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Email is Not the Problem – You Are

Email is Not the Problem – You Are

Can you count the hours you spent on emails this month? How about this week, or even today? I’m pretty sure you can’t.

In the maelstrom of our office and personal life, email has become a cornerstone of our daily activity for good and bad. Spending countless hours checking email has become a habit ingrained in our subconscious. Checking and managing email has the potential to become a sinkhole for just about anyone.

In 2013, the typical corporate email user sends and receives an estimate of 115 emails; that’s roughly 2.5 hours every day spent only on writing them. That doesn’t leave the “typical corporate email user” much time to do anything else and is why we must learn how to process email better.

“Our biggest job is to define what our work is.” Peter Drucker

Keep in mind that email is just a tool for doing your job; it’s not meant to replace your job specs and objectives.

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Measuring and monitoring your email habits will bring much needed structure, and since we’re dealing with a considerable chunk of your day, it will also raise your productivity.

We might start with the best of intentions, but unless we deal with some “hidden” forces, the battle won’t be won. There are a few things that you need to know about your email habits — things that aren’t entirely within your control…

Force number #1: Our lizard brain

There’s a part of our brain that always strives for perfection. It drives meticulous behaviors and ultimately, makes us waste disproportionate amounts of time on tasks that are sometimes trivial in nature — our lizard brain.

“The lizard brain is on high alert to make sure that everything is okay. The lizard brain can’t rest until it knows that everyone likes us, that no one is offended, that all graphs are ticking up and to the right, and the future is assured. But of course, the future (and the present) isn’t perfect. It can’t be.” Seth Godin

By the way, that’s why we mark emails as unread. We want the conditions to be perfect when we open our email, and “the here and now” is never perfect, so maybe later. Try to understand, the conditions will never be perfect, so you’ll have to make things work for you. That’s why you should never open an email, and mark it “unread;” make sure you only touch it once and process it (coming to you from the GTD Master – David Allen).

Force Number #2: FOMO – Fear of missing out

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a behavior we’ve cultivated through years of evolution. Evolution, through natural selection, preferred the “FOMO gene” and pushed it up the ladder because a hunter-gatherer with FOMO is a better hunter-gatherer. Curiosity and a need to reap as many rewards as possible brought us to this point in time but, alas, nowadays, FOMO doesn’t serve us as well.

FOMO is one of the major reasons we open emails the second we receive them. Our Smartphones (or perhaps I should call them something else…) even help distract us with sounds and flashing lights each time a new email or text message arrives. Yes…text messages are just another form of email — the name doesn’t trick me.

Sure, you’re probably telling yourself that it’s just your way of managing your tasks better. But you fail to realize that you are managing nothing! Your emails and texts are managing you! This may be a key driver in missing deadlines, failing to set priorities, and not completing tasks, which ultimately may prevent you from sleeping well at night, i.e. the Zeigarnik effect.

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That’s why you need to schedule opening emails during a designated time frame and no more than two to three times per day.

Force number #3: Depression

Yes, I said it…Depression. A study published on 2011 by Sriram Chellappan from the Missouri University of Science and Technology suggests that people suffering from depression engage in a very high level of email usage.

“Study participants with depressive symptoms tended to engage in very high e-mail usage. This perhaps was to be expected: research by the psychologists Janet Morahan-Martin and Phyllis Schumacher has shown that frequent checking of e-mail may relate to high levels of anxiety, which itself correlates with depressive symptoms.” Sriram Chellappan NYTimes 06/12.

This doesn’t mean that if you spend hours upon hours on emails, you’re suffering from depression; it means that people who are suffering from depression tend to spend more time on emails. Why? Because you may be looking for ways to lift your spirit, and your brain remembers how to occupy you in pursuit of online happiness.

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To make things worse, we also find ourselves nowadays surrounded by environmental forces influencing our ability to process emails, like increased email consumption via mobile, which prolongs the amount of time we spend on emails.

Add to the mix an unsatisfied lizard brain, a FOMO tendency, and the above mentioned Zeigarnik effect and you get one depressive concoction that makes things worse for people who already suffer from depression, so be aware.

Historical statistics show that the amount of emails we process on a daily basis is only going to increase as technology progresses, challenging us both physically and mentally. Preparing ourselves and learning about ways to process emails more efficiently and in a more organized way is a must if we want to be more productive!

More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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