The 3 Most Common Stress Triggers: Email Part 2

Email distraction

Yesterday I published the first post in a three-part blog post series titled "The 3 Most Common Stress Triggers." The 3 stress triggers - or Pain Points as I like to call them - are:

So today I want to write about the second most common stress trigger which is email. Research shows that email can cause you to be stressed and overwhelmed because it bombards you with the demands of others.

In fact, your inbox is probably the first source of frustration that you come into contact with in the morning. It's that first dose of adrenaline that sets your system up for a stressful day. If you could just eliminate the perceived pressure of obsessively checking your inbox, then you'd be able to start your day calm, cool and collected. On the other hand, if you allow your inbox to control your life, you're going to set yourself up for a vicious cycle of anxious multi-tasking and frustration. 

Inbox Anxiety

Email becomes a problem when you become addicted to it. If the first thing you do in the morning is check your emails, then perhaps it's time to ask yourself the question "Am I the one controlling my inbox or is it controlling me?" Or if you find yourself browsing your inbox shortly before going to sleep, then you need to learn about inbox anxiety.

Your inbox is the place where the expectations of other people live. It's like a wish list of your friends and colleagues. It's filled with demands, requests, tasks and agendas that serve them. And while you're busy with taking care of their agenda, you're not taking care of your own agenda. You're basically putting other people's problems ahead of yours and by doing so you're neglecting your own needs. 

I'm sure you know that guy who will answer your email in a couple of minutes no matter what time of the day you email them? It's like they're sitting on the other side of the screen anxiously waiting for an email that they can respond to.

By being available all the time - even early in the morning or late in the evening - you're teaching people that they can bother you literally any time of the day. And trust me, they'll pick up on that cue in no time at all. Soon enough they'll flood your inbox with their problems, requests and questions.

You have to be mindful of the kind of image create about yourself. You don't want to look like someone who's always available. Because what that communicates is that you have plenty of time for answering emails. You'll come off as that guy whose time is worth next to nothing because he spends most of it browsing his inbox.

On the other hand, by creating a certain time window when you're available and sticking to it religiously, you'll not only relieve a lot of stress and anxiety from your life but you'll also communicate that your time is valuable.

Because let's face it, your inbox is always going to be full of problems that demand solutions. But one thing I learned over the years is that it's okay to leave them unsolved. Problems have a habit of solving themselves over time without your help. I think it was Peter Drucker who said "First things first, second things not at all."

How to Eliminate Inbox Anxiety

Next I'll share with you 2 of my best tips on how to eliminate inbox anxiety.

1.) The No Email Time Zone

So the first thing that you need to do is designate a timeframe in the morning that's 100% email-free. I call this the No Email Time Zone. Promise yourself that during that period of time right after you wake up you're not going to check your inbox. My No Email Time Zone is the first 2 to 3 hours of the day. I spend that time having a nice meal, exercising and reading a good book. By taking care of myself first thing in the morning, I set a great context for the rest of the day.

These first few hours in the morning are dedicated to me alone; my agenda comes first.

And it pays off because by the time I get to answering emails, I'm much more calm, collected and in control of my emotions. And that's because I spent the first few hours of the day laying the foundations for my higher self to emerge. So ultimately everyone benefits from my No Email Time Zone. 

The same thing goes for the evening hours by the way. Right before you go to sleep, you want to make sure that you're relaxed. You don't want to open your inbox just a few hours before you hit the pillow because you'll be flooded with everyone's problems and challenges. You need to create a No Email Time Zone before you go to sleep, too.

Let's say your evening No Email Time Zone starts at 7 pm. What that means is that exactly at 7:00 you close your inbox tab and stop answering emails for the evening. Instead do something relaxing, spend some quality time with your family but make sure that you don't allow other people's agenda to invade your evening privacy. 

2.) Don't Keep Your Email Open All the Time

This one is super important. Stop keeping your email open all of the time. Whether it's a browser tab of your inbox or push notifications; just get rid of it. 

You see, by allowing updates and demands of other people to distract you constantly, you create a vicious cycle of multi-tasking. Research shows that when you're distracted, it takes about 20 minutes for your mind to get back into the state you were before you got distracted. So that 20 minutes is spent worrying, spacing out, struggling with intrusive thoughts, etc. If you do the math what that means is every single new email or push notification wastes 20 minutes of your productive time. 

And at the end of the day when you look back at what you were able to accomplish you'll see that your day had been nothing but a series of back and forths with no clear achievement. If you want to break that vicious cycle of multi-tasking, you'll have to start creating chunks of time within your day when you turn off email notifications and close inbox tabs in the browser and start focusing on your task at hand.

You'll be surprised at how much you can get done if you don't allow your inbox to invade your productive time.

Final Advice

Emails can create an unnecessary amount of stress in your life. If you want to control your stress levels and sleep better, you definitely want to set up time windows when people can reach you via email. It's very important that it is you that controls these time windows and not everybody else.

I learned from Robert Sapolsky, the brilliant biologist that the #1 cause of stress is lack of control and lack of predictability. If you allow people to bombard you with updates and demands at any time of the day, you're giving up control of your time and energy. And I don't know many things as stressful as the unpredictability of when the next "urgent" mail will come in.

TIP: Set up an auto-responder for your No Email Time Zones that lets people know when you're available. It'll not only save you from inbox anxiety but also teach them to respect your time!

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