I’ll Give You 30 Minutes Back in Your Day With Just Two Mouse Clicks

You’ve got Outlook (or some other mail program) open, right?

Click File. Click Exit.

Now go and get some work done. Don’t reopen Outlook for at least three hours. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Context switching is expensive for an operating system: service one program for a bit, save its state, restore the state of a second program — oh, wait, that driver is requesting service, so put everything else on hold for a moment….

Context switching is even more expensive for a human being.

You rarely have to be on email. You’re addicted to it; many of us are.

Wean yourself. Start by turning off the new-mail sound and cursor flash. Then turn off the “toasts” (blue ghosties) that fade in and out of the bottom corner of the screen.

As a next step, put your mail program behind your other windows. Try it for 30 minutes, then for an hour, then for three hours.

If the world hasn’t ended, go for the big step — shut down your mail program.

Want to talk with someone on your hall? Get up and walk to their office. Or pick up the phone. Or simply hold your question for a bit.

I guarantee you’ll get more done. You’ll even feel better about your day, less stressed and rushed, once you get over the awful feeling that the world is going by without you.

It mostly goes by without you anyway. Email is just the illusion of control, of being in the center of things.

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The great benefit of Email from the start was its asynchronous nature.

The phone interrupts. Email waits patiently until you are ready.

At least that’s the way it was designed. Do you really want to turn Email into call-waiting? (“I don’t know who’s calling, but they’re more important than you are, which is why I’m putting you on hold to see who it is.”)

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What do you do with those 30+ minutes?

You can think. Put in concentrated time on a project. Really analyze a spreadsheet or report. Understand the invariably bogus statistics behind the substitute metrics in your scorecard. Learn more about the industry you’re a part of. Actually talk with your team and your peers. Take a walk. Go home early; play your guitar or play with the kids.

Or how about this: you work about 240 days a year, give or take. Gain 30 minutes a day, and that’s three full weeks a year. What would you give for three extra weeks vacation?

Three extra weeks of vacation without having to move to Europe. Two clicks.

Of course, you have to take that vacation half an hour at a time; on the other hand, you get a bit of vacation every day.

Now it’s time to go play with my kids. I’ll check Email after they go to bed… but not until then.

  — Steve

(After I wrote but before I posted this, the NYTimes published an article about the difficulty of human multitasking.)

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