I've got to hand it to Bart: work has been a bit more enjoyable this week thanks to him. After a number of conversations about improving our productivity, my coworker challenged me to turn off automatic send/receive in my email client.

For a second I thought he was asking me to stop breathing. This is what went through my panic-stricken mind:

Wait…you're suggesting I intentionally cripple my email client to prevent it from automatically retrieving new messages every two minutes? That's a terrible idea! How will I know who demands my attention right this very minute?

Oh…wait a second…

I see where you're going with this.

Getting a near-real-time stream of emails is, for most of us, a bit like being hooked up to a Coke machine intravenously. Look no further than the "CrackBerry" for evidence of that fact. We need email and we need it now.

There's nothing wrong with needing mobile access, it's the "now" factor that I'm questioning. Whether at the computer or on a smartphone, that little "message waiting indicator" elicits a Pavlovian response every time.

You obey Inbox.

I've had my email client set to automatically retrieve new messages for as long as I've been using email via a desktop client. But for me, it's nearly impossible to stay on-task for a long period of time while new emails keep rolling in. Inevitably, one of those messages, brandishing an urgent subject line, takes control and I'm off-track for an hour.

I obey Inbox, too.

But, isn't responding quickly good for business, you say? Well, sure, for the most part it's good to be responsive. But have you noticed that email has taken on the same instantaneous expectations previously restricted to instant messaging? At Agency Fusion we tend to respond very quickly to customers and, as a result, we have clients who will call and ask why we haven't responded to an email they sent five minutes ago. We're baffled by that behavior until we realize we're the ones who trained them to expect such responsiveness.

In addition to problems resulting from creating a real-time expectation for email communications, there is another reason that letting Inbox be your taskmaster is a recipe for mediocrity.

It's nearly impossible to set goals and accomplish them when you've invited Inbox to hijack your plans at-will. Inbox is anti-goal. Inbox wants you to think that a worthwhile goal is to respond as quickly as possible to as many emails as you can, as if you worked for a big email-generation factory whose revenue is directly tied to the number of messages sent each day.

On the contrary, success comes from identifying great things and then doing them. Inbox hates it when you do that. It's time to take control and remind Inbox who works for whom.