How to Stop Email From Driving You Completely Insane: Stop Being So Polite?

Enough with the cheerful greetings and immediate responses.

Email is like an annoying younger sibling. It’s constantly poking you and begging for attention, via alarming “ding!” and “swoosh!” sounds, when you are trying to focus on something else. Something that’s probably more important than the unnecessary “Thanks!” email that is demanding your attention. And no matter how much we all want to say “I quit this form of communication,” most of us can’t exactly do that. I mean, not if we actually want to keep our jobs, at least.

So, what’s one to do to keep from turning into ball of email-induced stress bigger than Aidan Shaw’s turquoise ring collection in season three of Sex and the City? Well, first off, stop being so polite — for your sanity’s sake.

Hear me out: In the past month, health editors at both The Atlantic and Men’s Health have written about how to deal with email so that it doesn’t put a huge dent in your productivity levels and drive you insane in the process. As The Atlantic’s James Hamblin says in his piece titled “How to Email,” “I don’t want to overstate the potential benefits of everyone spending less time and energy on email, but it would have health and economic benefits that would ripple across societies forever.” We agree — overstatement and all. And his suggestion for spending less time on email, and getting more work done and feeling more sane in return: Stop being so darn polite, essentially.

To summarize Hamblin’s suggestions that all seem to fall under the “Stop being so polite” umbrella: Hamblin says to stop fretting over whether to start your email with “Hi” or “Hey” or “Happy [insert day here]!” In fact, get rid greetings altogether — and sign-offs. Unless you’re a fourth-grader, your email is probably constructed of your first and last name and your company’s name in some way, shape or form, so the person on the receiving end probably already knows who you are. Plus if you’re using a professional email, you probably have an automatic signature.

Then, Hamblin says, get everything you need to say out in three sentences or less, no fluff. And don’t you dare answer every email as it comes in, you polite human, you. I know it might seem rude to make people wait — but unless you’re a doctor or someone is emailing you about a life-threatening emergency or a pop-up Beyoncé concert that’s happening in 20 minutes, in which case they should probably just pick up the phone, their email can wait a few minutes. Instead, give yourself a few designated times throughout the day to check email so you’re not constantly distracted.

Hamblin, who says he practices what he preaches, claims to live in Inbox Zero Land. Which means, if you’re anything like me, he lives in a much more sane land than you and I both. I would take his advice.

Now on to the advice from Men’s Health. Men’s Health’s Andrew Daniels notes that research has shown it takes roughly 23 minutes (ack!) to resume work at full mental capacity after a distraction. His email approach to maintaining his sanity is this: Ignore if it isn’t actually relevant (because us writers get a bazillion pitches each day that are not in any way, shape or form relevant to what we write about). You’ll note that piece of advice also falls under the “Quit being so polite” umbrella. (You’ll note it probably also doesn’t pertain to every single industry, so employ at your own discretion.)

So there you have it: Write “STOP BEING SO POLITE” onto a post-it, slap it on your computer monitor as a reminder that you don’t need to respond to an email that simply says “Thank you!” and watch your sanity levels rise. I’ve picked up a number of other tips for managing sanity and productivity levels in an email-driven work world over the past few years, and it would be cruel not to share them with you, so check them out below.

1. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. 
I know — it is so hard not to make “Check email” the number one item on your to-do list when you get into the office (or en route to the office, even), but Julie Morgenstern, an expert on time management and organization, says you shouldn’t check your email first thing in the morning. Why? Because then you just end up reacting to everything in your email rather than proactively knocking other (possibly more important) tasks off of your to-do list. Then, all of a sudden its 3 p.m. and you’ve crossed nothing that you intended to do off of your to-do list. And that, my friends, can drive a human crazy. Instead of checking your email first thing, knock at least one big-ticket item off of your to-do list before you even glance at your inbox.

2. Turn off alerts. 
Nearly two years ago, I turned off the email alerts on my phone — a double vibration that would send my fingers straight toward my inbox every few minutes only to find a totally unimportant email alert from Twitter informing me of Kim Kardashian or Audrina Patridge’s latest thoughts. (Yes, the list of humans I follow on Twitter is embarrassing.) And I kid you not, this tiny change had a huge impact on my sanity and my ability to be present, which I greatly appreciate. Because is there a lunch mate more annoying than a lunch mate who can’t hear their phone ding without immediately staring down to check it? No. No, there is not.

3. Look into apps.
The other day, I was listening to a Podcast with Grace Bonney, the founder of the uber-successful blog Design*Sponge. She mentioned Boomerang, which is a Gmail plug-in that allows you to schedule emails and manage when you receive emails. She talked about it with a love usually reserved for a first-born child, assuring readers that she wasn’t paid to talk about it — it had just been that wonderful of an addition to her life. If you’re primary mode of work communication is Gmail, it may be a good pick for you, too.

4. Don’t you dare check your email on vacation.
Two years ago now, former Be Well Philly editor Emily Leaman turned off her email for two full weeks, something she had never in her life as a working adult done, to actually enjoy her vacation. She documented the experience here but if you’re of the TL;DR camp, long story short is: It was glorious. And research shows that around 70 percent of folks feel more productive after a vacation — so allowing yourself to truly take a vacation, sans email, might actually help you maintain your sanity once you’re back in the office.

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