Don’t Let’s be Pushy

I got the new iPhone 5 as soon as it came out, rewarding myself for resisting the urge to upgrade my 3GS with a cracked screen. My 3GS was 3 years old, and the battery was in a steady decline, and even though I’d be getting a significant technological upgrade, I was most looking forward to a nice fresh battery and the ability to get through a whole day without charging. On the first full day with my iPhone 5, my battery was at 40% by noon, with normal usage. I took it back to the Apple store, and was given a replacement almost immediately. It still wasn’t great, but since I was on my second phone, I suspected I was doing something wrong. I turned off all the fancy stuff—LTE, Bluetooth, location services, most push notifications, and saw enough of an improvement to leave it be. But I still needed to charge my phone in the evening.


I took it back again a few weeks ago, explaining that the battery life sucked, and that I should not have to turn off most of the featured of my phone to make it work all day. The person at the Apple Store said it was likely my push email. I have an Exchange Server set up for my company email and calendar, and I was also using Exchange to access my gmail—the only way to have true push email with Gmail.

I’ve been living with push email on a mobile device since I got my first Blackberry more than ten years ago, and the thought that I’d need to live without that was disappointing, but I turned off push email to see how far my battery would last the next day. I used my phone quite a lot the next day, and checked my email quite frequently. It was still at 75% battery by the end of my work day, and still over 50% before bed. So push email was the problem.

I decided to go with it, setting my email to check every 15 minutes. It’s a big adjustment to teach yourself to live with the fact there may or may not be email waiting on a server, meant for you, possibly containing interesting or urgent information. We treat all email as something that must be dealt with immediately, but if there is something truly urgent, text messages or phone calls are still real time. After a month of this, I’m now setting my phone to check email hourly. It’s easy enough to check more frequently if I’m waiting for something specific, and the rest of the time, I’m left alone to do my work, knowing that if there’s a email to read, it can wait until later.

Many articles (here and here, to start) have promoted the idea of checking email only at set intervals. I’ve even heard of companies configuring their mail servers to hold email, effectively delivering it only two or three times per day. People have several other ways to contact you should they need you urgently. Email is rarely urgent, yet many of us drop everything to respond immediately, breaking concentration, and occasionally putting off more pressing matters.

It’s hard to ignore email. We’re conditioned by the notifications on our computers and phones to read email the moment it arrives—as though it’s a courier at the door. Eliminate the notifications, or reduce them to only once an hour at first, and you’ll soon forget about email for a little bit. That little bit of extra time may not may not be much, but it will give you fewer interruptions, which translates into longer periods of concentration. Give it a try.