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Save Your Sanity: Have a Communications Blackout Day

Save Your Sanity: Have a Communications Blackout Day
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    Technology is great, but there can be too much of a good thing. E-mail results in faster communication, but it also leaves overflowing inboxes, spam attacks and the need for lengthy messages. RSS, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and instant messaging programs can also be great, if the 24/7 uninterrupted stream of information doesn’t drive you crazy first.

    My suggestion is that for one day each month, have a communications blackout. Unplug your internet and let e-mails pile up for one day. The cost of being unconnected for twenty-four hours is small compared to the quiet it can bring to an already noisy life. One day a week would be even better, but the Firefox withdrawal symptoms might kill you first.

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    Why Unplug?

    You probably like being connected. You feel the Amish and Luddites don’t know what they’re missing. If you enjoy feeling plugged in, why go to all the effort to cut the cords for just one day?

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    I think there are a number of benefits for going offline, but the biggest one is to get perspective. If your Crackberry is sewn to your hip, you might not regularly experience what it’s like to be without interruptions for an entire day. Unless you experience the benefits of an occasional unplug, you won’t know the costs that continuous contact has.

    Here are some benefits I’ve found to doing a regular communications blackout:

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    1. Freed Mental Processing Power – If you’re one of those people that answer e-mails and phone calls as soon as you get them (no matter what you’re doing) the first big boost you’ll probably notice is increased room to think. Tim Ferriss in the 4-Hour Workweek points to a study that showed participants mental ability was slowed more from a Blackberry than marijuana use.
    2. Extra Time in the Day – If you’re constantly connected, you probably don’t notice the slow drip, drip, drip of time wasted each day. When I started batching my routine web usage to once per day I saved over an hour of time even though I answered the exact same volume of e-mails.
    3. Peaceful Solitude – Can you read a book when dozens of people around you are deep in a conversation? Why do you think you can focus on your physical surroundings when dozens of messages are pouncing at you throughout the day. Unplugging can give a dose of mental relaxation that’s easy to miss in a digital life.

    How to Set up a Communications Blackout Day

    Going offline for one day isn’t difficult, but if you’re worried the lack of contact could hurt you, here are some of my suggestions for setting up and following through with your day in the real world:

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    1. Unplug Your Cables. Disconnect your television cable and internet modem so you won’t feel the temptation to fill a few minutes of boredom with random noise. Keeping your computer unplugged is the next step, but staying disconnected is still a good start.
    2. Stop Carrying the Cell Phone. Being completely disconnected and turning off the phone services too might be the next level. But if you can’t take such a drastic step, at least place your cell phone in one location. By effectively converting your cell to a landline, you remove the need to constantly answer texts and calls if you’re busy.
    3. Plan a Hike. Do something outside or with nature for the day. If you’re planning on taking a temporary step backwards in technology, you might as well go for the full experience. Find some outside adventure you’ve always wanted to take on but haven’t had the time to try yet.
    4. Talk to Real People. Meet face-to-face. Have actual conversations instead of broken messages of text without proper punctuation.
    5. Empty Your Inbox First. Before you go offline, empty all your inboxes. This way the longest a message has to stew is only twenty-four hours.
    6. Read Books. You know, the ones made out of paper? I love getting my daily dose of bloggage from the world wide web, but there’s benefits to using more basic technology. Go to your public library to save the costs of a bookstore.
    7. Spend Time Thinking. Do you not have enough time to think? Carve out a bit of your day to write down your thoughts and go through those deeper issues that get missed when multitasking.
    8. Turn Off the Television. While television doesn’t give you instant access to your friends and coworkers, it belongs in the same category of other networking tools. Television takes the constant networking idea one step further, except instead of communicating to your friends, television connects you with celebrities, strangers and imaginary people who can’t even respond back to you.
    9. Do Real Work. Spend a few hours making headway on those big projects that get tossed aside normally. I unplugged for over a week last month and doing so helped me finish writing my book.
    10. Entertain Yourself. The constant stream of information can weaken your ability to entertain yourself. I’m sure you can remember building forts and playing make-believe as a kid. While I don’t suggest you start stacking up the couch cushions into a castle, being unconnected can help you recapture the art of entertaining yourself.

    Tech is Good

    I’d like to finish by saying that technology and interconnectedness is a good thing. There are side-effects that you should recognize and occasional unplugging is smart. But as a whole technology can enrich life, provided you maintain the sanity to use it.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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