We’re all addicts.
Tim’s book The Four Hour Work Week has an entire section devoted to “Elimination”: getting rid of distractions that keep you from being effective. The biggest offenders are “work fidgets” – things we do that we don’t really need to do but they fill time. Like checking email 20 times a day.
Recognizing myself as an addict, I started with the suggestion of turning off those pop-up notifications and the envelope letting me know I have a new message. To see if I had new email I had to actually click on the “Inbox” window.
That was surprisingly easy. I didn’t even notice how lovely it was until I was on my other computer, on which I hadn’t turned off notifications yet, and realized how frickin annoying it is to have something pop up and interrupt you. So I turned it off there too.
So far so good.
But today I wanted to try something new: Tim’s imperative: don’t check email first thing in the morning.
I knew this was going to be more difficult. For years, email has been the first thing I check in the morning (sometimes even before peeing, and definitely before breakfast), and the last thing I check before bed.
So this morning, I’ve been up since 9:30 and it’s now 10:30 and I haven’t checked it (I turned off Outlook last night and set a goal to wait till noon today to open it again), and let me tell you I am jonesing for it. I feel physically stressed from not being able to check it and get my morning hit. Swear to God, my heart rate is elevated just thinking about those messages going unread, sitting there for hours, lonely and unanswered in their queue…
I didn’t realize just how much of an addict I am.
Sure, whenever I am on vacation, my friends all joke about how I can’t go more than a few hours. Whenever we would go do something, I check it before we left, and check it as soon as I got back. But hey, that’s just because I have Very Important Work to check on!
Tim’s point, which I agree with, is that we think email is urgent but it really isn’t. It’s just this way we justify our addiction. But you have to try breaking the addiction to see that. Have faith! Reclaim your life!
And his second point is you never have any uninterrupted time to do what is actually important if you are constantly responding to email like a monkey in a cage.
So here are my steps to weaning myself. To be taken at my own pace and done conscientiously (I’m not a cold turkey kind of girl):
1. This wasn’t in the book, but a few months ago I set up an email solely for newsletters, list-servs, and other cruft and changed all my subscriptions to that email. For the ones that I couldn’t change without a hassle, I set up rules in Outlook to direct them to a different folder. Just to get them out of my Inbox. This was amazingly helpful in eliminating a huge # of emails in my inbox, and I realized I don’t really care to read most of those newsletters anyway. I check that email about once or twice a month now when I’m really bored.
2. Turn off all new message alerts. This was awesome.
3. Turn off auto-download so you have to deliberately press Send/Receive to get new messages. I haven’t done this, b/c I’m skipping to #4, but it could be a good intermediate step.
4. Turn off Outlook and only open it purposely to check messages. I’m working this step now.
5. Do not check messages first thing in the morning. Hint: find something to replace this activity. This morning I did stretches, read a bit, and oh, that thing called breakfast.
6. Do not check messages first thing in your workday either. (Whilst I was not checking my email this morning, I made a list of things I wanted to do today that didn’t involve email. Writing this post was one of them. The point is to use your bright morning brain juice on the most important things, of which email never is.)
This is about where I’m at right now. I am just starting on the above 3 steps, so the one below I haven’t tried yet. It’s from the The Four Hour Work Week.
7. Set up times to do email, starting with twice or three times per day, such as 12 noon, 4pm, and 8pm. Then eliminate time points, going down to twice per day, once per day, once every other day, etc till you are down to once a week (well, if you want to be like Tim. I think twice a day, and the ability to take days off, is fine with me).
Now it could be that I try this and don’t like it and find myself more effective with more ready access to email. But the point is I want to try it. I want to understand just how addicted I am because I don’t want anything ruling me like that. I don’t want a physiological craving for email for chrissake. I mean, if I’m going to be an addict I’d rather a more interesting addiction like opium or pop rocks (just kidding). 😉
Emma, I saw this post last Thursday and it was absolutely perfectly timed. I was running around trying to tie up loose ends before I took off for a five-day camping trip, and had been toying with the idea of picking up a new book for the weekend. I barely finished reading your post before I grabbed my wallet and left the office to go to Barnes and Noble and get the Four Hour Workweek.
An hour later, my coworker suggested that I leave my Treo behind for the camping trip.
It all folded together weirdly perfectly, directing me to the first five days I have ever spent without email access in ELEVEN YEARS.
And it was amazing. I can’t even describe the surreal sense of freedom (and confusion) I experienced.
The book is inspiring and a fun read, but I have the same gripe you do — his formula is about minimizing work because passion/fulfillment is unsustainable, and I think that’s silly. There is absolutely a balance to be had there.
Thank you for writing about it.
Oh, and I hate the cover. I had to pull off the dust jacket in order to be able to read it on front of other people. Silly me.
Oh, and my current email experiment: I set my Thunderbird to check my personal account every hour instead of every ten minutes. And I’m already finding myself manually hitting the “get mail” button. ::sigh::
The worst, though, is sleeping with my treo next to my bed and checking my email when i wake up in the middle of the night. Now THAT has to stop!
Oh, I so know what you mean, I haven’t been untethered from the computer for more than 24 hours in years. It’s disturbing really. I’m sure it affects me on all kinds of subtle levels.
One of my goals for 2008 is to go on 4 trips that are at least 5 days where I leave my computer at home. I am going to be seriously working on automation and elimination from now till the end of the year!
I fell of the wagon of my “no morning email” experiment pretty quickly, and so I realized a whole passel more mindfulness is going to be required to change my habits. I kind of live in my inbox. It’s my todo list. And I check it like it’s a dying patient or something. I so don’t need to, but I’m clearly very keyed into it.
So I’m in the process of becoming more aware of what my relationship to email is currently, envisioning what I want it to be, and then figuring out how to get there. I’m surprised at how *unconscious* it has become. That’s the real sticky part.
I think I need to read Tim’s “elimination” chapter about 5 more times. =)