It’s an age-old question. And one even our forefathers puzzled over.
Are those emails you spend hours writing each day really work, or are they a horrific distraction from the real work you need to get done?
Here are two perspectives. Amazingly, I believe both.
No, Emailing is Not Work
This theory goes like this: real work is creation-based. Real work leads to tangible results. Real work launches products, writes books, records songs. Real work is when you push away the distractions, buckle down, and get something created at the end.
Email is nothing like this.
Instead, email is a nightmarish hamster wheel in which you are never done. As my friend Jon Acuff likes to joke, can you ever be done with the Internet? Do you ever log off and say, “Yup! I finished the Internet today!”
In a word? No.
Same thing goes for email.
You will never be done with email. Someone will always want to ask you to do something. Someone will always want you to respond about something. Someone will always be there. In your inbox. Waiting for you to respond in a timely manner. (For more on when you should respond, see this piece.)
Yes, Emails are Work
This perspective doesn’t poke holes at the other side of things, but rather takes a different tack. In this theory, you admit that yes – emailing sucks, emailing is a never-ending hamster wheel of madness, emailing does not lead to creation, and emailing is a something you will never be “done” with.
But, it argues that the reality is that emailing is necessary to our jobs. We need to email to succeed in our careers. We are expected to email with clients, partners, and coworkers. We are also expected to do so in a timely manner.
Do we like it? No. But it’s the reality.
And thus, that means email is work. That means that email is not something that can just be “fit in” at the end of the day around “real” work. Instead, it means that we need to acknowledge the hours we must spend emailing each week and make those part of our expected work.
So, when you say you “didn’t work” over the weekend when in reality you spent 4 hours emailing, you actually didn’t take a break. You did work. You emailed.
So there you have it. Two wildly different perspectives on the reality of the time we spend emailing.
So what do you think? Is email work? Or not?