Tame the Email Beast and Have Time To Run Your Urban Homestead

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.

Learn to Build With Earth: Adobe in Action Workshops

Adobe master Kurt Gardella has announced a series of both hands-on and online adobe classes for the spring. I had the great privilege of taking a hands-on adobe brick making workshop as well as an online adobe oven building workshop with Kurt last year. We did a blog post about the brick making workshop.

You can see a listing of Kurt’s online classes, which cover everything from foundations to building permits, here. He is also teaching an AIA certificate program that is both live (in New Mexico) or online that you can sign up for here.

I’m also pleased to announce that we’ll be hosting an adobe oven class with Kurt here in Los Angeles in May. Details to follow. 

Is This Egg Good?

From left: Very Fresh • Pretty Fresh • Bad • Cat

When you’re wondering about the age of an egg, put it in glass of water.

Really fresh eggs lie on the bottom the glass, flat. These are the eggs you want for poaching and other dishes where the egg is the star.

If one end bobs up a bit, as does the middle egg above, the egg is older, but still good. The upward tilt can be more extreme than it is in this picture. In fact, the egg can even stand up straight, just so long as it is still sitting on the bottom of the glass. The egg in picture above is just a tiny bit past absolutely fresh, but still very suitable for egg dishes. If it were standing up a little more, I’d use it for baking or hard boiling. Indeed, older eggs are best for hard boiling, because fresh eggs are impossible to peel.

What you don’t want to see is a floating egg. A floating egg is a bad egg. (Like a witch!) Old eggs float because the mass inside the egg decreases–dries out–over time, making it lighter. I personally don’t trust any floating egg, but I do know that other people draw a distinction between eggs that float low and eggs that float high, and only discard the high floaters. And I honor their courage.

Stop SOPA and PIPA

We don’t normally do politics on this blog but today we’re making an exception. It’s our belief that two bills working their way through congress, SOPA and PIPA, will significantly impact freedom of speech on the Internet. For more info on these two bills see a blog post by the Electronic Frontier Foundation,  How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation.