I have a small evil Toast-twin who rubs her hands in Loki-like glee every time I firmly coach someone to delete all their email. I admit it. I love the shocked expression, the physical withdrawal, the worry, the angst, the existential crisis triggered by statements like: “Delete your Facebook app”; “Turn off notifications… all of them”; “Throw away absolutely everything currently in or own your desk. Everything.”; “Reject any meeting request you know will be a complete waste of your time, walk out of meetings when it’s clear there is no purpose to your being there.”
And yet, these recommendations are the cornerstones to most regimes designed to improve productivity and time management. From the 4-hour work week to Inbox Zero to 7 habits, the crux of getting your time under control is taking control of your time. When you do that… when you prioritise your own attention and give it the respect and care
it deserves… you take ownership of yourself in ways you probably haven’t seen or felt since you were a small child.
But what you give up, the hero sacrifice required to win the day, is any pretence that what other people need or want is your top priority. It’s a combination of FOMO (fear of missing out), existential angst (if I miss something will I get harmed), and manners (I don’t want other people to feel bad) that keeps you reading through a 15 message email thread or prevents you from walking out of a 2 hr workshop that should have been a 10 minute conversation with a 1/3 of the people in the room. It’s fear of having forgotten something or needing it again or someone asking for a thing that keeps you from deleting all your mail and makes you pile hard copy in mounds and drawers and stacks. It’s a sense of social obligation to a set of norms which frankly are no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. Information and the ability to access it is virtually free and endless. Time and attention are the scarcest most valuable resource around, in fact the only truly commodifiable resource on the Internet and increasingly in the white collar business economy.
Stop being so damn polite and careful with everyone but yourself.
“Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn't take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that's taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can't handle that one tiny thing.” ~ Merlin Mann