Dangers of Mobile E-mail

A few weeks ago, my company purchased a Blackberry for me to use.  This is the first time that I’ve owned a mobile device that has had a constant connection to the internet.  However, I’ve been surprised at how having a connected device can actually cause me to get less work done if I’m not careful.  here are a few reasons why:

1. Distractions, distractions, distractions

There are about a billion ways that a connected phone can distract you, but the biggest one is hearing it ring or feeling it vibrate every time you receive an e-mail.  There’s simply a natural impulse to see what’s going on and whether or not you need to respond.  It’s easy to get distracted, no matter how important may be the task at hand, just because the phone rings or a little ‘toast’ notification pops up in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen.  Sometimes we even welcome an interruption if we’re not heavily invested into our work.

Unless you’re in sales, where the quickness of your response might actually affect your chances of closing a sale, you’re mostly likely of the type of person that could do without being distracted every 5 minutes.  Almost always, an e-mail can wait, and hopefully those who work with you regularly will learn that they need to call you if there’s anything they need urgently.

I’ve turned off all e-mail alerts on my desktop machine and almost always keep them off on my Blackberry.  I find I got a lot more done this way.

2. Checking E-mail Frequently Can Make You Forget To Process E-mail

I have really enjoyed being able to access e-mail on the go, at home, or even when I’m at the other side of the office.  Even though I have notifications turned off, I still check it from time to time (at a moment of my choosing) to see if I need to respond to anything.  However, I notice that when I glance through my inbox for “actionable e-mails,” I tend to think that a batch of e-mail has already been processed.  This is a problem.

If I think subconsciously that an e-mail has already been processed simply because it’s marked unread, I may forget to do something important at my desktop computer that I couldn’t do on my mobile phone.  For example, I may get a request from a coworker to e-mail them a report that I had been working on.  Having viewed the e-mail on my phone already, I may skip over the item on my desktop if I’m not purposefully taking the time to process my inbox.

Processing your inbox (taken in part from David Allen’s Getting Things Done) involves going through your e-mail and filing away items that are reference only and taking action or postponing those that require more work.  Even though I’m alerted of e-mail on the phone, I find that I still have to go back to my inbox on the computer and process e-mail.  I’m always surprised at how often I come across something that I had forgotten about simply because I had read it already on my blackberry.

3. Are You Connected To The Internet or Chained To It?

A great speaker and writer, Matthew Kelly, says that technology is supposed to be our slave, but all too often we become its slave.  Naturally, this isn’t limited to just mobile devices (how easy is it to waste time on Twitter, Facebook, and reading blogs?), but mobile devices can have a tendency to really rope us in and keep us from focusing on other important areas of our lives.

I try to put the phone in a different room before going to bed and keep from checking e-mail for at least an hour when I first get up in the morning.  I really like to spend time in quiet reading and collecting my thoughts.  The days that I do this, I notice I am much more focused throughout the day.