Time to check your email

Anthony Creech
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What value do you place on your time?

A good question in the face of a world where high-tech media has squashed the cost of older forms of communication.

Remember the days where you had to mail things? That cost businesses and families and made you think twice and weigh the importance of a communication before sending it. There was a real cost attached. Even faxes have attached costs, though less than mail, and long-distance phone calls.

It used to be a model of scarcity, where money went and did one thing and one thing only in the communication endeavors of a company. The Internet wipes out those costs and turns what was limited into being unlimited.

It can be quite the fantastic affair, and help usher in the age of the knowledge-worker, for the information age. But it’s important to critique these changes.

On one hand it’s so hard to get organizations and people to grasp how there is no turning back short of an apocalypse, and that they need to embrace the net and find out its rules, limits, problems and blessings now. Hopefully you learn this stuff before the Internet consumes your industry and leaves you out of work.

Higher-education (one of my own work areas) is of the most in danger to disruption and radical losses, next to journalism and entertainment.

Change is already among  us, and you can’t put your head in the sand and expect to still eat in five years.

But hark, there are perils everywhere.

All is not lollipops and like buttons in the land of the Internet.

The loss of scarcity breeds a league of works that are self managing beyond anything former generations saw.

Part of our job every morning, is often to determine what the heck our job is for that day.

This is typical of the knowledge-worker scenario, and to find its truth look no farther than two examples pointed out by many in my field, such as Merlin Mann, of 43folders.com.

Look at your inbox. Mine is currently at an unread count of 76, if you add together the unreads from my four most used email accounts. You need to manage that inbox daily, and you tend to it with trepidation, fear and often an anxiety similar to that of man stepping upon the gallows. 

You likely can’t describe all of your job responsibilities in one sentence, much less one word, like “butcher.” 

When scarcity is gone, companies make way more money getting their employees to have inboxes and unbeknownst to them to become self managing, and to answer to multiple bosses, answering to a number of different people every day. Often via email.

You get to work. Now you need to go through the email (which also doubles as a to-do list, adding apprehension and announcing to you the things you haven’t gotten around to yet). You need to manage your email and decide what you should do and when.

Thats a whole new level to your job.

The question is, do you have a firm and clear understanding on how valuable your time is? Because you don’t need to spend any money to send email, people send all sorts of stuff that isn’t worth the minutes of time it takes to read.

We need to help ourselves and our organizations by learning to put value on our time and our attention. Process that email, or delete it and don’t let it get on the pile of burden.

It costs you psychologically to have an inbox of 76, which is now, of this moment, returned to zero.

It depends on when you read this, of course.

And it depends on if you want to count the kinds of things I use my gmail to filter right out of my inbox and into separate folders, to be given attention when I feel like it, rather than grabbing my important inbox mind-space.

I filter my mail to keep access to things I claim that I want to see, like newsletters on film and media and education. if they land in the inbox they pollute my brain, and add another thing to do on my precious pile.

Then, if I feel like I have some new-letter reading time, or come to a period I’ve cut out in my schedule to do-so, I go to the folder to see what’s new.

Most things you can unsubscribe from, and get rid of the annoyance.

It’s good to ask yourself if being notified of something is worth the headache or needed in the slightest. Odds now look like you’ll be notified of a thousand things at work that you don’t really need to be aware of to do your job and live your life well.

As being a part of a westerner in information age, you must learn to be choosy, and learn to ascribe value to your considerations. You can’t often see it in dollars, and it gets worse the higher up the ladder you get. A CEO’s job is as vague as it gets.

There’s peace of mind in having a roadmap, and clear expectations. Do you know what your boss expects of you in regards to answering emails and “balancing” your time? Odds are that they don’t even know.

There is a range of examples we could look at to see these additional mind-space invasions pervasive in our culture. We need to look no farther than our inbox.

For instance, you could go to my site thecreechleague.com, and click on the “me” tab and then the mail logo and boom, you have at least an email subject-line’s worth of my attention guaranteed. I may never open it, and if I do, you get that much more attention, at no extra cost to you.

The cost would be to me, and that’s the point.

How does your inbox affect you? Ask yourself that. Give yourself an example of wasted time.

Steve Jobs once said “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

My version for today would be “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it reading everyone’s email.”

It does make a difference. If you want to try it, just go to an inbox of zero for a week. If you can do it, I think you’ll have a story to tell.

Anthony Thomas Creech, MFA, is a filmmaker and lecturer on media, faith, and filmmaking. He's the program co-ordinator for the Media Arts Minor at Briercrest College & Seminary, and you can find him at thecreechleague.com.

Organizations: Briercrest College Seminary, Media Arts Minor

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