Unsubscribe

Hurry Slowly

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I’ve been listening to a really great podcast the last few weeks called Hurry Slowly. Last year I wrote about a book I was reading called Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei. It was a book about how to start using email as a tool to get things done and how to stop allowing email to distract you. It was an excellent book and if you are willing to follow its guidance it can literally change your life.

Well, Jocelyn K. Glei is back except this time it is with a podcast called Hurry Slowly.

”Hurry Slowly is a new podcast about how you can be more productive, creative, and resilient through the simple act of slowing down.”

The tag line for the podcast really doesn’t do it justice. Just like the Unsubscribe book, the Hurry Slowly podcast is a well thought out a professionally executed piece of work. Every episode of the podcast is about a different topic that can help you both make your life a little less hectic and stressful all while allowing you to get more out of life and get more done...yes, all of these things can be done at the same time! So far Jocelyn has had a different guest each that talks about an aspect of how to do just that. The first few episodes have been very interesting:

Episode 001 - Jason Fried, the Basecamp co-founder and CEO talks about how to deal with constant daily interruptions. Seriously, this just described my typical day at work so this one really spoke to me.

Episode 002 - Florence Williams the author of The Nature Fix talks about how even small doses of nature can significantly boost your productivity. If you ever needed an excuse to go out for a walk in the woods, a park or a beach give this episode a listen.

Episode 003 - Craig Mod, a designer, talks about how technology today tends to be designed to grab and keep your attention rather than just enabling you to do a task quickly and efficiently and then allow you to move on. Smartphones have permeated our society so much that even having your smartphone sitting near you can drain away your cognitive energy. He also talks about why he thinks the Apple Watch is just about the worst tech product to ever come out because of how distracting it can be. I take a little bit of exception to his dig on the Apple Watch, but I understand and agree with his point. Most people setup and allow the Apple Watch to notify them of WAY too many things and I do not. I use my Apple Watch as a way to keep all but the most critical notifications away from me until I allow myself to be distracted by them. In case you missed it I wrote up a blog post a while back about how I setup my Apple Watch notifications to free myself from being chained to my iPhone.

I can’t recommend this podcast enough. If you find yourself constantly stressed out and you feel like you can never get enough done then its worth your time to give the Hurry Slowly podcast a listen.

Book Review: Unsubscribe

Just a few weeks ago my entire family went on our first ever week-long cruise. So of course I took a long several books to enjoying while lounging by the pool or on the beach. One of those books was "Unsubscribe" by Jocelyn K. Glei. The tag line from the cover of the book is "How to kill email anxiety, avoid distractions, and get real work done." The book totally delivered on its promise, now the only question was whether I could live up to my end of the bargain.

I'm one of those people that is really into technology, so it should come as no shock that I carry my smartphone everywhere I go. And I do mean everywhere. Somewhere along the way I got into the habit of checking my email from my smartphone many (many, many) times a day. I didn't realize just how many times a day I would check my email until I started reading "Unsubscribe." It turns out there has been some research done on the habit of email checking. Humans have a bit of rat brain. Let me explain. Back in the 1930's a psychologist named B.F. Skinner did a series of tests with a device called the "operant conditioning chamber" which later became known as the "Skinner Box." The whole purpose of the device was to test the effects of positive reinforcements on rats. Great, so what does this rat experiment have to do with humans checking their email. It turns out that when a rat or a human is given some kind of random positive item (in the case of the rat it was a treat and in the case of us humans it is an email that we were looking forward to receiving or maybe even not expecting at all but it had good news) it releases chemical in our brains as a response to that positive thing. It has been proven that this chemical release is actually very habit forming and addictive. So over the years as we all get random emails (some good and some bad) we have trained ourselves and become slightly (some more so than just slightly) addicted to checking our email. We literally get a "fix" be checking our email repeatedly throughout the day. This was explained within the first few pages of the book and it was enough to grab my attention.

The book goes on to explain just how disruptive checking email can be to someone who is trying to accomplish things other than email. It is devastating. Each time you check your email it takes you away from another task and it takes time to re-focus back on the task you were doing before being distracted by email. Wow, this just described everyday at work for me (and at home for that matter). This doesn't mean that email can't be extremely important. In my day job most of my critical communications and work for that matter take place via email. But there is a lot of noise in my email inbox as well. So how do you approach email in a way that still allows you to address critical emails in a timely manner while not allowing all the "spammy" type emails and other non-spam but not critical emails to keep you from being productive. Its actually pretty simple. The answer is summarized below in a series of bullets but the exact implementation of these items will depend on your exact situation (one size does not fit all):

  • Do your most important work 1st. So do 60-90 minutes of important work BEFORE you check email in the morning.
  • Only check email 2-3 times a day (not 23 times a day)
  • Specify blocks of time each day that are dedicated to processing email (schedule calendar events for this if you have to)
  • Don't leave the email app on your computer running, even in the background, during the day. Only open the email app when you are processing email.

There is a lot more to the book than just the 4 items above, but these are the most important take always. For me, I am now not checking email until at least an hour after I get to work each morning. I typically work from home for about an hour so that gets me almost 2 hours of work in before I crack open pandora's box (better known as my email inbox). In order for me to get away with only checking my email a few times a day I had to customize a few things. Since email is my main mode of communication at work I needed a way to be notified when a really important email came in that needed my attention before my next email processing block of time. So I setup a very short list of VIPs on my work provided iPhone. That way, anytime I get an email from anyone on that VIP list a notification pops up on my iPhone screen. I'm in a unique situation in that I have 2 iPhones, one personal iPhone and one work iPhone. Because I have a personal iPhone I am able to use my work provided iPhone strictly for managing work emails. That allows me to setup my work iPhone as a 3rd monitor (next to my 2 computer monitors) so that when a VIP email comes in I see the notification pop up on my work iPhone lock screen.

The book is a fascinating read and you can get through it in just a few hours. If you spend a decent amount of time checking email everyday I highly suggest you take a look at this book...it just might change or life. Worst case scenario, you will be a lot less distracted and a lot more productive.

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