I took email off my phone 5 years ago and it’s been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. And yes, the irony is clear to me given I run a technology company.
It’s a practice I’ve come to take for granted however recent encounters with friends have inspired this memo, to my future self, in case I ever find myself addicted to my phone because of email…
Hey Kunal, if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re burnt out, feel like you’re always working, have trouble sleeping, are less connected with yourself and are constantly distracted. Everytime, everywhere.
The solution is simple: take email off your phone (again). And here’s a reminder as to why it’s been so effective for you in the past.
First of all, email sucks. The first email ever sent was by Ray Tomlinson, a programmer, in 1971 to connect information from one computer to another computer (both of which were right beside each other). Given your mom refers to your iPhone 5 as ancient technology, email must then be from the stone ages. The way we use this stone age era technology has not evolved much over 40 years. Email was not designed to facilitate efficient and effective communication at the scale we now operate, with billions of people connected on tens of billions of devices.
Do you remember how you cut out internal email at Polar one year ago? No one sends emails within your company anymore, thanks to full adoption of Slack (you also killed internal meetings). Now Slack’s success is not only due to their technology being fast, easy to use and really strong on mobile. There’s a societal trend and social phenomenon for feeds. Everything is a feed, and thanks to Slack, that consumer behaviour has made its way into the work environment.
When it stops feeling like work
With email on your phone, you are likely reacting constantly to the needs of other people. And it frankly will feel like work. You’re pretty good at it, and capable, but it will take a real toll on your energy and spirit. And it’s not the individual actions, it’s the cumulative effect which will lead to you feeling like you’re always working.
You’re operating in a global economy, a competitive industry and are running a growth-oriented company. The responsibility you feel may be high but not unmanageable. You are naturally going to be thinking about work, during evenings, weekends and while taking time away. You may be always working, but it doesn’t have to feel like work.
When you stop reacting, you can start to be proactive. You’re creating, ideating, imagining what may be possible. And coming up with solutions to problems from a few hours ago, a few days ago or a few weeks ago. Joining dots that otherwise may not have been connected together. The right side of your brain (creativity) starts to flourish and gets a crack at solving problems that the left side of your brain (analytical) couldn’t solve during the workday.
With email on your phone, you’re suppressing your creativity and using the your analytical skills on over drive.
See, it’s less about how many hours you spend working, and more about how you choose to spend those hours. From your time audit exercise, you’ve got a tool to get the buckets right, now it’s about how you choose to spend each bucket.
Let’s not forget: the reason you started a company and continue to lead one today is to have the opportunity to create. It is a form of expression for you in life. And creating doesn’t feel like work, for anyone. Whether you’re creating a delicious meal, creating art or creating a company, it all feels the same as it’s inspired from within (versus being injected into you through an email app on your phone).
You’re a leader
And part of your responsibility is to set a positive example for those around you. It sets a terrible example if you’re constantly disrupting the personal lives of your team and your customers, by sending them emails which they’ll (unfortunately) feel obliged to read and respond to, 24/7.
The cost of burnout of even a single team member is really high. They become unproductive, less efficient, need more time away to recover and are an energy drain on those around them. Letting that email wait until the next morning is a smart financial decision versus suffering from the high cost of burning people out (including yourself).
You may try to make the argument that working constantly gives the perception to your team and customers that you’re super-committed. However anyone with experience in business, who’s learned about balance the hard way, knows that always reacting to emails and working evenings and weekends is not sustainable and leads to burnout. And no one wants that.
Don’t trick yourself into thinking that “I’ll rest once these emails are answered”, as the stream of incoming requests never stops. And here’s the thing no one ever told you: the more email you write, the more you’ll receive. It’s a recursive loop, that you continue to feed.
Remember: you do your best work when you’re proactive and creative. And so does everyone around you, so encourage them to stop reacting as well.
The world does not stop
You have successfully taken email off your phone for the past 5 years. And didn’t tell anyone on your team about it until one year ago. No one noticed or complained once. The business has not slowed over the past 5 years. Like any entrepreneurial journey, you’ve had your fair share of bumps along the way, however imagine how many more bumps you’d have if you were constantly reacting and addicted to working 24/7, versus having time to disconnect from the day-to-day, thinking bigger picture and being creative. This is why you disconnect while taking time away.
Thinking bigger picture and being creative is not only your job as a leader, but an expectation you have of everyone on your team. For their own career, for their role within the company and for the customers and business. You don’t have all the answers, as expect your team to come each day to work with solutions. This means they as well need to take email off their phone, so they can stop reacting and spend more time creating (in their head).
The only exception to having email on your phone that you’ve made is while on business trips, because you have a habit of being late (sometimes) for client meetings and need to give them a heads up. It hasn’t affected your mental well being though, as you’ve trained yourself over the years to not check email on your phone.
A sound sleep
You sleep better when you have a few hours to wind-down all the activity from the day. The process of falling asleep involves the production of melatonin within our brain, which is a natural process that gets hijacked when we’re exposed to artificial lights (i.e. screens). The result of being addicted to your phone at night is it will take longer to fall asleep.
Consuming information at unwanted times will get your mind racing. You’d much rather read an interesting book or have a conversation with a friend in the evening, and let that influence your subconscious, then reading work emails late at night.
The most dangerous aspect of having email on your phone is it gets in the way of your mental peace. See, receiving information and not having the time, space or tools to act on it, is a lose-lose situation. And the mind may start doing that washing machine thing again, where it takes a thought (especially one of stress, anxiety or worry) and cycles it, again and again and again.
A beautiful morning
Your mornings would get hijacked by reacting to what happened the night before, if the first thing or second thing you did was check email.
Thanks to not having email on your phone, your morning routine has become a source of energy and excitement for your day ahead. Being consistent with your daily meditation, journaling, yoga and reading practices are what help you feel grounded and calm. They help you start your day off in a good place, positive and upbeat. The reverse would be true if you were consuming and consuming, without giving yourself time and space to process everything already inside.
Push versus pull
Email, like a bag of chips, is addictive. Even with the most discipline, you will break. Having email on your phone is the equivalent to walking around with an open bag of chips with you. All the time. It doesn’t sound very healthy, does it?
The anticipation of someone sending you a message leads to checking obsessively, even when there’s nothing there. Imagine walking outside your house, going to the mailbox and checking for snail mail…every 20 minutes. You’d feel pretty ridiculous, wouldn’t you?
Email is designed as a push channel, and by taking email off your phone, you can take back control and turn it into a pull channel. This is how you keep things in balance and stay focused (remember: multitasking is a myth).
Not convinced yet?
Then be fearless and try it for a day. A 24-hour period. And don’t tell anyone you’re experimenting. Just delete that mail app from your phone (turning off notifications or push updates doesn’t count). And experience for yourself if anyone notices, how you feel at night and how you wake up the next morning.
I know you’ll listen Kunal, as this is a tried-and-tested practice over a 5 year period. Welcome (back) to feeling peaceful, calm and focused,
Your current-day self.