When I was a lanky, loner of a pre-teen growing up in Sequim, Washington, summers were pretty carefree. I wasn't of the age yet where a summer job would occupy a warm weekday. Instead, I'd probably be on my bike riding around the back roads of town, going to the little league fields to toss a baseball up and try and smack it over the outfield fence with an old wooden bat my parents found at a garage sale. However, any creative outdoor activity I was doing would halt at 3 pm. More like 3:12 pm. Wherever I was, I made a beeline back to my house to eagerly anticipate the US Postal Service mail delivery truck filling our mailbox.
It was an exciting time for me back in the early '80s. I didn't know what would arrive on a given day. A Baseball Digest magazine, bills for my mom and dad, the Sequim Gazette newspaper (delivered on Wednesdays), perhaps even a self-addressed stamped envelope with my handwriting would arrive with some form letter from a rock band thanking me for being a fan. Sometimes I'd receive a small cardboard box with baseball cards or stickers that I sent away for. That feeling moments before opening our gray mailbox by the side of the road was almost like that feeling of diving into a pile of wrapped presents on Christmas Day or my birthday. Euphoria!
Fast forward three decades. When I get home from work, I open our designated slot in our neighborhood group mailbox contraption, and extract many pieces of junk mail, numerous sales flyers and some invoices for medical visits. Not as exciting as my pre-teen days. But there still is a brief moment of curious intrigue as to what the mail slot might hold for me. For the majority of cases, there's not much exciting delivered to me via snail mail anymore.
Question for you:
In both of these instances, if I was to open my mailbox at 9:00 am, see nothing delivered, check again every ensuing quarter-hour, finally receive my mail at 3:12 pm, then continue to check my mailbox every 15 minutes after, you'd probably call me a lunatic. Or at least obsessive-compulsive?
All of this rambling brings me to a question that I've been struggling with for a long time: When did my career dictate my brain should immediately respond to e-mail that gets delivered, even at the expense of the current task I'm working on? Why can't I check my e-mail once a day, process all the requests, reply to messages, set up appointments for the next day, and quit the program?
There is nothing in my company's employee handbook that says I have to have e-mail open at all times. My direct supervisor has not ordered my to keep e-mail open all day, lest I be fired. Even the majority of my clients don't expect me to respond immediately to their e-mails. So what is this internal directive that drives my work life to be a slave to checking, and responding to, e-mail?
Unfortunately, I don't have the answer yet. But I'm working on it. And gathering the courage to limit the frequency that my work tasks aren't superseded by e-mail notifications. Hopefully, some time in the future, I can share with you the results of opening my e-mail box only once a day.