Author: admin

The Inbox Escape Plan – Avoiding the Ping of Email

The Inbox Escape Plan – Avoiding the Ping of Email

Email perplexes me. In theory it’s a great tool that should increase communication and productivity. In reality it’s a constant distraction that can decrease your productivity and cause unnecessary frustration when people use it poorly. I know personally I have felt the ping of my emailing drawing me in and have become frustrated because someone did not respond to me in a timely manner.

Ding this past school year I spent a lot of time researching and trying out different ways to make email great again. Over the next few blog posts I’m going to share some tips that I have learned and implemented this past year to take control of my inbox. The first three tips are all about avoiding the ping to constantly check your email.

According to a 2015 study that Adobe Systems conducted (link) the average worker spends 6.5 hrs a day checking to see if they have any new email. These 6.5 hrs are not spent sending, reading, and responding to email, they are spent checking to see if you have any new email. Does that sound silly to you? If so I challenge you to keep a tally today of how many times you check your email while sitting at your desk, walking to your car, in the bathroom, or any other time you feel bored. The results may be a little shocking. Below are three ways that I tried this year to cut down on the amount of times I checked my email.

I turned off all of my push email notifications.

Cal Newport’s book Deepwork has had a big influence on how I approached this past school year. In the book Newport argues that our constant phone notifications are not allowing us to get into a state of deep work. While a simple notification may not seem like a huge distraction, cause you to lose your focus and suffer from something called attention residue. While it seems silly, a recent study showed that even a simple distraction can cause you to take up to 25 minutes to get back into the zone. By turning off push notifications and manually fetching my email I now access my email when I am ready to focus on tackling my inbox instead of having my inbox distract me while I am focusing on another task.

I no longer leave my email open in my browser.

I’ll admit the first time I read about closing your email tab I thought it was a silly concept. I mean I’m in charge of my day right? A simple small number on the tab shouldn’t be that distracting right? I decided to test out the idea for a few days and now I am sold. During the first few hours of my experiment I found that my eyes started to drift up towards the tab that normally housed my email. I realized I was “checking” my email without even meaning to. Closing the tab had the out of sight out of mind effect that helped me focus on the task at hand.

I deleted my work email from my phone’s email app.

Apps are designed to hook us. There is a reason why updating your social media feeds on apps is easy. The easier it is the more people tend to do it which leads to people going farther down the rabbit hole and creating new distractions for themselves. In most current email apps even if I turn off push notifications all I have to do to check for email updates is pull down and boom new email. Before the advent push notifications and email apps if you wanted to check your email you had to open a web browser, pull up your email provider’s login page, and enter your login information. If you are trying to avoid constantly checking your inbox there are several opportunities along that path where you can stop and catch yourself before logging in. These few seconds provide you the opportunity to catch yourself and make an informed decision about your next action instead of an action based on a bad habit.

I’ll admit I’m not perfect. I still find myself opening my email at random times and not following my own rules, but when I have implemented these three rules I have found myself focused and productive. As a challenge try following these three rules for a week and see how you feel at the end of the week. I’m willing to bet that you will also find a new sense of focus and high levels of productivity.

Battling the Ping

Battling the Ping

Adobe Spark (32)

In the book The Accidental Creative author Todd Henry talks about the need to avoid the ping. What is the ping? The ping is the constant desire to check your phone, to check your email, to check your Facebook account, check Twitter, check Instagram, or check any other product that is designed to be addicting and steal your attention. The ping is real. I find myself a lot of times reaching for my phone, opening an app, and then realizing what am I doing? I need to focus!

Knowing this about myself this year I have tried to be intentional with how I can help battle the ping. One of the things I am doing is trying out different apps that are helping me focus a little more and avoid using my phone at inappropriate times. Below are two of my current favorite apps that are helping me focus on my work and avoid the ping.


Coffitivity is an app and website that you can use to help simulate the ambient sounds of a coffee shop or cafe. The idea behind the app is that a moderate level of ambient noise has been shown to help with creative thinking (Link to Coffitivity’s research study). In my current situation I share an office with several people. The noise level can quickly get very high and I find myself getting distracted easily by several conversations in the hallway. According to research, it can take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain your focus after you have become distracted.

I’ll admit at first I was skeptical of the research and thought that the ambient noise would have no effective on my ability to focus. I was wrong. After using the app a few times I found myself getting lost in my work. I tuned out almost everything around me and focused on the task at hand. This included my phone, email, and social media. By getting into a state of flow I was no longer being drawn to ping. In fact I forgot about the ping and instead had a piece of solid work.


Forest is an app and website that helps gamify focus. When you open the app you are given the option of setting the time period that you want to focus for. After selecting your time period you click on plant. This will then start a countdown clock. The game from here is simple. Leave the app before the clock hit’s zero and your plant dies. Leave the app running and when the clock hits zero your plant grows. What is really cool about the app is that every time a plant grows you receive points. After reaching 2500 points you can trade in your points and the makers of the app will plant a real tree somewhere on the planet. This is a fun twist to the game that really helps you stay focused because you know that your focus will help doing something good in the world.

The app sounds silly but it works! There have been times when I feel the ping, unlock my phone, see the timer going and then lock my phone. Even though the plant is virtual I don’t want to kill it! I have found that this app is extremely helpful for when I am not feeling motivated to do anything. Times like these are when I really want to pick up my phone and goof off. Having this app has helped me refocus my attention and stay on task during these times.

I’m not going to lie. I still battle the ping. Even as I type this I looked down at my phone because I got a text. The ping is here and it’s not going away anytime soon. By using both of these apps my goal is to try and fight back and regain my focus. If you would like to do the same I would highly suggest trying both apps out.

What I’m Reading and Thinking About this Month March 2017

What I’m Reading and Thinking About this Month March 2017

What I have been thinking about:

This month I have been thinking a lot about product design and how to apply the idea of design thinking to my current role. This month I have tried to apply the lessons I learned from the books that I read to creating a 5 week PD series on differentiation, helping to rethink our teacher evaluation system, and helping implement a program at our school site. What I found interesting is that most of the advice that the books give isn’t ground breaking and sometimes seems very obvious yet people do not implement it, myself included. One of my goals this month is to share what I have learned with others in my organization so we can start building better processes, products, and experiences for our students and staff members.

Blog Posts to Checkout:

I recently learned about and thought that it would be worth trying out with my monthly blog posts to check out. Below is a list of the blog posts that resonated with me this past month.

My Books for the Month:

This past month I read two books on product design. The first book I read was Sprint by Braden Kowitz, Jake Knapp, and John Zeratsky. In the book the authors share their five day process for solving problems. While it would be impossible for me to be away from my school site for five straight days, there are a ton of great ideas in the book about collaborative brainstorming and decision making that I plan on using with the teachers at my site.

The second book that I read was Hooked by Nir Eyal. In the book Eyal breaks down the Hook Model that designers can use to create habit forming products. As I read this book I found myself laughing a lot because I started to realize how I had fallen for many of the techniques that Eyal presents in the book. As I was reading this book I couldn’t help but wonder how we could apply the Hook Model to professional development. Over the next few months as I create our professional development materials I am going to revisit the Hook Model and see how I can incorporate elements of it into our materials.