I am currently reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. I’m going to reserve my opinion on the value of the book overall, but there have been little lessons that are immediately applicable to my life. He has several tips on maximizing your effectiveness and productivity by minimizing distractions and setting yourself up with really tight deadlines.
On the former issue, I’ve decided to control the distractions e-mails create in my life.
Many people have e-mail software open constantly when they work. Or even when they don’t work. E-mails are set up to be forwarded to your phone, for example. I don’t know if it beeps or buzzes when you receive e-mails (I don’t do internet on my phone — in fact, we’re looking at ditching cell phones, too, eventually).
First of all, don’t check e-mail when you first fire up your computer in the morning.
Instead, work on truly important tasks. The best kinds are those tasks that are important but don’t have pressing, externally-imposed (meaning, you’re accountable to someone else) deadlines. What Stephen Covey defines as the “second-quadrant” work. Professional or personal development is a good example of things to work on first thing in the morning.
Second, define a schedule for when you check your e-mail. This depends on the nature of your job — some jobs, your central task is to respond to e-mails quickly, so you’ll have to temper it accordingly. Try to contain it to as few times as possible. Right now I’m trying out twice a day: once at noon and once at 4pm. I’ve turned off automatic checking and receiving of e-mails in my Thunderbird so if I do have to work on sending e-mails, I can open it up without getting distracted by incoming e-mails.
Once I set up this structure, I immediately noticed a sense of relief. I can concentrate on my tasks at hand better, and my productivity has gone up.
We like receiving e-mails. It’s like a kid in the candy store — you get excited unwrapping the candy and popping it in your mouth. Sometimes you don’t know what it tastes like, and that’s part of the excitement.
Except this artificially induced sugar high is not sustainable. After a little while, you come down from your high and your mood goes lower than before having the candy. You’ll start looking for another candy to relieve the low.
The same thing happens with e-mails and internet. You crave that high and stimulation of receiving e-mails and finding engaging articles to read. But once you get started down the path, you can’t settle down and be comfortable in a less stimulating environment. For example, if you start surfing YouTube, all the sudden listening to music or reading a book doesn’t seem exciting enough. Video is more engaging — and your system gets adjusted to that, and the less attention-grabbing stimuli of reading or listening just doesn’t satisfy you.
The trick is to keep such drastic stimulations at bay. Your system is perfectly capable of finding satisfaction in less invasive environment. In fact, that state is more sustainable and more wholistic.
You can concentrate better, remember more details, and feel peaceful easily.
E-mails are a great tool, don’t get me wrong. But stopping to depend on the high of checking e-mails and letting incoming e-mails interrupt your thoughts ultimately yield better results — more productive and peaceful self.
Once you try it, you won’t go back. Control your e-mails, instead of letting them have their ways with you.