The Airplane Mode Email Technique

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I have a confession to make: I’m awful at emailing people back.

To be fair, I’m usually good with replying to short messages. But anything that requires a more thoughtful response puts me into a procrastinator’s tailspin.

I keep telling myself, “I’ll have time to write a more thorough reply tomorrow.” But there’s never more time tomorrow. So I keep putting it off. And before I know it, it’s been a week, and I still haven’t replied.

What’s worse is even when I deliberately set aside time to respond to emails, I constantly find myself being distracted. Sometimes it’s social media or other work that distracts me, but more often than not, other emails come that disrupts me from the task at hand.

More than once, I’ve pictured that famous scene of Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory. The emails keep on coming, but I simply can’t keep up.

But a couple of weeks ago, I had an idea.

As I was settling into my seat for a 4.5-hour flight, I opened my iPad and downloaded all of my emails. The flight attendant instructed us to switch our devices into airplane mode and store them away as soon as I finished. I dutifully complied.

However, once we were in flight, I pulled my iPad back out and spent the first hour of the trip clearing through two weeks of backlogged emails. Undistracted by internet access, I thoughtfully wrote responses to each one, clicking “Send” as I finished and moving on to the next.

Without Wi-Fi, I didn’t have any opportunity to be interrupted. And when I finished, I had an empty inbox, a full outbox, at a satisfied mind. So I tucked the iPad away and celebrated by watching an in-flight movie.

Once we landed, I popped open the iPad again and got back online. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to watch all of the emails flutter away from my outbox like so many carrier pigeons taking my messages to the world.

It all felt so efficient.

I’d been dreading this seemingly herculean feat of catching up on email, but it only took 60 minutes of focused effort to get completely caught up.

That evening, I found myself thinking, “man, I should just get on an airplane every time I’m behind on email. But that would be ridiculous.”

Or would it?

Since that flight, I’ve begun practicing the “airplane mode email technique.” Doing so has allowed me to keep up with email better, feel more at peace with my bottomless inbox, and spend less time on email overall. And I didn’t even need to purchase another plane ticket to make it happen.

Here’s how you do the airplane mode mail technique.

  1. Switch your device into airplane mode
  2. Set a timer for 30 minutes
  3. Write as many emails as you can in that time
  4. Click send as you finish writing each one
  5. Turn the internet back on and watch them whoosh out to your recipients

A nice bonus I’ve found is that if I do this on a laptop or tablet, it allows me to get away from the desk and even sit outside while I email. This simple practice has transformed email from a frustrating chore to something I somehow enjoy a little bit!

So if you struggle to keep up with inbox madness, give the airplane mode email technique a try.

Join the discussion

  • I found Matthew Everhard’s insights into email very helpful (link below)
    “Your email inbox is the to-do list anybody in the world can add to. But I don’t want anyone else in the world to steer my day and my goals for accomplishing what I must do. So I tend to leave that for later … I try to accomplish all of my own stated goals first.” “Productivity: Personal, Pastoral, Professional” at (9:49 mark)

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