How To Care Less About Your Email
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How To Care Less About Your Email

Inbox taking over your life? Take a page from the email slackers and naysayers and try declaring email bankruptcy, setting filters—and just letting it go.

By RACHEL FEINTZEIG
Tue, May 24, 2022 3:22pmGrey Clock 4 min

Reed Omary, a radiologist in Nashville, Tenn., logged into one of his work inboxes one day last winter, selected thousands of unread emails and, with the click of a mouse, removed them from his life.

“I just deleted the whole kit and caboodle,” he says with a shrug. “If they’re important, they’ll come back.”

So many of us spend our days ruled by email: constantly refreshing, wading through detritus, paralyzed by the pressure of crafting a reply to the one note that actually matters. The moment we reach inbox zero, and few of us ever do, the ding sounds again.

Maybe we need to take a page from the defectors. You know the ones—those co-workers who are good at their jobs, but don’t seem to care all that much about your note. If they bother to move messages into folders, it’s with the express purpose of forgetting them forever. They stick to Slack or Teams and ignore everything else.

Some set up highly specific out-of-office responses—I only check email at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.; I’m with a client today—which they seem to actually mean. They’ll get back to you next week. Meanwhile, they…get work done?

“Checking email feels fast, it feels productive,” says Greg McKeown, a business author and speaker. “But the stuff that matters isn’t moving forward.”

His suggestion: Don’t even go there. Start your day by writing a list of priorities on a piece of paper. Block two half-hour slots on your calendar to really deal with your email—rather than scrolling through constantly—and ignore it the rest of the time, he says.

Of course, some jobs take place almost exclusively via inbox. Some folks might get in trouble with the boss if they let a note languish for half a day. Some are just addicted to seeing what’s new.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” Mr. McKeown says. “Pull the handle again. Could be amazing, could be terrible, could be nothing.”

For years, Stephanie Worrell took pride in responding to emails nearly instantaneously, even at 2 a.m. She bought a board to affix to her bathtub and positioned her laptop there, just watching her emails come through while she soaked.

“There’s a high to it,” says the 54-year-old, who lives in Boston. “Someone thinks I’m important.”

Her children were less impressed. They complained she was always typing out a note. She developed back pain from sitting so much.

She started setting a timer, limiting herself to two 15-minute checks a day, and found that not much happened if she only answered the five most important notes out of 100. She urged clients and colleagues to text her if they needed something fast.

These days, she has 46,000 emails languishing across three inboxes, and zero anxiety over it.

“I feel free,” she says.

People who take control of their inboxes are calmer, happier, more productive and better at hitting work goals, says Emma Russell, a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex who studies the impact of email. The key is making a plan—for example, pledging to log off after 6 p.m. and on weekends–and then publicly declaring it.

Talk to your boss to find out what’s acceptable and what’s not, coaches and researchers told me. Negotiate if you have to. Often just asking your manager to verbalize specific guidelines makes clear no one expects a reply within two minutes.

The liberation can go awry. When Johan Lundström, a scientist based in Stockholm, deleted all his email after a three-week vacation, he was elated. A year later, a colleague asked him why he hadn’t moved forward with an award for his research, which focuses on the human sense of smell. Turns out, he’d been up for a $10,000 grant. He’d just needed to respond to an email within a week.

Though irritated about the lost funding, he has no regrets.

“I was high for a week, looking at my almost clean inbox,” he says.

Now he reads his emails but rarely responds; when he does it’s with a couple-word answer. He’s implemented a 15-minute delay for incoming messages so he isn’t constantly inundated. The best part: The less email he puts into the world, the less the world sends back to him.

He still remembers once spending an eight-hour trans-Atlantic flight clearing out 200 messages. His inbox was flooded with replies the next day.

“It was just like a horrible circular work of hell,” he says.

Filters and folders can help ensure fewer useless emails clog your inbox, says Matt Plummer, chief executive of Zarvana, a coaching and corporate training firm. Move things like newsletters into a separate folder for less important emails, ones that require a scan, not a response. Set a weekly appointment to read those.

Then route emails from the top five people at your job—your big client, your boss—into a folder you check hourly. You can get even more granular, flagging emails that have your name in the body, or assigning ones where you’re just cc’ed a less important label. But no need to spend five hours on a Sunday creating some elaborate system, he says. Just sort as you go, and keep it simple.

“Don’t have 37 email folders,” he says.

Every few years, digital and agile consultant Luba Sakharuk will get inspired by a productivity guru and attempt to organize her inbox. The effort generally lasts a few hours.

“The second I clean up, I freaking lose something,” she says, by misplacing files in mystery folders, accidentally deleting documents.

She had pined to be like the zero-inbox crowd, tidy and under control. But recently she has been thinking: Eh, whatever.

“I’m getting stuff done. Clients are happy,” she says. “If this chaos is my way, then that’s my way.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 23, 2022.



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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