Email is great, now leave it alone

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that email addiction leads to stress and unhappiness. Now, for the first time, researchers have tested this idea directly and found that, yep, there are probably positive psychological benefits to intentionally ignoring your email whenever possible. In a new study in Computers in Human Behavior, Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia took a group of workers and, over the course of two weeks, assigned each to one of two conditions: One group was told to keep their email program closed, turn notifications off, and check their email only three times a day, and the other was told to leave notifications on and check their email as often as possible. After the first week, each group switched into the other condition, and each group was regularly surveyed about how often they were checking their email, how stressed they were, and how productive they felt.

To De-Stress, Check Your Email Less – Jesse Singal, Science of Us (December 4, 2014)

Read the full piece. Via New Republic.

Update: Microsoft restores Skype missing feature

Previously, Microsoft updated Skype for iOS and took away voice messages. That old thing. Who’d use that? And wouldn’t be willing to trade in their iPhone for an Android device in order to listen to a voicemail message? See Microsoft Taketh Away.

You know it wasn’t a plan to rob iPhone users of a core feature but the way it was handled, it sounded as if it was and anyway, the result is that we were robbed of a core feature. And because of Apple’s usually handy automatic app updating, we got this improvement without noticing.

It’s now fixed. But Skype/Microsoft really doesn’t like to admit to a mistake however obvious. So the return of voicemail messages is not a bug fix and they obviously won’t apologise for the problem. Instead, it’s a new feature you should be grateful they’ve added in. I was grateful before, it is a good feature, but we had it and this is like ten fishing for compliments after screwing us around.

From the official blog:

We have been reading and listening to your feedback ever since we launched the new remastered Skype for iPhone and have been hard at work incorporating your suggestions. With Skype 5.1 for iPhone we included the ability to delete a conversation, edit a message and added a “Skype”-only contact filter, to name a few. Today, Skype 5.2 for iPhone adds more of the features you want most:

Voice message support: When you receive a new voice message from someone, it will show up in the conversation. To listen, just press play.

Skype 5.2 for iPhone – blog (7 July 2014)

To Not Do list

We've had To Do lists. A lot. We've come up with Done Lists which are very satisfying: you write down what you did as you finish it and then looking back later is immensely cheering. That's pretty much the entire purpose of my month reviews (see That Was March 2014…). But maybe we could take a further step and write ourselves a To Not Do List.

It feels risky. Like it could end up as a kind of new year's resolution fad: I will not drink so much tea, I will not keep putting off the gym.

But it could also be a good guide. I keep reading headlines lately about the first app that people use in their mornings and I've been stopping at the headline because I don't want to find out the detail. Chiefly because I want to avoid thinking about mine.

Since you're here, I'll face up to it. My first app is email. If you don't count Awesome Clock, which I use to give me an old-fashioned analogue clock face on my iPhone all night. If you don't count my iPhone's own alarm. Then it's email. As I lurch to the loo and on to the kitchen and into my office, I am checking both my main or personal email account and my public one, the address that is your best route to talk to me about The Blank Screen.

I want to stop doing this. Funnily enough, I've been training myself to make sure I check my calendar every morning and that's going fine. (See I nearly missed an event today, though I suggest you bring a packed lunch with you because that is a long, long post.) So I want to keep that new habit going, I do want to reinforce my early OmniFocus use every day.

But I have to drop the email one.

Because too often now I've woken up at 5am to start writing and been derailed by a bad email. Usually a rejection. And at that time of the morning, most rejections matter. Later on, they wouldn't, but right there and then I am somehow more open to the slap.

I'm fine with being slapped. But it also saps. There are few things worse than getting up at 5am to write but one of them is getting up at 5am and not writing. I've seen this after big projects finish when the pressure is off and I have nothing that truly has to be done then. That's a horrible time. But yet worse is this paralysing that you can get from certain rejections, when they're strong enough, when they're important enough.

All this is on my mind now because I had a rejection that would've cut whenever I read it, but it did especially stop me one 5am start.

Or it should've done. It certainly did for a time. I certainly struggled to begin working. And I didn't do the thing I was intending to do that morning. Instead, though, I worked on fiction. You know how great it is when you are reading a book and you're completely into it. Writing fiction, at times, can be similar. For whatever reason, I hit that moment that day and by the end of 2,000 words on that project, I felt better.

And I had a solution to the rejection.

Without thinking about it, without brooding on it, my noggin' had found a way around the problem.

Now, that's good. And having been able to take my mind away for 90 minutes or whatever it was, that was also good. But the solution requires other people and it requires much planning, all stuff that I couldn't do anything about at 7am that morning.

So if I'd just put off reading the emails until, what, 9am, I'd have had four hours solid work done, I'd be far less prone to the rejection paralysis and when my head came up with a solution, I'd have been able to do something about it right there and then.

Top of my To Not Do List, then, is this: I will not check emails first thing in the morning.

Do we have a deal?

Ask for what you want and ask it now, ask up front

I do talk about this in my book, The Blank Screen: Productivity for Creative Writers but I’ve just now, this minute, had to put it into use for a new reason. When you want something and you’re emailing somebody to get it, say so right at the top. Line one.

The reason I give in the book is that we’ve all had emails where we’ve wondered what in the hell this person wants. And when they do that very British thing of working up to the point by reminding you who they are, how we met, how, gosh, you said some day you could send me something, maybe, hello, it has an unintended effect. I read all this about that time we met in ‘Nam, how we stole a taxi together in Saigon and wrote Les Mis 2 together and as it goes on, as it gets ever more specific, I can’t help but worry. This is going to be big, I think. This is going to be really serious. This may be trouble.

And then they just ask for a link to the book. (Here, have the UK link and the US one too. It’s no trouble.)

But there is also the fact that saying what you want right at the start is a difficult writing task. Especially today. I had to write to my agent with all sorts of issues. All good, you understand, but just the sheer volume of things to discuss about new projects, things I want him to do, things I should’ve told him I’d already done.

The more I thought about it, the more I could think of other issues I needed to cover. It’s fine to think I should pick one and only email about that, leave the rest to another day but this is a real job and a real email about a real thing. Anything like stripping it down would be a correct writing exercise but not what he or I needed. Too much, too intertwined, too complicated.

So I started with line one. What I want.

There is always something that you want most, there is always something that you want first. So I wrote that down.

And having written it, every single other thing fell into place. It turned out to be what I call a three-biscuit email (it’ll take him those and some tea to work through the things in it) but as a reader today he will fly through the email and know exactly what is going on and exactly what I’m after.

Because I spent so long thinking about the first line, the rest of the email poured out of me in a flash. 

It’s a big deal for me, it’s a complicated subject, but wallop, that email is done and I’m on to the next thing. Specifically I’m on to talking to you. And now I’ll just pop off to get some breakfast. I’m starving and saying all that about biscuits did not improve things.