'Unsubscribe' Outlines How to Change Your Email Habits NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Jocelyn Glei about email: why it's so addicting, why we haven't switched to something better, and how to use it without being consumed by it. Her book on the topic is called, Unsubscribe.

'Unsubscribe' Outlines How to Change Your Email Habits

'Unsubscribe' Outlines How to Change Your Email Habits

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NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Jocelyn Glei about email: why it's so addicting, why we haven't switched to something better, and how to use it without being consumed by it. Her book on the topic is called, Unsubscribe.


We use email just about everywhere. A recent survey by the software company Adobe showed that large numbers of office workers check email in bed, while watching movies, even in the bathroom. That's probably not a good thing, so says Jocelyn Glei. She has written a new book called "Unsubscribe" about how to use email better, and she's with us now in the studio. Welcome.

JOCELYN GLEI: Thanks for having me, Kelly - pleasure to be here.

MCEVERS: How pervasive is email, really? I mean how much time are people spending?

GLEI: Some studies say people are checking their email on average about 11 times an hour, processing 122 messages a day on average and spending about 28 percent of their work week on email. And that's a low number. I think The Washington Post recently reported on another one that said some people are spending four hours a day.

MCEVERS: So why do we like it so much?

GLEI: Email really is very similar to a slot machine in many ways. So if you think about it, you know, most of the time you check your email. You sort of pull that lever. And you kind of lose. Like, you get something, you know, kind of disappointing. Like, it's an email from an angry customer, or it's an urgent message from your boss to ask you to do a task that you don't really feel like doing. But every once in a while, you get something great. You know, you get...

MCEVERS: Somebody like, I want to make a movie about your life.

GLEI: (Laughter) That - I haven't gotten that yet. But you know, I got an email the other day from a long lost childhood friend. Or you know, maybe someone invites you to give a TED Talk, you know?

And so there's those random rewards that kind of come mixed in with all that junk, and that's what keeps you in that loop. It makes you kind of want to keep pulling that lever again and again maybe when you have better things to do.

MCEVERS: Email has been around for a really long time. If it's so kind of problematic, why do we still use it? I mean there are a lot of other options out there.

GLEI: Well, I think one of the first things that's completely unique about email is it's one of the last sort of great unowned pieces of technology that operates behind the scenes on the internet. If you think about these technologies that are going to kill email or replace it, you know, you think about Slack. Or Facebook just launched workplace.

MCEVERS: Like, different messaging...

GLEI: Precisely, a different kind of real-time collaborative messaging app, but these are companies, so they kind of have different objectives. And I think email is almost like the cockroach of the technology world, you know? It can be really agile. And it can kind of be constantly reinventing itself because it's not trying to please any shareholders or anything of that nature.

MCEVERS: And so to kill it would not - there's really no way to kill it. You couldn't just do it in one stroke.

GLEI: I don't think so. And also it means that it's free. No one's trying to make money off of email. People can constantly be building new apps to improve it. And also, I think it's - everyone aged 7 to 70 understands what email is. Everyone all over the globe understands what email is. It's kind of the universal language of, you know, messaging at this point.

MCEVERS: OK, given that we're stuck with email, give us some advice about how to make it work better.

GLEI: I mean I think the No. 1 tip is really that we want to be batch processing our email. So as opposed to kind of constantly nibbling on it throughout the day and being very reactive, we want to limit it to a few discrete batches where we're a hundred percent focused on email and then try to kind of set it aside and focus on other tasks because essentially people who are processing their email in that way feel more productive, less stressed and have a higher sense of well-being.

MCEVERS: That's Jocelyn Glei. Her new book is called "Unsubscribe." Thank you so much.

GLEI: Thank you for having me.

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