Kill Email Anxiety and Do More Meaningful Work with Jocelyn K. Glei

Episode 7 title graphic: Kill Email Anxiety and Do More Meaningful Work with Jocelyn K. Glei

This week’s guest on the 21st Century Creative Podcast is Jocelyn K. Glei, Founding Editor of 99U, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done, and host of the Hurry Slowly podcast.

Jocelyn K. GleiJocelyn was instrumental in turning 99U into the iconic brand for creatives it is today – editing the magazine site and the series of 99U books for creatives, and helping the team create the amazing 99U Conferences in New York.

In this interview, Jocelyn talks about the psychology of email – why such a convenient form of communication has become such a drain on our creativity and productivity, and how to reclaim time and headspace for real work.

And as we discovered in the course of the conversation, most of the advice in Unsubscribe is applicable beyond your inbox – the principles of email management can help you get your creative work done amid the daily whirlwind of news, social media and other distractions.

As well as reading the book, you can follow Jocelyn’s thinking on her website and on Twitter.

In the first part of the show, I talk about the four types of work we can spend our time on – and which one creates the most long-term benefits for your creative career.

Take Jocelyn’s Creative Challenge (and win a copy of Unsubscribe)

Every week, at the end of the show, I ask my guest to set you a Creative Challenge – something practical you can do that will help you put the ideas from the show into action.

The Coaching Habit cover shotHere’s how you can take part – and maybe win the prize of a copy of Jocelyn’s book Unsubscribe, which teaches you the seven essential questions that will allow you to become a better coach and influencer in your daily conversations at work.

1. Listen to the interview part of the show, either in the player above or on iTunes or your favourite podcast platform.

2. The challenge is to check and answer your email in batches – about 2 or 3 batches each day.

So this means closing email in your browser and disabling it on your phone, so you can’t just check it with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger.

Decide in advance when and for how long you’re going to check your email – Jocelyn recommends about 20-30 minutes at a time, and focusing 100% on email during this time, so you get it done faster.

If you have VIPs in your life who NEED to be able to contact you urgently, make arrangements for them to be able to do this – either by switching on VIP email alert in your phone, or asking them to text or phone you with any urgent messages, instead of emailing these.

3. Once you’ve completed the challenge, leave a comment below this post describing how you get on.

You have until midnight United States Pacific time on Friday 14th July 2017 to complete the challenge and leave your comment.

4. Once the challenge has finished, I will pick 3 winners at random from the comments, who will receive the prize of Jocelyn’s book Unsubscribe.

5. Over the weekend I will send a bonus recording with my feedback on your comments and what we can all learn from the challenge. I’ll be looking through the comments for common patterns, whether that’s ways a lot of you get stuck, or great solutions you’re finding to the challenge. I’ll also be sharing reflections and advice from my own experience as a coach.

6. As usual the feedback recording will NOT be released on iTunes or anywhere else the show is syndicated. It will only be available via the 21st Century Creative mailing list – click here to join the list (and get a free Creative Career course).

One last thing…

If you’re enjoying the show it would be a huge help to me if you would take a moment to subscribe to The 21st Century Creative in iTunes.

And if you’d like to leave a brief review in iTunes, that would be even more helpful.

The more people who subscribe and review the show, the more visible the show will be in the iTunes store, and the more creators I can help with it.

This is particularly important in the first few weeks of a podcast – so if you enjoy the show, and you’d like to support it, taking a few moments to subscribe and/or review will give the podcast the best chance of success.

Thank you!

Mark McGuinness is a poet, a coach for creative professionals, and the host of The 21st Century Creative Podcast.

The 21st Century Creative Podcast

The 21st Century Creative Podcast

Hosted by poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness, The 21st Century Creative podcast helps you succeed as a creative professional amid the demands, distractions, and opportunities of the 21st century.

Each episode features insights from Mark and interviews with outstanding creators – including artists, writers, performers, commercial creatives, directors, producers, entrepreneurs and other creative thought leaders.

Guests include Steven Pressfield, Scott Belsky, Jocenlyn K. Glei, Joanna Penn and Michael Bungay Stanier.

Responses to this Post


  1. Your comments on asset-creation made me stop and think. As an author, I create one or two novel-assets a year. That’s not a quick turnaround. It’s most helpful to be reminded that there are other kinds of assets, and that I can pursue some of those, perhaps with a shorter turnaround, or at least, with overlapping delivery dates.

  2. I’m probably unusual in that I’m terrible with email in the other direction – I don’t check it for days. But then I’m not running my creative business yet and email isn’t a part of my job as I’m a head gardener at a large Jacobean house in the English countryside – the roses don’t fire off an email when it’s pruning time!

    I do get this way with twitter though and so I’ll work on both restricting twitter and on checking my email at least once a day.

  3. Hi Mark, another really interesting podcast – I loved what Jocelyn had to say! I recently set aside half a day (it felt like 4 years) to delete over 10,000 ..yes ten thousand emails that I’d not deleted, the important emails had been answered and the others I knew didn’t matter hadn’t been opened, yet I’d not bothered deleting them! It felt great to delete and unsubscribe to the volumes and volumes of emails I’d at some point in the distant past thought I’d like to receive daily or weekly updates from!! AAARGH!
    So this batch email idea has come at the perfect time for me. I have now (since listening to the podcast) created two “canned responses” on my email account, by the way why had I not worked that out before?! One is the reply to potential clients with details of how I work with them and the cost of the sessions, the other is a more generic thanks for your contacting me, I endeavour to reply within 24 hours email. I have been checking my emails at 8.30am and 4pm – it was like coming off drugs and I had to stop myself a couple of times from taking a sneaky peak outside of those two times! The result is, I already feel as if I’m more in control and I know I’ve freed up more headspace and actual time to get on with creating and building my business. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. When I worked in IT managing email for entire corporations I was forced to learn efficient email management. Farther back, I chose long ago that my phone was my phone, and I answered it when I wanted to, not just when it rang.

    I didn’t expect batching my email in response to this challenge to have much effect, but since I love having my assumptions disproven, I dove in. So far this week I’ve been checking my email in batches at 4 times throughout the day.

    No noticeable effect.

    I realize I have special circumstances. My wife runs our business while I manage the household and write, so nobody’s awaiting my response. We’ve built a business without built-in urgency because when I left the job behind to work for me, I didn’t want to jump through other people’s hoops.

    Another thing we’ve become experts at is saying “no” as often as possible. We know our goals, personal and professional, and if something isn’t on or near our chosen path, it needs to come with a significant upside to tempt us into the detour.

    However, he said, then paused . . .

    There are places besides email where these principles would serve me, and it’s taken me all week to come to that realization. Because the one person who distracts me or overloads me with an unrealistic sense of obligation sometimes is inside my head.

    Seeing this as a personal challenge rather than a professional challenge (which I’ve done easily with the previous challenges) went right over my head. Something for me to ponder, eh?

  5. This is so good, Mark!

    I have been attempting this–and re-upped my intention to only check email twice a day. I read Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, and it had a great impact on me. I’ve been re-evaluating all my habits. So much mindlessness when I’m sitting at the computer.

    Here’s what my email signature line looks like:
    regarding email

    To maintain a state of Deep Work, I review email (and respond, if warranted), once late morning, and once in the afternoon (not on weekends).

    Email is strangling our focus & productivity; this is my effort to take back my concentration.

    Thanks for your understanding.

  6. Another absolutely fabulous podcast, Mark! My morning power walks have gotten even better, listening to The 21st Century Creative, alongside Joanna’s The Creative Penn podcast—can’t wait until Monday rolls around!

    Email is a big pain point for me, so this week’s challenge was exactly what I needed (even though I had to pretend to be brave at the onset). 🙂 For me, it made sense to tackle email three times per day in 30-minute sessions. Outside those three sessions, my email client was closed.

    I’ll be honest. I was more than a bit anxious during the periods I was not connected BUT at the end of the day, the sky didn’t fall and the world didn’t come to an end.

    In fact, I gained a few takeaways:

    +++ Approximately 78% of the emails coming in during each of the three segments fit snugly into the “Random” category.
    +++ While emails falling into the “VIP” category were only addressed during one of the three designated timeframes, not one recipient complained about a delayed response time, nor even commented about it. In fact, when I asked a couple of them, they hadn’t even noticed.
    +++ Three 30-minute sessions turned out to be overkill. Once I had created rules to filter/sort my email into the appropriate categories, I found I was able to start whittling the second, middle of the day session down by five minutes each day. I am currently at 15-minutes for that session and am hoping to refine it even more, along with first and third session of each day. #BabySteps… 🙂

    I do still feel anxious—tackling FOMO is going to be an ongoing practice and commitment to shifting that mindset—but after just a few short days, this challenge has already changed my relationship with my Inbox and given my productivity a much-needed boost. Today…email…tomorrow…watch out social media…you’re next! #ImagineThePossibilites

  7. For this challenge, I in a word, failed. That said, I did learn that habits, good, or bad get created regardless of weather we take action or not. What I feel like that means is that a person needs to be intentional, mindful of what habits they’re making. Do we get into a habit of checking our email every five minutes, or do we stay in the mental state from which we create?

    I also think that something like checking email frequently when a person should be focusing on something else is a habit that can come from our mental/emotional state, for example if I’m doubting my ability to write, then suddenly checking my email seems to take on more importance.
    I don’t know if any of that makes sense, but it is what I took away from the episode. 🙂

  8. Thanks Mark & Jocelyn for a great podcast! I want to thank Jocelyn for the ok that some of us DO NOT zero out our mailboxes! For me, it’s a complete waste of time. I get so many and in 3 different accounts. I would love a function for “optional” emails where they would delete themselves after 30 days? These would be the more commercial, not work or personal. Hmm, going to look into that.

    I will try to plan as directed (but to be honest, I only just finished the podcast on Friday so disqualify me from the drawing!). I love the template idea and will make a couple of those this week!!

  9. Hello and thank you for another great and inspiring podcast! This challenge gave me the idea to set a timer to take the emails two times in a day (instead of have notices popping up all the time…). One short session, 5 min., at 10 am to check if anything is “urgent”, and then another one at 4 pm, 20 – 30 min. Those hours fit in perfectly with my drum practice and also, with my energy levels:) It feels very liberating to not check in on emails “here and there” as it tends to be many of “them”… I´m also unsubscribing to any lists I signed up to previously but never read, if I haven´t opened the last two emails from a specific list, I know that it might not be something that adds to my inspiration/knowledge/creativity etc. Look forward to Monday! Have a great weekend all of you, Maria.

  10. With an overlap of courses finishing/starting, this challenge has come at a great time. Although not had time to listen to the podcast yet, I have done the challenge.

    Having done this email approach before, yet somehow forgot! I’ve set up a flagged email to stay at top of inbox to remind me! 🙂

    I also moved Gmail app on the phone into a folder so don’t see/use on phone unless absolutely necessary.

    Some days the batch processing of email worked smiley great 🙂 other days obstacles popped up. (having not – yet – heard the podcast, these issues may have been covered)

    1. Some days, I need to quickly check email earlier in the day before I’m ready to do the batch process, to ensure nothing important re calls that day.

    2. Some writing needed to be sent within an email (not attachment). Previously the line spacing went wonky using Word & transferring it, so I was popping in & out of email as I wrote it. I didn’t process other email, except for…

    3. Occasionally, I need to check email more often to process/follow on from an important conversation re point 1.

    4. Sometimes I need dip into email to look something up or perhaps it’s the right time to process something expecting in email, but not the right time for the full on batch email process.

    Overall, a great way to be – or rather not be – with email! 🙂

  11. Mickey hadick says:

    I am convinced that this is the right way to live. But will take more than one week of a challenge for me to master.

  12. Thanks once again for a great podcast. I particularly enjoyed the idea of the askers and guessers. Also Jocelyn K. Glei’s remarks about the news cycle were spot on. The news cycle is no longer information in many cases, there is no distance. It has now become orders. We react immediately with no critical distance.

    Having utterly failed in the zero email challenge for many years now I at first chuckled to myself thinking about the idea of feeling the need to answer emails instantaneously. With my 43,000 emails to read I knew that I was not in danger of having my creative time eaten into by checking my emails.

    Most of those 43000 emails are spam. I should probably improve my spam filter. Since I have had a smartphone I have a feeling that my concentration is more broken down, more molecular, more granular. I concentrate in bursts. I interrupt myself in my own thought processes. One of the places that I can concentrate in and get into the ‘zone’ is when I draw or play music.

    I’d be a liar to say yes I managed to check my email in three batches per day. Yes I do, I suppose but then I am not talking about checking facebook to see how many likes, or to see if the person who I wrote to has read my mail on messenger (specific to facebook and instagram you can see if the person has ‘read’ your mail). I am not talking about how I post a drawing everyday to instagram (it began as a challenge to myself but now I am wondering as one of the other millions of content creators on the internet today who am I really helping here?). I am not talking about how I get lost on facebook looking for something then I don’t even remember who or what it was and I’m looking at some stupid video of a cat or a shark. Or how I pretend to myself that I use facebook but facebook really just uses me and lots of other people like me for marketing and politics. Or how I look at my feed and I can see the echo chamber effect of new modern day politics where all my friends have the same opinion and tribes are becoming more and more intolerant of other tribes that do not have exactly the same point of view as them. Or worse still the green filter of jealousy as I can see all my “friends” having fun and great times, succeeding (at least on their official social media version) in their work, in their life and I eventually switch off and look at my life and ask myself “how did I get here ? ” The angst is real.

    I mentioned this to a friend and he told me how apparently there is a link between social media and mental illness that is demonstrable. And when he told me that I felt I had to defend social media and say how parts of it are actually really useful. Looking back on it I can see I reacted like an addict.

    We are constantly contactable, constantly reachable. We have to feel that we are valid, that we exist.
    Having spent hours on social media I know that there are some great things. The thing I try to understand for myself (and for my children who are getting older and will inevitably also be on social media) is how to know when enough is enough. How do you time it when you are constantly connected ? Social media is an escape from your real life. It is a curse and blessing, it is like the Dicken’s quote from the start of the podcasts “the best of times and the worst of times”.

    I try to write songs about it, I try to make drawings of these feelings. And then, the hypocrisy of it, I post them on social media.

    I post nearly everyday via instagram. I post photographs of drawings mostly. So I can see that the algorithms on facebook and instagram probably do not understand my images (not food, not people smiling) and therefore they are not pushed to the tops of the feed. I try not to think about it too much. And yet, I do…

    We are becoming blasé, indifferent, its exactly like Jocelyn K. Glei says with the news cycle, that by commenting on a horrible fact we feel that we have somehow done something. We have somehow become active. When in fact we have not really done anything but perhaps make ourselves feel better.

    Meanwhile in other news real things do happen such as the largest ever iceberg floating out into the sea. I try to see the video of it and before I can see it I have to watch an ad for a car. This is our life now. It is a culture of distract. (I can’t even finish that sentence because I was interrupted. A culture of distraction, will it fit into my twitter ?)

    Maybe it’s the idea of the artist is changing. The artist is no longer an individual. Maybe the artist is a group of people. What is the point of trying to compete in a world of cat videos ?

    The internet a zone of freedom and half baked ideas. A lot like this comment.

    I read somewhere recently someone saying the internet is like a mirror and unfortunately there are a lot of people who see themselves as ugly in that mirror. I see. It’s like the mirror at the start of the Snow Queen, a mirror to distort and enlarge what is ugly. And remember what happens in the Snow Queen ? The mirror is shattered and turned into dust because they try to fly it up to heaven and show the angels as being ugly. The mirror shatters because the trolls are laughing so much. A sliver gets into Kai’s eye and worst of all, into his heart. Then he sees everything as being ugly and horrible. We have to learn to protect ourselves against this dust and the trolls on the internet.

    Answers might be to try and find Kai again and rescue him from the Snow Queen. How does Gerda do it again ? Have to read the Snow Queen to find out…

    Short version : email challenge ? I succeeded but only because I was busy checking my likes on facebook.

  13. Thank you everyone, this week’s Challenge is now closed, I’ll shortly send the feedback and announce the winners via the mailing list.