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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.

    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 Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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