We have research that shows email makes us stupid! A study done in Great Britain, conducted back in 2005, found that email lowers our IQ by 10 points. Hewlett-Packard commissioned the study which found that the constant interruptions of email, instant messages, and cell phones temporarily lower a person’s IQ. The 10 point drop is more than double the IQ dip associated with smoking marijuana—a mere 4 points. Since that study was commissioned, we now have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other diversions competing for our time.

Is it really email that is the culprit? I certainly don’t think so, at least not when email is used correctly. Email can be one of the best tools we have going for us. We ignore it and take care of other business. At some point in the day, we turn our full attention to our email, handle every message, and get “in” to “empty.”
On the other hand, there are those who check their email constantly to see if anything new has arrived. They read and re-read messages without ever making a decision about what needs to be done with any of them. Their in-boxes grow with each passing day. Productivity drops; stress rises.
Ending the Insanity
You can take control of your email. These steps show you how:

  1. Check email only once or twice a day. If you check your email throughout the day, you will never get out of your email. You respond to people only to have them send you a follow-up on the same subject. You wind up playing “email ping-pong,” and the exchange would be better handled with a 2-minute phone call.
  2. When you handle email, handle it all. Start at the top and open the emails one at a time. If it needs a response, respond. Outside of that, you can only do five things with that email. Read this post to see what those are and how to handle each case.
  3. Learn how to send emails to your to-do list. Many emails sit in our email because they embed vague reminders of things we need to do. The better digital systems allow you to forward an email to your to-do list. The subject of the email becomes the subject of the task, and the body of the email appears in the note section of the task.
  4. If you use Gmail, turn on the Priority Inbox. Gmail offers another option. It’s been around since 2010 and works quite well. It’s called “Priority Inbox.” Priority Inbox presents all of your emails on one screen, but segments them into three groups. At the top are the emails Google has determined are important. At the bottom is a section Gmail calls “everything else.” In the middle is a space where emails you have “starred” are grouped. That segmentation gives me all I need to see what might need my attention first or may need considerable time to handle, and what can be handled quickly and with no time deadline. This video demonstrates the concept of the Gmail Priority Inbox:

Gmail learns which emails are important using criteria such as which ones you open and which ones you reply to. If Gmail makes a mistake, you manually mark an email as important or not important. In the future, Gmail will treat emails from that sender according to those preferences.

If you are a Gmail user, you can turn on Priority Inbox at any time. If you are using the new tabbed inbox, you can change to Priority Inbox. On the left-hand side of the screen, mouse over the “Inbox” label and click the drop-down arrow which appears. From the menu, choose “Priority Inbox.”


On your mobile devices, go to the Gmail app. On the settings, tap on your email address. Select “Inbox type” and then “Priority Inbox.”

Our challenge is to be sure that our technology makes our lives easier, reduces our stress levels, and functions as the wonderful servant it can be. Technology can trap those calls in voice mail, quietly hold those emails until we choose to handle them all, and beautifully organize our to-do lists so that our minds can engage in creative thought.

Technology—a valuable tool or terrible distraction? As technology becomes increasingly important in our culture, we had better determine its function.
What are the challenges that you face with email? 
What solutions have you found?