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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.

    More by this author

    Leo Babauta

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

    Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time The Gentle Art of Saying No How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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