What the Kalalau taught me about my inbox

Yesterday we got back from almost two weeks in Hawaii. For part of our trip we were hiking the Kalalau Trail, and we had no service, no data, and no wi-fi for four full days. I'll admit, I felt a sense of panic: what if my insurance lapses and I don't get their email? -- shoot, my library books are due and I can't renew them! -- what if a customer has a question and they can't reach me? 

But by the fourth day when we emerged from the rainforest with muddy calves and happy hearts, I was anxious again, but this time for the opposite reason: I was dreading the moment when I'd open my inbox and in they would flood-- all the messages with urgent tasks I needed to snap-to and handle immediately. 

Carefully, slowly, while I was bored at a bus stop, I opened my email. 34 messages. I deleted the newsletters and notifications I receive. I was down to 7. And yes, my insurance DID email me. Apparently it's open enrollment and over the next few weeks I need to renew my plan. My emails for work took me 20 minutes to answer. There was nothing urgent. (Because really, when we're honest with ourselves, how many emails are EVER urgent?) 

On the plane home I listened to Jonathan Fields' podcast The Good Life Project-- one of my favorites.  He had a guest do a "riff," and she was talking about the ways technology, but specifically various messaging services (email, Insty, Slack, FB Messenger, etc.) hijack our time. They make us busy, which we equate with forward progression, but really, they inhibit us from acting on the projects that, as she said, would be our legacy.

I had to pause the podcast and let that one sink in. Our legacy... Every day we're building our legacy.... It's deep stuff. And it's easy to forget as we churn through a to-do list every day. But it's so worth spending some time thinking about. What do we want our legacy to be? And are we behaving in a way, in every hour throughout the day, that will move us closer to realizing it?

Because as the amazing Annie Dillard once said, "how we spend our hours is, of course, how we spend our lives." So I for one am going to choose how I spend mine more carefully. And right now that means working to release the fear that urgent messages and business disasters will be looming if I look away from my messages for even a moment. 


Things to Ponder:

  • What do you want your legacy to be? 
  • Is there a new email / Instagram / Facebook habit you could practice that would allow you to spend more time creating THAT work?
  • What are the subconscious stories you tell yourself about email? Are they accurate and real or based on unfounded fear?