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Disconnected Productivity: 9-Step Program to Cure Email Addiction

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Disconnected Productivity: 9-Step Program to Cure Email Addiction
Addiction

    The biggest obstacle to productivity is connectivity. Too many of us have become addicted to email, to our feed readers, to Twitter and IM, to forums, to social sites like MySpace and YouTube and Digg. It’s an addiction, and as yet, no good cure for it has been found.

    Today let’s crank up our productivity by curing our addiction.

    Going through this program won’t be easy, but think about all the things you want to do beside work or surf the Internets. You can have a life — if you get rid of your addiction, do you work in less time, and free up the rest of your life for more meaningful stuff. Disconnect to become productive, and be productive to claim the rest of your life.

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    Here’s a 9-Step Program to cure yourself of email (or other online) addiction — we offer just as much cure as the 12-Step Folk, but with 3 fewer steps! Remember, these steps focus on email addiction, but they can be applied to any online addiction.

    1. Admit the problem. You can’t cure your addiction if you won’t admit you have it, and if you don’t want to cure yourself. C’mon, admit it! You’re just as addicted as the next guy. In fact, you should probably be getting back to work right about now. Admit that you spend too much time checking your email, and too much time doing stuff online that isn’t actually productive. Admit that you could be doing a lot more if you cut back on this stuff. Now resolve to cure yourself!

    2. Be aware of your impulses. This is a powerful step — in order to disconnect your urge to check email from the actual action of checking it, you need to be aware of your urges. So, for the first 2-3 days, don’t check your email any less frequently than usual — just become aware that you have the urge. The best method for this is to keep a little sheet of paper with you, and to mark a tally each time you get the urge. The point is not to see how high or low your tally count is, but to become more aware of the impulses as they hit us.

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    3. Clear your inbox. OK, while you’re doing the tallying, prepare yourself for a more productive life by clearing out your inbox. If you’ve got hundreds (or thousands) of messages, this could take awhile — and in that case, it’s best to create a new folder (Temporary Zone) and dump all your messages that are more than a day old in this folder. You can get to those over the next week or so, clearing them out of the temporary folder in chunks. For the rest of the messages in your inbox, you’ll need to develop the habit of dealing with each email, one at a time, and disposing of each one quickly. Open each email and take quick action: 1) reply immediately (and file or delete the original); 2) delete; 3) file for later reference; 4) forward for delegation (and file or delete the original); 5) write down any necessary actions on your to-do list and file the email; or 6) put any that require a longer reply in an @reply folder for later. But be sure to get to your @reply folder once a day. By processing each email with one of these actions, you can clear out your inbox completely.

    4. Go cold turkey. OK, you’ve cleared your inbox and become more aware of your urges. Now’s the time for drastic action. Go one whole day without checking email. Gasp! That’s impossible! Not really. The world will not collapse if you don’t check email. Set up an autoresponder saying that you are not able to respond to email today because you are working on a major project (or are out of the office) and notifying recipients that they should call you if it requires a more urgent response. People will understand, trust me. Shut off your email notification — in fact, shut off the Internet completely. Now, use your email-less day to get a number of important tasks done!

    5. Set email processing times. If you were successful, and were able to go an entire day without email (and you can, really!), then you know that life will go on if you don’t read your email right away. Now you know you can live with less email. Set 2-3 specific times during the day when you will check and process your inbox. Something like 10, 2 and 4. Do not set it for first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Give yourself 15 minutes to process your inbox, set a timer when it’s your email time, and crank through your inbox. When the timer goes off, close your email client until the next time. Don’t open up your email until it’s your set email time.

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    6. Divert yourself. But I really need to check my email! The urge is too strong! You can do this, young jedi. When you feel an urge, drink a glass of water. Stand up and stretch. Take a short walk. Go work on your next task on your to-do list. Anything, anything, to divert you from actually giving in to the urge. And the urge will pass. And all will be right in the world.

    7. Clear your inbox again. When your email processing time comes up, try to clear out your inbox. Don’t let them pile up. If you can’t clear out your inbox during the allotted time, try and do it during your next email processing time. If you are consistently failing to clear your inbox, you need to either become more efficient at it, or increase your email processing time a little. Or best yet, reduce the amount of email you get by unsubscribing from mailing lists, asking friends and family not to forward inane joke or chain emails to you, filtering out senders who continue to do so, and not replying to emails that don’t really require a response.

    8. Manage expectations. But what if your co-workers or friends or associates expect a reply right away? Let them know that, in order to increase your productivity, you only check email twice a day, and that you are committed to answering them as promptly as possible within those two processing times. A politely-worded email from you to all of the people with whom you correspond should do the trick. If not, they’ll begin to understand after a few days.

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    9. Get stuff done. Now that you’re only checking email 2-3 times a day, for a total of less than an hour a day, you’ve got lots of time on your hands to actually get stuff done. Use it wisely. Adopt a “Do It Now” attitude, and really crank through your tasks. Work less, and go out and discover the rest of life.

    More by this author

    Leo Babauta

    Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

    How to Find Your Passion and Live a More Fulfilling Life The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life 67 Ideas to Simplify Your Life and Feel Better Today What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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