As part of Live Happy’s 90 Days to a Happier You challenge, join managing editor Donna Stokes for part two of her blog series as she succeeds (for the most part) in her attempts to unplug from work email.
Once I started focusing on not checking email outside of work, I realized what a junkie I really am. I’d catch my arm twitching toward my phone or laptop almost reflexively at the oddest times—during commercials while watching my favorite TV shows, at stoplights driving to work (yes, still!), after paying online bills or calling family or friends.
Even at work, I had to stick a piece of Post-It note over the Outlook email icon to stop the distraction of those tiny numbers ticking upward. Wow, that variable ratio reward compulsion [[find link]] my coach Christine Carter talked about is certainly real.
Yet what better way to ensure accountability than having all of my work colleagues and my husband in on my challenge? If I return an email outside work hours, I get responses like “I’m going to tell your coach,” or “Shut it down now!” If I pull out my phone in the car or at a meal, my husband, Jim, will ask, “You’re not checking work email are you?”
If Live Happy magazine can’t learn to unplug from work, how can you expect others to? Christine’s question during one of our weekly sessions put the importance of this process in perspective for me. Midway through our challenge and suddenly the heat is on!
Stick to the schedule
Christine and I were going over obstacles, particularly my Number 1 hurdle of email overload, and I had just confessed to cheating now and then, answering emails during my work focus time—or outside regular hours—when they were from my boss or our remote creative director with whom I work very closely or from a colleague who needed a quick editing turnaround.
As final production deadlines neared, the importance (in my mind) of quick responses overwhelmed my willpower to stick to the schedule Christine had suggested in our first call. I’m listing it below, as for me it has been life-changing when I am able to stick to it.
9 a.m.: No work email in the mornings until I get into the office, where I have an hour and a half to work on clearing out the inbox.
10:30 to 11:00 a.m.: Short walk or break from the computer without a phone.
11 a.m. to noon: Focus time to complete a “think” task like writing or editing.
Noon to 12:20 p.m.: Lunch break away from a computer of phone, all the better if it can be spent catching up with co-workers or reading for pleasure.
12:30 to 1 p.m.: Second of three allotted times to check and respond to email during the day.
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Focus time for completing scheduled items on my to-do list.
4 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Third daily opportunity to respond to and sort email and to zero out my Inbox and finish up with the day’s to-do list.
Amid the obstacles I have also found amazing early success. My once disastrous mornings are transformed. I’ve replaced reading work emails while eating cereal with reading The New York Times on my tablet and sometimes even allowing myself to complete the mini-crossword of the day while savoring coffee or tea. I get in a few minutes of exercise, like situps, squats, pushups or jumping jacks before getting dressed and heading to work with an uncluttered mind and less stress.
What are your unplugging challenges and successes? Share them here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donna Stokes is Live Happy's managing editor.