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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Metaphors for email management

If you thought that every email was a red light and stopped you in your tracks would you manage them any differently?
In yesterday's post I shared insights from the temporary traffic lights across from my house and applied them to managing my emails better. In the post I provided a number of different potential solutions to improving our email management.

One suggestion to shift our relationship with emails was using metaphor. After all, we consciously know the theory, many of us just don't always put it into practice. Which means the solution is more about managing the subconscious where responsibility for motivation, focus, willpower, developing routines or even resistance lie. Metaphor is such a great means of talking the language of our subconscious and communicating with it in a way that theory and logic just can't manage! (More about the power of metaphor here.)

Assuming you're like me, and may from time to time allow emails to take over your working day, and if the red light analogy didn't help shift your relationship with your emails, let's have some fun, get a little absurd if we can (as that's a very effective way to shift our thinking), and explore some additional analogies.

To make the most of the analogies you may want to first consider your answer to the following questions:
  • How many times a day do you check your emails?
  • How many times a day do you stop what you're doing to check/read an email?
  • What's the longest time you focus on something without distraction?
  • How long could you go and not check your emails before you get a little jumpy/twitchy?
  • What excuse reason do you give for not checking your emails less frequently?
  • When you return from a holiday, and after the initial email reading marathon, do you have a different relationship to checking emails?   
  • Do you find it harder to concentrate and focus on tasks than you used to?
I'm sure many of you may have healthy relationships to your emails, but if as a result of your answers to these questions you realise they're ruling your life you may want to continue reading.

What insight might the following have on how to manage your emails:  
  • Judge telling you what to do: my use of 'ruling your life' above made me realise we can often hand over power to our emails just like we do for the laws of the land. The question to be answered is, should emails have that much power? We certainly wouldn't allow a judge to tell us what to eat and when to eat it and yet it can seem like we allow emails to do so! 
  • Playing football: the image comes to mind of a footballer with the ball headed for the goal, and then allowing the spectators to distract them and even having a conversation with them, and never actually getting anywhere near the goal, and certainly never being able to score!
  • Playing music: I went to a live recording of BBC Radio 2's Michael Ball show at the Edinburgh festival on Sunday, and Tokyo Myers played live :-). This video is a 3 minute version of a much longer version we heard. If we imagine him stopping 3 or 4 times, it's perhaps easier to understand what we're doing when we're allowing emails to distract us away from focusing on the task in hand.
  • Reading a book: I like to read a book before I go to bed, even if it is only a paragraph before my eyes close and I fall asleep. The problem with such a short reading time is I have to reread the paragraph the next time I return to the book. Isn't this what we have to do every time we allow an email to distract us from what we're doing, remind ourselves where we got to and then spend some time getting back into the flow?  
  • Watching a movie: My favourite movie is Contact and I suspect I could watch that and zone in and out constantly and still understand where I am and what's going on. That's only, however, because I've watched the movie/film soooooooo many times. If we're watching a film for the first time there's going to be a maximum number of distractions we can manage before it reduces our understanding and enjoyment of the film. The key is knowing what that optimal number of distractions is, or determining at what frequency they can be accommodated in. 
  • Shopping: In the HBR article the Cost of Continuously checking emails they use writing shopping lists as a reminder that we write the lists so we don't keep popping to the shops every time we run out of something. We go to the shops at regular intervals when its convenient to do so, and pick up everything we've added to the list at that time. Recognising, of course, that there may be emergencies where we absolutely must rush out and buy ice cream or chocolate NOW. 
  • Eating: Just because it's there doesn't mean we should eat it - nor be eating constantly! Many of us can admit to being addicted to eating certain foods and yet fail to acknowledge the same behaviour with respect to checking emails. Which means sometimes the only answer is will power. 
  • Setting sail: the best time to set sail is above a particular height of hide which means there's only certain times twice a day when you can set off, and as they're c12 hours apart one of them may be at more unsociable hours. Trying to set sail outside those times may mean you run aground, need more help, or find it impossible to do what you want to do.  
  • Working with the tide - as per my vlog on the subject

    Do please share any further suggestions in comments below - anything that helps us observe our relationship with emails from a different perspective, and might just provide a gap for us to make a different decision between the email arriving and us taking action to read it.

    Alison Smith
    Unlocking potential using unconventional tools 

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