Uprooting My Mobile Mailbox

I don’t have an email app on my smartphone right now – and that’s OK. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, my emails stay out in the cloud and wait for me to get to them, even if it takes a few hours or even a day. In my not so distant past, I can think of a time when I would have been horrified not to have my email available on my phone. But right now, there’s no sign of an email app, and I’m pretty happy with that!

Dumbing Down the Smartphone

How did this come about? Well, a few months ago, I seriously contemplated trading in my big iPhone 7 Plus for a “dumb-phone”. I was pretty frustrated with my smartphone, because it had become a major source of distraction from the things I valued the most: the people around me, specifically my wife and kids. Try as I might to do a “phone detox” or cut back on “wasteful” apps like games and Instagram, the phone still had lots of really useful things for me to check, and there seemed to be an endless stream of information from my apps and email.

Actually, that’s not 100% true. My email app was rarely an endless stream of delightful data and entertainment. Only in the mornings would I open the email app to find about 10-20 emails, mostly from companies who desperately wanted my money. Infrequently, I found an email newsletter that offered me something interesting to read, but (ironically) I never seemed to have time to read those messages all the way through. Yet I still tapped on that email app at least once whenever I unlocked my phone, only to find that… nope, no new emails. If anything, it was always just taking another moment of my time; something I looked at a lot, but rarely used productively.

What’s more, when I did actually run across an Email That Mattered, it was often from work, usually when I was at home with my kids climbing all over me. I would frantically tap reply, only to go through a really stupid dance of partial dictation, partial pecking to try and respond to that Email That Mattered, all the while ignoring the precious little ones who just wanted to see their Dad after he’d been away all day. And I would get frustrated, not about the Email That Mattered, but instead about the kids interrupting me, and the fact that I just wanted to get this thing done for work… and… Oh. I’m at home. It’s past 5 in the evening, and I don’t really need to be working.

So, anyways, too many encounters like that started me on a bit of a crusade to get myself a dumb phone and leave the smartphone age behind. I used to have a dumb phone. And I didn’t treat it like it was some vital organ or essential body part that I couldn’t live without – not like I treat this expensive piece of glass, metal, and silicon. Well, to wrap up my long story, I found an article about a guy who dumbed his smartphone down. That intrigued me. I happened to be reading said article on my iPhone at the time, but as I read, I got inspired. This guy was ruthless. He deleted apps with a passion; pretty much anything with a “feed” got axed. Then he nuked his email apps. When I read that, I didn’t think I could really do that. Because I need my email.

Actually, I Don’t Need Email on My Smartphone

What followed was the brave choice to follow this guy’s lead, along with a whole slew of questions that (after some thought and soul-searching) I was able to answer with reasonable common sense. Here are some examples:

What If People Need to Contact Me?

This was item number one on my list. What if someone actually writes me an email??Turns out that didn’t happen all that often, especially in my personal inbox. Not only that, people rarely send me emails when they need an immediate response. Even at work. In the professional world, we get this urge to respond to email requests as quickly as possible, but a rapid response is not (usually) that big of a deal. I think my urge to respond quickly is rooted in a desire to show my coworkers and clients that I’m eager to help and ready to serve and all that. But it’s not like failing to respond to an email for a few hours (or even a day) makes me look lazy.

Anyways, even if the email is urgent, there are at least three other ways for people to get in touch with me: texting, by phone, or in person. And usually, when something is urgent, email isn’t top on the list. Instead, email has become a more formal way to “get something on the record”, and if you need a response, you pick up the phone and call the person.

What If I Miss Something?

Now this is the other thing. There might be That Really Great Sale going on at your favorite online retailer. Email is likely how you get notified about it, usually with an exclusive coupon code so that you can actually take advantage of That Really Great Sale. But that’s just retailers being retailers. We all know those emails go on the uptick around the holidays, when everyone with a store is trying to sell you stuff. Not only that, those emails are engineered by teams of Really Smart People who have crafted their marketing to draw you in and make you need their products. Chances are, it’s going to be hard to resist all that carefully-crafted marketing. I know it was hard for me.

Or you might miss a funny joke, a forwarded cat GIF, the weekly “office trivia” game, or the chance to get in the perfect retort on that long-running email thread where everyone is joking about how your colleague burned popcorn in the microwave again.

Yep. You’ll probably miss all that stuff. But if you’re paying attention to what’s going on right now, such as that team meeting at the office, or reading that board book to your two-year-old for the sixth time, whether you saw the email immediately probably doesn’t matter. Besides, all those juicy emails will still be there in your inbox when you do get a chance to read them. And you might find, like I did, that you didn’t miss much.

But I’m Supposed To Be Available For Work Email!

This one seems like a really important one, but I’m going to guess that for many, including myself, there is no requirement to have work email on your phone and be available for phone calls from colleagues 24/7. Instead, I think we tell ourselves that we need to be available; it’s a choice we make individually, instead of a requirement from our employers. In fact, it might just be that your boss and your colleagues – and even your clients – are more than happy to wait until tomorrow morning for you to respond to their emails.

The problem here is that, due to our habits with email, we may have conditioned our colleagues (and family/friends) to expect an immediate response. So it might take some time to wean them off. Even then, I doubt you’d run into problems if your response rate dropped off without warning.

What If I Go On A Business Trip?

This was the last holdout. But I realized that, if I really, truly needed my email while on the road, and I couldn’t wait to check it on my laptop at the hotel, then I could always put the app back on. Temporarily.

In fact, I was on the road just last week, and I needed to check on whether a colleague had arrived at the hotel yet. I just logged on to webmail on my phone’s web browser, checked the messages, and logged off. Easy-peasy!

No More Mobile Mailbox

So, that’s it. I deleted both the Mail app and my work email app from my iPhone. And the sky didn’t fall, and no one from IT at my company called me the next day to ask why I hadn’t used my email app yet. Pretty much, life goes on.

And you know what happened? I still picked up my phone a lot, only I couldn’t find the email app icon. And then I’d think, “Oh yeah. There’s no email.” And then I would put my phone down.

Now, two months later, I don’t pick up my phone nearly as much. And I’ve come to really love the freedom of no email on my smartphone. There are times when it would be (marginally) helpful to be able to check an email, or write a quick message to someone. But on the whole, I find the freedom to just be present in the moment is much more worthwhile, and I can still sit down at the computer in the evening and sort through the messages later.

Because there’s nothing more relaxing that deleting a whole bunch of spam.