Millions of Blackberry users in the US were left without their favorite drug from 8pm EST Tuesday to 6am EST Wednesday last week, when technical problems at service provider Research In Motion cut off wireless e-mail access.
Some fumed, but others took a deep breath of relief. The brief escape was relished by a growing number of users who have realized that this digital leash often kills productivity instead of increasing it.
Not convinced? Let's compare Blackberries to the top anti-productivity product of all-time: good old-fashioned marijuana.
In 2005, a psychiatrist at King's College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana. Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hands, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points.
In a digital world of infinite distraction, it is "single-tasking"--shutting out interruption instead of facilitating it--that will save us. What's the alternative? Checking e-mail once every five minutes, then every minute, then every second? It's not a scalable coping mechanism.
One simple tool gaining popularity among tech workers in Silicon Valley is a new take on the vacation auto-responder (originally explored on the experiments in lifestyle design blog:
Dear All, In an effort to escape the inbox and get real work done [or "Due to pending deadlines/high workload"], I will be reading and responding to e-mail twice daily at 11am and 4pm PST [or whatever your timezone]. If you need a response before one of those two times, please don't hesitate to call me on my cell phone at 555-555-5555. Thanks! Tim
This resets expectations and allows you to focus on the important instead of the trivial but noisy. Afraid your boss will have an aneurysm? It's not unheard of, but it's less common than you think. The pendulum often swings in the opposite direction. Here is the response one employee received from his boss after implementing a longer auto-responder, adapted from "The 4-Hour Workweek" presentation at SXSW:
AWESOME time management approach!!! I would love to see more people adopt that policy. -C
Most people, bosses included, would love to check e-mail less but are afraid to be the first to suggest it. The world doesn't hiccup, let alone end, if you check e-mail twice a day instead of twice an hour. If it does, it usually means that your work culture rewards overwork to counter its own ineffectiveness. This is predicated on burnout and not a game worth winning. I have business e-mail down to once every 10-14 days and personal e-mail down to once per day. My company has never been more profitable, and I've never been happier. The next time you get the Crackberry urge, consider the option of being productive instead of being busy. Or, if that's too abstract, consider grabbing a joint instead -- you'll probably get more done.