Checking your emails incessantly during the day and after hours might feel like you are serious about productivity, but there is a problem – it’s potentially hurting your love life. Since we’re connected 24-7 nowadays, it might be time to consider changing your email habits if you want to strengthen your relationship.
I read on Independent.co.uk this morning that according to a new study, checking your emails after hours could have a seriously negative impact on not only your health but also your relationship with loved ones.
The study, conducted by Virginia Tech, surveyed the health of 297 university employees and found that all of them had varying levels of anxiety that could be damaging to their health.
But, very few of them failed to realise that their anxiety increased when the line between work and home life became blurred.
And having unhealthy email habits, like checking it all the time, blurs the line more than anything else.
So, there are two issues here as I see it.
On the one hand, there is an issue of anxiety.
And on the other hand, there is the reality of unhealthy email habits which seem to increase anxiety levels at work and home.
Therefore, I would like to give a few suggestions on how to create better email habits (to be more productive while you’re at WORK), as well as how to deal with existing anxiety better.
Because the issue here, as I see it, isn’t so much that reading emails at home is bad, but rather that they bring existing anxiety (due to work life) into the home environment and impacting our loved ones as well.
But, if we can learn how to have better email habits, i.e. getting most work done while AT work, while simultaneously having better strategies for dealing with anxiety -we could strengthen our love life against the impact of being connected 24-7.
So let’s look at better email habits first.
Tips for better email habits:
Only read an email once.
Scanning an email and deciding to return to it later is a common habit.
However, reading an email once and responding to it right away can increase your productivity.
The OHIO acronym is useful for inbox management. OHIO stands for Only Hold It Once (or Only Touch It Once).
This is a simple but very effective way of dealing with your emails (unless your in customer service and answering emails is your job of course).
Try it today – scan your inbox – identify the most pressing emails you need to respond to (or write) and get them out of the way immediately.
Don’t wait for later. Hold (touch) it once and move on to other things.
Use automatic filtering and folder systems.
Emails you receive on a consistent basis can be automatically filtered into their own folder.
Then, you can control when you open and read them.
This frees up more time to handle more important messages.
You can do this quite easily in Microsoft Outlook (which is what I use) by using Rules.
Here’s how you do it.
Schedule specific times to handle email.
Instead of checking email throughout the day, scheduling it at specific times enables you to get more done.
Checking email before work, after work, and during a specific hour at work will reduce wasted time.
Also, setting aside a certain amount of time, like 20 minutes, to do this task will help you stay focused.
I understand that many of us have the need to always be at the world’s beck and call, but the world will be OK if we’re not.
You will find that your clients don’t disappear or get angry if they have to wait for your reply.
I’ve personally also never had anyone threaten my life or livelihood if I didn’t reply within 5 minutes, but maybe I’m fortunate.
If you do worry that people will doubt your existence if you don’t reply within 5 seconds of them sending you an email, then set up an automatic reply reassuring them that you have received their correspondence and will get back to them at a certain time today.
You don’t have to explain why, and most people are used to waiting a bit for important people to get back to them anyway … and you are, aren’t you … important I mean:)?
Keep email closed while working.
Email is a frequent source of distractions, so keeping the tab closed is another way to increase productivity.
Email providers use sounds, colours, bold font and other ways to notify you of new messages. All of these are distractions, so keeping email closed will help you stay on schedule and not waste time.
Don’t rely on your willpower here as you won’t be able to resist the little envelope appearing in the bottom corner of your screen. You know it’s true!
Turning off email notifications on your phone is another way to stay focused on your work.
“How do I do that,” you ask?
Put your phone on silent. Or go into your settings area, look for notifications, and turn it off.
Keep work and personal emails separate.
Combining work with personal messages can create confusion, so separate emails and inboxes are essential for staying in control.
In fact, I would suggest separate email accounts altogether.
Messages about client meetings shouldn’t be mixed up with emails about your child’s piano lessons.
Sorting emails wastes time, so it’s easier to have them separated from the beginning which will help you focus on work when you’re working.
Write concise emails.
Emails need to be concise and easy to read.
Here’s why – people tend to skim emails (because they will get back to it, remember), so the shorter, specific, and easy to read, the better.
This reduces follow-up questions, so your inbox stays smaller.
Define, explain, and help in as few words as possible.
Clean out the inbox regularly.
Emails can accumulate quickly, so clean up is essential. Eliminating spam and older emails are the first step.
Only keep the emails you need.
This will cut down on the time you spend looking through the inbox.
Your productivity will increase because you aren’t sorting through older messages.
Folders also require attention.
Automatic filtering of emails can lead to a large group accumulating in each folder, so it’s important to check them frequently.
Create standard responses.
A standard response to an email reduces the time you spend writing and thinking about the message.
Creating a group of general responses to common questions is an easy way to enhance time management.
I don’t know if you know this, but you can set up rules in Outlook that will send specific replies to specific people when they email you.
You can also set it up that your system replies with a standard response when an email contains certain keywords, questions or phrases.
Sitting around waiting to reply to every email coming into your inbox is a serious waste of time.
Educate yourself a bit and get your system working for you, rather than you working on your system the whole time.
Remember W. Edwards Deming’s words:
Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.
Watch videos and read articles at specific times.
As a rule, emails that come with attachments like videos or articles require more attention.
Unless they’re important and part of making an informed decision, it’s better to watch videos and read articles at the end of the day.
These tasks require more time and can, therefore, be very distracting.
Focusing on answering actual messages during specific scheduled times is the key to staying productive.
Learning how to take control of your inbox through better email habits will go a long way towards improving your productivity AND reducing your anxiety levels as a result of the world having access to you all the time.
As someone who lives and works in the real world, I appreciate that we can never completely get away from our devices, but that makes it even more important to manage our boundaries, mindset, and emotional state much better.
At the end of the day, if we allow technology to run our lives we will pay a dear price every single time.
It’s only when we take control of our own productivity, accessibility, and mental/emotional state, that we can expect improvement.
Let’s now turn our attention to …
Dealing with anxiety
Anxiety is essentially an emotional state of uncertainty.
It’s when we feel a lack of control or helplessness in an environment with high expectations or pressure.
When we perceive our environment to be overwhelming, we end up creating internal overwhelm – i.e. anxiety.
And if you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you’ll understand how terrible it can make you feel.
Some people actually need medication to be able to cope due to high levels of anxiety.
And when anxiety finds its way into our relationships, it does have the potential to hurt us in the long run.
It is very tiresome and ultimately destructive having to deal with high levels of anxiety within our relationship for long periods.
But, you can learn to recognise and manage anxiety, so it doesn’t come between you and your partner.
Dealing with the constant pressures of work (as in the form of emails finding their way into our home), by developing healthier email habits, is a good start.
However, there are also many other important habits we can put in place which will also help.
You can try strategies like these to help keep your relationship strong, despite anxiety:
1. Share your feelings.
If you suffer from anxiety, stress, or worry, you may be tempted to hide your feelings from your partner.
This is absolutely natural as many of us don’t want to burden our partners with our problems.
But hiding your feelings can actually lead to confusion and frustration in your relationship in the end.
Your partner may sense something is wrong, but your decision to hide the anxiety and stress will prevent them from helping you.
By hiding your emotions, you risk pushing your partner away.
Your partner can feel hurt because they may think you don’t have enough trust in them or your relationship to share your thoughts.
This can then lead to even more anxiety on your part because experiencing unhappiness in your relationship will add to the feelings of overwhelm.
It becomes a vicious cycle essentially.
2. Avoid guessing about your partner’s feelings.
If you notice that your partner is struggling emotionally, avoid guessing about your partner’s feelings.
Anxiety can actually increase if you play guessing games and try to predict what your partner is feeling, which will only hurt your relationship more in the long run.
You will end up with the dynamics of you trying to guess your partner’s feelings and them hiding the truth from you the more you put pressure on them.
All the while anxiety increases and the relationship suffers.
So, instead of guessing, communicate with your partner and ask sincere questions about their feelings.
But, avoid putting pressure on them, especially if they’re men.
Just be sincerely interested, available and caring, allowing them to share when THEY are ready.
Guessing or assuming what your partner is thinking is especially dangerous because you might guess incorrectly and end up making decisions based on the completely wrong information.
Open communication is the key to healthy relationships and reducing worry.
3. Work on resolutions together.
Instead of letting fear and worry take over, confront your anxiety and work on resolutions together.
Most of our partners would want to help us when we are struggling with something.
So give them the opportunity.
It’s not easy to face your fears, and even harder admitting you’re struggling, but the alternative (not saying anything) can lead to a damaged relationship.
Therefore, trust your partner and open up.
Discuss the issues you’re concerned about with your partner, and let them help you. Or at least support you in the best way they can.
4. Be mindful and live in the present.
One of the things anxiety does it is shifting your focus from living in the present to worrying about the future.
When you suffer from anxiety, it becomes easy to think about the worst case scenarios and make inaccurate predictions about the future.
Reality is, however, that these predictions about the future are usually wrong.
You’re essentially using your mind and thoughts against yourself.
By doing this, can hurt your relationship also.
When we feel anxious about something, we don’t tend to isolate it to a certain part of our life.
It seeps into all parts of life.
Which means we start becoming anxious about our relationship, and by extension, partner, as well.
Managing anxiety requires you to remain in the present – as hard as that might seem at times.
5. Deal with your thoughts.
Anxiety, for the most part, is a conscious or unconscious process of mismanaged thoughts.
It’s when we embrace, what is called, cognitive distortions.
According to Psychcentral.com,
Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.
Things like overgeneralising, black-and-white thinking, catastrophising, shoulds, personalisation etc.
But when we learn to deal with our thoughts in a healthy and constructive way, we can manage our levels of anxiety.
Part of this process is to learn how to manage your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, as negative thoughts can create more anxiety and fear.
However, if you manage your thoughts, you can reduce the anxiety.
And doing this will help you focus on the positive aspects of your relationship, rather than letting it suffer as a result of mismanaged thoughts.
6. Learn to accept help.
I’ve already referred to this one, but it’s crucial.
Although you may be able to deal with your anxiety on your own, a trained professional may be able to guide you to quicker resolutions.
It is good to turn to our partners for support, but sometimes professional help is needed.
It is, however, important to understand that seeking out help is not a sign of weakness but rather courage and strength.
By opening up about your issues, you can get the help you need, which to me is the most honourable thing you can do for your family or partner.
Hiding your struggles out of fear to look weak, is weaker than learning to accept help in order to serve your relationship at the highest level.
Listen, anxiety doesn’t have to control your life or relationships.
But you need to make a chose. Especially if your work life is of such a nature that it comes home a lot – whether in the form of emails, phone calls, assignments etc.
Allowing it to simply run amok in your life WILL hurt your love life in the end.
The fact is, you CAN recognise anxiety and make changes before it affects your relationship.
And you can start by using all the tips laid out above to start making a positive difference in your love life.
If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments section below.
Alternatively, if you would like to schedule a free breakthrough strategy session for your relationship, please apply here.
Live and love fully!