|The original smart phone?|
When Kelly and I do a book appearance one of the most common questions is, “How do you have time for all this stuff?” Our response is two parts. The first is to say that we don’t recommend people try to do everything in our book but, instead, focus on the things you like to do most. The time will appear as your interests and priorities shift. The second is that we don’t watch TV.
That being said, there are many places in modern life from which to “harvest” some time other than from evening TV-viewing hours. Email is where I’ve begun my time harvesting lately. While incredibly useful, email has become a daily, herculean task. It’s also a medium that’s as addictive as crack (there has been debate about including email addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Like lab rats waiting for a treat to shoot down a slot, we get rewarded via stimulation for for checking it constantly.
This is where a suggestion in a book I otherwise strongly dislike1, Timothy Ferris’ The 4-Hour Workweek, comes in handy. Ferris suggests checking your email twice a day, at 11 AM and 4 PM. Why these two times? He believes that we get our best work done early in the morning and that it’s best to have that morning period uninterrupted by distractions such as email. Ferris suggests that if you were to map out a day in which you checked email constantly you would see a huge amount of time wasted just through the short but high frequency of interruptions.
By checking email once at 11 and 4 you have a chance of getting a response before the end of the day. To do this you “train” your family, friends and co-workers by placing a footer at the bottom of your email to inform them when you check your email. Mine reads,
I check my email at noon and after the sun sets. If your needs are more urgent please give me a call at [HOME NUMBER]. Bloggin’ at www.rootsimple.com. Co-author (with Kelly Coyne) of the Urban Homestead (Process Media) and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World (Rodale).
It would be cranky, but I’ve thought about reminding people that my phone number connects you to this device:
I may have to add on to that email footer:
I check my email at noon and after the sun sets. If your needs are more urgent, lease give me a call at [HOME NUMBER]. Regarding my communication device, the Western Electric 500 desktop telephone: It does not allow me to see what your number is, so do not be surprised if I don’t know who is calling. It is wired to the wall and, thus, not “mobile”. If you hear a “busy signal” (oldsters can tell you what that sounds like) it means I’m talking to someone else and don’t even know you’re trying to call. You should call again later. The Western Electric 500 does not function as a map, camera, meat thermometer or allow me to update my Facebook page. But it has a nice ring, and I do love hearing the sound of your voice. Bloggin’ at www.rootsimple.com. Co-author (with Kelly Coyne) of some books printed on paper.
But that would be rude. Plus I do have a “mobile” communicator though I don’t give that number out, because I hate getting calls on it while I’m out and about and doing things.
But I digress. I’ve also worked on reducing email before it gets to me by sending many a newsletter and press release to my crack spam detection unit. And I deleted my email-generating Linkedin account (someone please explain Linkedin to me). If I could delete my Facebook profile I would, but I still find it useful for keeping in touch with friends and readers. And if I could shorten my emails to the length of the typical Morse code transaction I would, but that strategy, I fear, would get misinterpreted as brusqueness.
My new email twice a day regime seems to be working. I’m getting a lot more work done. Now I want to be clear that I’m not anti–technology. I like email and find cellphones useful in many circumstances. I just think that we need, as Douglas Rushkoff put it, a “time out” to sort out what’s useful and what is a time suck. I’d rather use email and cellphones as a tool to help other people, to garden, to do all the things I love to do. Taming the email beast has been a useful first time management step for me.
Leave a comment and tell us how you deal with email!
1. Why do I dislike The Four Hour Work Week? I think with this book and The 4-Hour Body, Ferris simply sat down and asked, “how do I write a best selling book?” Let’s see, what topics should I cover? What do people care most about? Flat abs? check. Money? check. Sex? check, etc. Sort through the hyperbole in these two hefty tomes and you’re left with a few sentences of decent advice.