My day often starts at 5 AM (I learned in grad school that sleep is highly overrated.) My alarm clock is a BlackBerry 8800 (the latest model, thank you), which I use each morning to check for messages, news, and my calendar of events which dictates what to wear that day. My workout is comprised of MP3 files of executive book summaries or other recommended reading from my mentor and friend, Alan Weiss, PhD.
These “checking rituals” of my BlackBerry are not that dissimilar to acts associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, says Dr. Michael Genike, a professor of psychiatrics at Harvard Medical School. I have been known to become what is considered clinically compulsive if I haven’t completed the task of checking for new messages. Any temporary relief is soon overcome by the need to “check” again (Mrs. Nour has laid the law of not at dinner and not in the bedroom). I even sneak it in my luggage and check it in secret on vacations.
I have received a lot of advice for curbing this e-mail itch from my professional friends – everyone from time management experts to therapists – and they have recommended the following 12-step program:
Step 1: No checking e-mails during meals. Here’s a Dadism for you: “Live in the moment.” Professional moments are an opportunity to engage and many have forgotten the basic tenants of human interaction such as eye contact, fundamental listening skills, and most importantly, how to become interesting. Family meals are the backbone of raising decent human beings. In short, the sanctity of mealtime is in direct contradiction to and an assault on the instantaneous checking of your e-mail.
Step 2: Don’t hide your habit from family members. If you feel like you must sneak around to check your e-mail, maybe you shouldn’t. Comments like, “Daddy, are you listening?” are clear indications that you need help. Even as a passenger, you are missing the view when your head and thumbs are buried in a 2 x 3 screen. If family members get upset when they see you “BlackBerry-ing,” it’s a sign that you probably shouldn’t.
Step 3: Stop e-mailing while driving. It is fascinating to drive around Atlanta traffic on a scooter because you suddenly realize how many people genuinely believe that driving is a spectator sport. Multi-tasking is good at work. But BlackBerry-ing while you drive? That’s bad – for everyone around you. Even at red lights, walking across the street, or anything else that requires attention – checking your e-mail can be hazardous to your health.
Step 4: Don’t check it in the first hour of the day. You’ll miss the leaves on the trees, the birds singing outside, and the opportunity to leisurely read The New York Times. Spend quality time with the family and proactively prioritize your pursuits for the day.
Step 5: When attending functions, leave it in the car. There is nothing worse than the damn thing going off in the middle of your 5 year-old’s recital. Just as bad is checking it non-stop at networking functions – an opportunity cost vs. engaging those in attendance.
Step 6: Set responsiveness boundaries. E-mail, due to its sense of immediacy, has somehow mandated in all of our lives that we must reply instantaneously. Most people are not sitting at their desks simply waiting to receive and respond to e-mails. Let people know that you’ll get back to them within 24 hours – for many, that will suffice.
Step 7: Turn it off during specific blocks of time. Just like you set responsiveness boundaries, you have to also set personal boundaries. Identify times for yourself that you will be off-line and unavailable – and stick to them!
Step 8: Enable the “auto off” function. Believe it or not, one of the features that comes with the BlackBerry (under Profile) is the auto on/off function, which allows you to automatically have the device turn itself off and on every day of the week. (I have mine set to come on at 7 AM every day and turn off at 11 PM because sometimes, when you have an addiction, you need help.)
Step 9: Encourage Research In Motion (RIM) to develop a “junk mail” functionality. If our desktop e-mails can filter out Spam and other junk mail, why do I continue to receive countless ads for Viagra, Cialis, and other offers of unprecedented wealth from lost relatives in Nigeria? Dear RIM software developers, please add “junk mail” as a drop-down option.
Step 10: Mentally separate the work day from after work, evenings and weekends. Remember that what you do isn’t who you are. Create intentional delineation between the two.
Step 11: Establish BlackBerry free zones. There is no good reason why anyone should answer their phone or check e-mail while in the restroom, while standing in line at Walt Disney World, or during otherwise intimate moments. A full-time mom/friend of ours actually sends e-mails from aisles of grocery stores, from the dry cleaners, and while at her kids’ soccer games!
Step 12: Get a life! – Light a candle. Put on music. Pour a cocktail. See a black and white Oscar winner. Read Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. All of these are considerably more interesting!