Jocelyn K. Glei | Unsubscribe (Episode 586)

Jocelyn K. Glei | Unsubscribe (Episode 586)

Jocelyn K. Glei | Unsubscribe (Episode 586)

Jocelyn K. Glei (@jkglei) is a writer who is obsessed with how we can find more creativity and meaning in our daily work. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Do you spend thirty to forty percent of your work week managing email?
  • Learn why email is a random rewards system and why it’s so addictive.
  • Understand why checking email feels so productive when you’re not actually doing anything useful.
  • How does email act as a weird form of kryptonite when it comes to social interactions?
  • Discover why we need to let go of the idea of inbox zero.
  • And so much more…


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If you’re like most people, you probably spend thirty to forty percent of your work week managing email.

In this episode of The Art of Charm, Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done author Jocelyn K. Glei provides us with an understanding of the behavioral psychology behind why email is so addictive so we can change our habits use a more effective approach.

More About This Show

As someone who’s used email for twenty years, Jordan thought he had a pretty good handle on efficiently managing what comes in and what goes out without getting too overwhelmed — and he gets a lot of email.

So it’s somewhat ironic that correspondence between Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done came to a sudden halt when trying to get this show together. The cause?

“I wish this was a joke, but the reason it took us such a long time to schedule the interview is because a lot of the emails were buried in my inbox,” Jordan explains.

So if we ever scoffed at the notion of needing tips for better organizing our email, we apologize. We’re just grateful that Jocelyn is kind enough not to say “I told you so.”

Jocelyn does say that, of the thirty (to forty) percent of the modern work week most of us spend dealing with email, the majority of that time is spent inefficiently. She wrote Unsubscribe as a way to call attention to what she says “seems like a small topic, but is something that takes up an inordinate amount of our time and ask people to look at a little bit more thoughtfully.”

Might as Well Face It, You’re Addicted to Email

Do you find yourself checking your email compulsively throughout the day? Jocelyn says this is behavior akin to a gambler in front of a slot machine — high in cost over time, but with ultimately little to no reward.

“If you think about playing a slot machine, most of the time you pull the lever…and you kind of lose,” she says. “If you’re going through your inbox, a lot of times you pull the lever, check your email — you get an email from an angry customer or you get an email from your boss asking you to do something maybe you don’t really feel like doing.”

But it’s the random reward of a childhood friend reconnecting or an invitation to something you’d like to attend that keeps you coming back, sifting through the unpleasant drudgery that’s commonplace in hopes of finding that occasional precious nugget.

“You’re constantly on edge and it really activates a primal seeking mechanism in our brains,” says Jocelyn.

Completion Bias: Why You Still Feel Productive When Dealing with Email

The human brain is predisposed to wanting to focus on short, easy-to-complete tasks first because “we essentially like getting that little hit of completion,” Jocelyn says. “When our brain recognizes that task as complete, it releases dopamine and it makes us feel good, and it makes us want to repeat those behaviors again and again.

“Inbox zero is that ultimate completion, but even as you move through kind of ticking through or taking off those unread messages, you’re almost getting these mini hits of completion…every email is like a quick, easy-to-finish task. That’s extremely addictive for us.”

This is known as completion bias. Social media and other short-form interactions are just as seductive as email when we’re looking for these quick, easy hits that make us feel like we’re doing something when we’re actually not.

“You think about progress bars that get you to track the status of a download or wanting to make your LinkedIn profile a hundred percent complete — we’re constantly having this completion bias almost used against us by different technology companies,” Jocelyn says.

(Incidentally, when Tim Urban of Wait But Why joined The Art of Charm a while back, he talked about the psychology of procrastination — and completion bias sounds a lot like what he called The Instant Gratification Monkey taking the wheel. Check out that episode here.)

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about how the rule of reciprocity makes us feel obligated to write back people who write to us, why you might not want to use your email inbox as a to-do list, how inbox zero has become a modern game of whack-a-mole, how we can track more meaningful milestones to acknowledge legitimate progress we’re making, what we can do to convey more personality via email, why batching emails beats so-called multitasking, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Jocelyn K. Glei, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Jocelyn K. Glei at Twitter!

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