Can there be life without emails? It is almost impossible to life without them. Yet, of course, emails are a relatively recent. The first major commercial internet service providers hit the scene in the early 1990s. AOL and CompuServe showed up in 1995, and Hotmail in 1996. By the beginning of the 21st century email for most people was just part of normal life.
And what a blessing emails have proved to be. They are a great for keeping in touch with family, especially in our case when our eldest son and his family live in Vancouver, and our youngest son and his wife live in Egypt. They are a great for keeping in touch with friends, especially at Christmas time. In addition, they are great for churches keeping in touch with their people.
Email has great advantages. It’s free – once you are online, there is no further expense. It’s speedy – the message arrives almost the moment it is sent. It’s good for the planet – think of all the trees we save. It’s also easy to reference – sent and received messages and their attachments can be stored and organised much more easily than printed letters and memos.
Yet, emails can be a curse. Indeed, it has been described as ‘the curse of the 21st century’. For not only do emails lack the personal touch, they are often the cause of misunderstanding – it is all too easy for people not to read what they have written before they click the ‘send’ button. There is no respite from emails – an email inbox is like a garden, which needs to be constantly maintained. All too often emails prove a vehicle for spam and for viruses. But above all, it takes up time. I am told that people receive on average 88 emails per day – but ‘only’ send 34 emails per day. I would love to know how many emails the average minister receives per day – bearing in mind that ministers are at the centre of a pastoral hub, it could be many more than 88. Indeed, I am told that many people in business receive 30 emails an hour – which means that they are likely to spend 50% of their time reading and responding to them.
How do we deal with emails? How do we ensure that emails do not take over our lives? One simple technique which I have learnt is to delete emails without even bothering read them. Here I have in mind not personal emails – but emails arrive from commercial, charitable and Christian organisations. In many ways these emails are like spam, and I do my best to subscribe from their mailing lists.
Another important technique is to resist the pressure to reply immediately. Indeed, I think there is lot to be said for limiting the checking of emails to particular times in the day. I know of one pastor, for instance, who checks emails three times a day: at 7.15 am, then at 12 noon, and finally at 3 pm: unless there is an emergency, he waits until his afternoon slot to deal with them all at one go – he sets himself in the afternoon a 45 minute time-limit to process the emails, leaving those he has not dealt with until the following day. If there is an email that is going to take more time than usual, then he puts it in a folder marked Friday, when he devotes an extra hour to longer emails. Another pastor checks twice a day: once at the beginning of the day for 10-15 minutes, and then once at the end of the day; on the basis that batch emailing means he can be fully engaged with messages when he is in email mode, but then has freedom from emails for the rest of the day.
I normally quickly check my emails at the beginning of the day – but unless there is an emergency, I never respond until have spent time in reading Scripture and in prayer – God must come first. Even then, I may wait to respond. On days when I am writing a sermon or engaged in some other important task, I will not answer until the sermon is written or the task is achieved. Emails mustn’t master us – rather we need to master emails!