5 steps to manage your email + make better art

This week, I saw the one-man show Each and Every Thing written and performed by Dan Hoyle at Portland Center Stage. If you can, go see it before it closes on March 27. It’s hilarious and profound and about how our digital world is changing us.

Yes, it’s changing how we relate to one another and how we experience the world. Which means it’s changing how an artist thinks and creates and it will continue to do so, in sometimes detrimental ways, if you don’t get a handle on your email.

Recently, I’ve been paying attention to what happens when I’m writing and I hit a rough patch. I might be editing a transition and the bridge I thought would work between two sections isn’t working.

I feel annoyed. Scared. Bored. Anxious.

So, what does the mind do? It scurries around trying to find a balm. “Well you could check email,” it offers up. “You know, since you’re just sitting here, not really doing anything anyway.”

Email is a momentary painkiller. It may also be the doorway to not returning to writing or art-making for the rest of the day. But will it help you be a better writer or an artist?


Checking email in that moment of pain is the worst thing you can do. It takes you away from the creative struggle AND it does not solve your creative problem.

If you want to make better art, spend less time on email. If you need a break, take a walk. Do yoga or anything physical. Those things will truly refresh you.

Most importantly, remember that your email works for you and your art career, not the reverse. To put email in its place, try this:

  1. Schedule time in your day – maybe twice a day – to devote to reading email and answering it. Jam through that inbox.
  2. Set a timer for each session so when you sit down you know how much time you have – like 30-60 minutes. 
  3. Know that sometimes these rules will be broken but make these rules the norm.  Do not “sneak peeks” at your email “just to see” if you’ve won a MacArthur genius grant. This is hard to resist. But the more you resist, the more free you will feel. You’re the boss. Let email be your slave.
  4. Don’t use your inbox as your to do list. If you do, you’ll spend a lot of time re-reading the same emails over and over again to remind yourself what you need to do. If an email requires you to do something that you can’t do right then, put the to do item on your to do list.
  5. Take an email vacation. Put on a vacation message. Let your inbox collect your emails for days or a week. That’s what I’m doing this week, in honor of Spring Break.

So, if you want to send me a message this week, write me a note and mail it. If you do, I promise to write back to the first five people who write. You can find my snail mail address here.

But whatever you do, clean up your relationship with email. But first make some art.

Do you want to be known as an expert emailer? Or do you want to be a great artist or writer? You know the answer. Now, get to work.

Photo by Luis Dávila