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The tortoise approach to reducing email overload

Posted Sunday October 6th, 2013, 3:50 pm by

Over the last month I have noticed myself increasingly unable to focus and do any blue sky thinking.  Is it age?  ‘When I am Sixty Four’ by the Beetles does have a certain resonance with me.  Having just won two significant pieces of silver on the golf course, given a couple of major presentations  and been recruiting for a new CEO for the Dorset Chamber of Commerce that might not seem likely. Then  I checked my email and social networking behavior.

Tortoise approach to email overload

Tortoise approach to email overload

Several articles have caught my attention recently.  Two related to the tortoise and hare fable.  First was Schumpeter’s ‘In praise of laziness’ and second was Susie Boyt’s ‘Tortoises knows a thing or two’.  Both urge us to slow down and know when it’s time to stop and take stock.  We are bombarded with emails night and day and the urge to check them every few minutes has created two serious new diseases: email overload and email addiction both of which I have frequently written.  Was I now falling victim to  one of both of them?

The third article to make me sit up was Emma Jacobs’s ‘Help to get a good night’s sleep’.  Checking your emails late at night is know to be disruptive and can result in disturbed sleep patterns.  In this recent article by Emma Jacobs she again stresses the need for down time to create a quiet mind which in turns enables us to focus and feel less stressed.

Monitoring my connectivity for 48 hours I realised I had slipped into some appalling and destructive habits:

  • checking my emails late at night after an evening meeting/night out socially;
  • letting new emails disturb my train of thought;
  • simply deleting unwanted newsletters etc rather than unsubscribing;
  • surfing Twitter and social networking sites for no particular reason – well maybe to see if anyone had picked on one of my posts.


In short I was suffering from chronic email and information overload which in turn was creating attention deficit.  Here is the five point action plan I prescribed myself.

  1. Hibernate my inbox from unwanted emails: be ruthlessly unsubscribing from every newsletter I delete because it is of no interest (either opened or not).

    Email overload medicine

    Email overload medicine

  2. Hibernate all my electronic devices between 10.00 pm and 8.00 am. (If anyone really needs me they know my landline number.)
  3. Hibernate my inbox for at least one hour intervals and hence reduce the number of times I check my emails.
  4. Hibernate the email function of my smart phone fifteen minutes before meetings and whilst out walking and socialising.
  5. Hibernate after reading emails and remember that not every email needs a reply.

In other words become a tortoise more often during the day and take time to look around, smell the roses, and let my mind wander free of clutter and other people’s actions lists.  Is the anti-email overload medicine working.  Its early days but my mind does seem quieter and gradually I am regaining my ability to blue sky and think outside the box.  Next is to re-start practicing mindfulness and review my eating habits.



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