A Tiny Change

I’ve been going through an interesting internal debate over the last few weeks about the extent to which my inbox governs my life, both inside and outside of work.

Inside work is one thing – although it’s certainly debatable as to whether being super reactive and responsive, which is a trait that I value greatly and I’m told has been something that those that work with us also view as a significant benefit, is sometimes at the expense of greater mental clarity. That’s a balance which is hard to strike and something that I continue to work on. However, I’ve now come the the conclusion, which I’m sure is obvious to the rest of the world, that the battle with the inbox can never be entirely won. OK “battle” might not be the right term, as it implies divisiveness and clearly many of us, myself very much included, would now be lost without email (although this was an interesting experiment by MG Siegler). I’m really referring to the fact that part of my training was that the working day is never done until there is at least white space in the inbox – and preferably that everything needing attention has been actioned.

I’ve written about this subject before. I think that there are two types of users and there is just a few years between them. Those on the slightly older side of the divide have had the above ethos beaten into them through years of doing so. Those a little younger, that have grown up with first Hotmail and then Gmail offering seemingly endless supply of storage, don’t ‘action and delete or archive’, they ‘action and leave it there’ in case they need it later. Clearly this is a broad generalisation but I find it to be true again and again. Those that ‘action and delete’ really only delete from the inbox as they tend to keep important info in some type of folder structure, whereas the second group are more comfortable keeping everything in an amorphous, ever growing, inbox. This tends to govern how people feel about email – with the former group (myself included) needing to ‘be on top of email’ and the latter group being more accepting of the fact that they are merely swimming within the flow.

The realisation that the demands of my current role are such that I can never have a clear inbox at the end of the day have meant that I do feel like I’m continually wrestling with it. The more I do so, the more it eats into my life, both inside and outside work.

So, just prior to going on holiday a few weeks back, I made what will seem like a tiny change to most people but which was certainly a big one for me. Whilst I have several gmail and hotmail addresses, they are not used as personal mail – instead for purposes such as back up of other mail and to sync contacts with my android phone.

However, when moving this blog across to it’s new home at www.petegoold.com, I thought I’d take the opportunity to set up a personal email which I then gave to just immediate family and close friends. Not work.

Effectively this allowed me to turn off my work email to go on holiday yet still have email and the internet to hand, without fear of getting smashed with 500 work emails per day which would doubtless have resulted in me feeling the compulsion to action the important ones.

In short, this small change has meant a major separation between my personal and professional lives.

To be honest it has been a long time coming and it has been essential. The business has been developing whilst my kids have been growing up. I like to think that no one has suffered – quite the contrary, I think the decision to do what we have done was exactly the right one – but being able to choose when and whether to work, rather than it being a reflex action from the moment of waking to the last thing I do before turning the lights off at night and all points in-between, is where I want to be.

Inside work, nothing changes. A number of things have happened this year which have allowed me to reflect on what I love about what I do – and as a result I’ve realised that it’s the freedom and flexibility that is most important to me. If something major were to change in my professional life tomorrow, I’d still work as I do, simply because it’s the way I’m hard wired, so I have no problem with that. But it’s nice to finally feel that I have some power over it and I no longer need to go on holiday to switch off and recharge.