Email makes a lot of things easier for the modern freelancer, but it can also be a powerful distraction. Just like a ringing telephone, the “you’ve got mail” sound exerts a powerful Pavlovian influence, suggesting that your latest message is urgent — even if it’s not.
Recent updates to the Macintosh operating system are helping me to ignore email more easily by displaying quick preview windows when new messages come it. I can tell at a glance whether it’s an important client message that needs immediate attention or the latest “last chance” offer from LinkedIn (hmm…third one this month).
Even so there are times when I need to hunker down and write without distractions, which means turning the email monster off entirely. But there’s always that little voice asking “what if something really important come in?”
My current solution is an email “power nap,” assisted by a simple Automator workflow. My custom Mail Nap application sits on my desktop, ready to spring into action at a double-click. This handy little app shuts my email down, then reopens my mail application exactly one hour later. If I’m done with my deadline, I can check mail in peace. If not, I can make sure there are no emergencies and fire up the nap application again for another hour of focused productivity.
I’ve been testing this little helper for about three weeks now, and so far it’s working pretty well. I’m getting more done during “nap time” without stressing about missing anything major. After all, I’m only offline for an hour.
Want to try it for yourself? Here’s the basic Automator workflow I’m using (sorry PC users—this only works on Macs, but you can probably find something similar if you poke around a bit). You can customize it for a different mail application or a different amount of time, but the basic ideas are all here. When you’ve finished setting it up, just save it as an application to your desktop or wherever else you like.