How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day (Part 1)

This isn’t another dieting post. This is about getting rid of the flab that fills your working days: unnecessary activities that weigh you down and make your day tougher to get through. Activities that leave you breathless and exhausted … with little or nothing to show for all that extra effort.

We’ve all got them: bloated in-trays; calendars that contain more junk activities than there are calories in a Mega-Mighty-Gigantic Whoppaburger with triple fries; grotesquely obese work schedules, and an e-mail inbox that fills every 15 minutes.

If you could drop all this useless flab, wouldn’t you feel better? Imagine what a difference it would make to your day … your life … your enjoyment of the world. Time to do what you want to do. Time to get things done. The chance to end the day knowing you’ve accomplished more than you dreamed you could.


Well, you can. It takes effort and self-discipline, but anyone — and that includes you — can do it. Here’s how to get started with controlling useless e-mails. How many of these matter? How many matter enough to interrupt whatever else you are doing?

Almost none. Zilch. Nada. It’s time to get tough with these time and energy thieves. What about blowing away those irritating e-mails and Instant Messages for good?

  • If you have Instant Messaging on your computer, turn it off. Now! Better still, remove the hideous abomination altogether. Do not use IM. You don’t need it, unless you’re a pre-teen geek without a life.
  • Never keep your e-mail software open all the time. Open it to check for e-mails only when you choose.
  • Set fixed times to check for new e-mails and let everyone know when they are. At other times, ignore it.
  • Filter everything coming in, so you can sort out what matters from what doesn’t. For e-mails, use the filtering facility in your software.
  • Give each one a priority and deal with it when you choose. Only respond immediately to genuine emergencies. Make everyone else wait (and I mean everyone).
  • When you send someone an e-mail, make a practice of telling them when you need a response (be specific; say “by Monday at 3.00 p.m.” not “a.s.a.p.”). Ask them to do the same when they e-mail you.
  • When you receive e-mail copies that you don’t want, send a polite note to the sender asking them to take you off the circulation list. Don’t stay on the list from inertia, or “just in case” something important comes along. It won’t. Be ruthless. If they don’t take you off the list, use your filtering software to classify that e-mail as “junk” and ignore it.

The worst complaints will come from … yourself. People get addicted to e-mails because of fear. The fear of missing something, being “out of the loop,” or not knowing what’s going on.

Get used to it. Like most fear, it’s irrational. You can either have a sensible work schedule, or give in to your inner demon and waste your time “just in case” you might miss something. Are you too weak to cope with this stupid obsession? Of course not. Kick it out. Bad news travels very quickly and will be sure to reach you. Good news will be a nice surprise when you next check your e-mail. In the meantime, you’ll have a calmer, more productive day.

Next week, I’ll be looking at the curse of cellphones.

P.S. If you want a good way to spend some of the time these tips will save you, please fill out the “Slow Leadership” survey on today’s problems connected with overwork and burnout. You can find it through this link. Thanks.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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