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Disconnected Productivity: 9-Step Program to Cure Email Addiction

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.

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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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