In his book, 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Farriss addresses the question — How much time do you spend looking at your email inbox and is it the most productive use of your time? Personally, my honest answer to the question was staggering. I was checking my email multiple times an hour. My reasoning behind this frequency was that I wanted to keep my inbox clean. An empty inbox is a perfect inbox, right? Tim suggested otherwise. A new email equals a new interruption.
While this may seem simple, it has been hugely helpful for me — things that bring interruption take me out of the present moment. Even a moment of interruption will take me away from the present task or individual I am engaging. In response to this idea, I decided to try a week long experiment. What if I removed my iPhone from the interruption equation for a week? What would I miss? Or would I even miss anything of value? Here are a few small changes that I made during that week that I have since adopted as lifestyle. This has been absolutely groundbreaking for my quality of life. I kid you not — quality of life.
Interruption by email
The first and most obvious response to this concept was simple. Phil… stop checking your email so much. That’s easy to say, but so hard to do, especially when my iPhone tells me exactly how many emails I am missing out on right there on my home screen!
Did you know that you can actually remove that little red alert number in the corner of your mail icon?
Settings –> Notifications –> Mail –> Badge App Icon –> Off
But honestly, let’s be real… why not go a step further and simply turn off notifications all together?!
Settings –> Notifications –> Mail –> Allow Notifications –> Off
Now before you go all freak out on me and tell me all the reasons why you need to know the moment you receive an email… wrestle through the following question. Which is more valuable to you, your ability to read and respond to an email instantly or your ability to be present in the task or with the individual right in front of you? …Insert creative project, task, friend, spouse, child HERE.
Now I understand that there are people who do need to be accessible all the time, but the question is, should people actually be using email when they need a timely response? This might take a little training, but why not encourage people to text you for a more timely response?
The second thing I did was, I removed my mail icon from the home screen of my iPhone altogether. I moved it one over so that it wouldn’t be staring me in the face every time I unlocked my iPhone.
I then set a specific time each day (or every few days) to check my mail. I allotted about thirty minutes to an hour each day around midday to work through email. Messages I needed to go back to found their way into my calendar. Emails I could reply to quickly got a short response. And in cases where I knew the person would be sending me timely information, I simply asked them to give me the needed information in a call or a text.
Interruption by text message
Once I worked through this filter for email, everything else fell like dominos.
Why do I need to be on call 24–7 for the off chance that someone will possibly send me a text message?
Once again, here is the question to wrestle through. Which is more valuable to you, your ability to read and respond instantly to a text message or your ability to be present in the task or with the individual right in front of you? …Insert creative project, task, friend, spouse, child HERE.
Our information infused culture demands that we respond immediately to every ping that comes our way. There is an overarching sense of rudeness or that it is uncourteous to wait an hour, or heaven forbid, three to four days to respond to a text message! But why? It’s true… we may miss out on the most recent series of .gif files filling our message app from one of our many group texts or we may even miss the reminder to say happy birthday to so-and-so on their actual birthday and we may have to recover the next day… but, think about the trade off! We are being given the opportunity to be present within our day with the people and projects that are right in front of us, and in doing so, we are taking back control and determining our own priorities.
Once again, to respond to this practically, I did the following.
Settings –> Notifications –> Messages –> Allow Notifications –> Off
WHAT?!?! Can we really get away with this? Of course we can.
I am now able to check my text messages a few times a day on my own terms. I receive no alerts and there are no numbers next to my messages icon.
A side note, if I’m waiting on on a specific email or text from a specific person and don’t want to wade into the abyss of my inbox when I’m not ready to do so, Seri comes in very handy.
Holding home button –> ” Seri, read any unread message — or email — from so&so.”
If you do in fact have an unread message/email from this person, Seri will read it to you and ask if you would like to reply, without ever opening your mail or message app. Pretty cool.
Interruption by phone call… gasp!
Since I was on a roll, I thought… why not? There’s this handy feature on the iPhone called Do Not Disturb. This feature allows calls, texts, notifications to ping your phone and not make a sound. I know, wild. So I took a step deeper into my experiment. Unless I am waiting on an important call, I leave my phone on Do Not Disturb all day long.
Settings –> Do Not Disturb –> Manual –> On
There is one exception to Do Not Disturb mode. My wife. Solution — a cool function of Do Not Disturb is the option to allow calls from your favorites list. So, my favorites list consists of my wife, Becky. If I’m waiting for a call back from someone, they get to land on my favorites list until I get the call. Other than that. Anyone who calls will get a response from me when I have time in my day to check and respond to my calls.
Settings –> Do Not Disturb –> Allow Calls From –> Favorites
Phone –> Favorites –> + (add favorite)
The opposite problem?
You may be on the opposite side of the spectrum… You never get back to people and you need to check your email/text/whatever more often. I feel like the same rules apply. Don’t let it take over your life or your thoughts, but don’t ignore communication either. Find specific space in your week for checking and replying to your pings. Reply to the necessary and disregard the unnecessary. Just because you received an email/text/voicemail/direct-message/etc… doesn’t mean you are obligated to reply back. Before you set out to please everyone in the world, make sure you are taking care of yourself and are making time for your nonnegotiables.
Non interruption by lifestyle
What started as a week long experiment has become a lifestyle. I have yet to miss out on anything too important. And even for those moments where it would have been nice to be alerted immediately, the trade off is worth it for me. I feel more centered in my life and more present in my projects, with the people I work with, with my wife and kids, and with my friends. Even when I have a little extra time here or there, instead of going to my creative distractors I can simply stand in line at the grocery store and ponder a question I’ve been working through, open up my kindle app and enjoy a few minutes of reading, or even spend a moment in thankful prayer. Or I can just take it all in — How do I feel? What do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? I can choose to be present in my life experience. Its opportunities like these that help me slow down and take pleasure in the present moment. And I much prefer life as a series of creative, meaningful, and enjoyable moments.