know? Bolded next to all of those important To-Dos are… 30 new emails!
“Well that one’s from him… I should check it.”
“Oh, she wrote me back? Let’s see what she said.”
This is wrong.
And I can’t stress that enough.
THIS IS WRONG!!!
Right then and there — my morning was fucked.
I would become incredibly distracted, not focus on the tasks at hand, and get caught up in a bunch of meaningless email.
(It’s incredible how many do this. Recommended: audit the start to your day. The results can be life-changing. Seriously.)
Making things worse, I would read email and often not take action. Or my action would be to “snooze” it.
This is terrible because, when I did respond, I would have to re-read the entire thread and bring myself back into that context. A giant waste of time… since I already read it.
As a rule: Take action on emails when going through them.
You shouldn’t be browsing your inbox. Be decisive.
There are rare cases where snoozing is appropriate. Otherwise, respond or delete. That’s it.
Google Inbox is a beautifully designed product…
But having email live with, and be equal to, a To-Do list is distracting and consequently unproductive.
Luckily we live in a time with phone calls and text messages. We can chat with coworkers on Slack, Skype, or Hangouts. Use these for time-sensitive communication. Not email.
Put your To-Do’s in one place and start the day working on those. Your inbox may pile up, but it’s not going anywhere.
Let the email sit. Focus on getting shit done.