How to Double Your Time and Your Productivity: Or What Hurricane Sandy Taught Me About Going Offline

You know you want to. Turn it off, baby. Turn it all off.

Nov 2, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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Dear technology obsession, this note's for you.

Among my many addictions, technology is definitely one of the crack-iest. I check Twitter. I check Facebook. I check email. I check my other email. I check my other other email. I check texts. I repeat. I could spend an entire day doing this without getting a single thing done that is on my actual to-do list.

With Hurricane Sandy? Oh, no. Zero chance. First the TV went. That ultimate crack dealer. So I went immediately to Twitter. I tweeted that my power was out and contemplated trying to find Ryan Gosling's apartment in the East Village to have a slumber party with another Twitter friend. But my phone battery was slowly dying, and I had no way to plug it in with the power out everywhere in lower New York.

The next morning, when all cell phone service died too, I found myself truly experiencing the Desert Island Syndrome. It's just you and your wits, kiddo. No distractions. No texts. No tweets. I couldn't even call my parents to let them know I was OK.

And here's what I found: I was stuck with myself.

Here's what I did -- and like Gala's Frankencloset breakdown, maybe you'll find taking a hurricane-inspired technology vacation will benefit your head, too.

1. Set a fierce boundary and clear limits on your technology break. Give those who need to know a heads-up so you can be truly "free."

Of course, my boundary is determined by Mayor Bloomberg, ConEd and Mother Nature (fingers crossed for the promised Saturday power return!), but no matter, let's pretend I set it. I used to do this regularly when I worked at The New York Post, turning both my corporate BlackBerry and personal iPhone off all weekend long, just spending the time writing, reading, catching up on organization or doing whatever the hell I felt like doing. A regular weekend felt like an entire week. I haven't done this in a long time, and my Sandy break reminded me how luxurious determining my own time can be.

2. Realize that, as Seth Godin says, when you are being a constant slave to your phone, you are essentially constantly letting other people determine how you spend your life.

It's a crazy notion to realize, but that's what we are doing when we are on constant crisis on-call mode. It might be someone who you might not even make dinner plans with, but you'll give them the power of thinking about an email they sent you, responding to it and then expending energy anticipating their reply? Give yourself the power to know that you don't have to respond. Ever. Unless it's your boss or your colleagues, then sure. But even with work, you can set healthy hurricane-style limitations. If it's an email on Sunday (which, oh, man, ask Jane or Emily, I am so guilty of sending), you can ignore. That's what Monday is for. Not the weekend.

3. Don't make excuses like, "What if he wrote me?" or, "What if she finally told me she loved me?" If it's meant to be, whoever you are hoping will reach out to you will be able to wait a few days to hear back from you. In fact, your stock will probably go up.

I'm not talking about game playing. I'm just saying, recognize how valuable your time is -- just like how valuable you are. You don't need to be at the beck and call of others. You're worth devoting the time, care and attention that you might lavish on someone else. Notice how you take care of yourself. If you would write back instantly to some dude or chick you're dating, then why not give yourself the gift of saying yes to all the things you know you need to do to make your own life better? It's crazy how kind we can be to an acquaintance and then neglect the insanely important principle of self-care -- which often will determine how well we can treat others. If you aren't taking care of your own needs and nourishment, you will be pissy. Trust me on this one.

4. When it's time to turn your devices back on, don't fire up the crack pipe full force again. Give yourself an hour, or whatever seems appropriate, before you tackle your real to-do list.

Here's where the magic of the unplugging really occurs. Whereas you might have written a novella back if you had your phone on, you will be succinct as hell when you've got several messages to plow through. You're worth this triage. Don't spread yourself thin. This is your energy! Your energy is valuable.

5. Be gentle because you're not going to do the unplugging perfectly, and employ the wondrous use of flags and other priority-marks and sortings on your email.

So fine, you woke up at 3 in the morning and checked Twitter to see if you got any new @replies. That's all right. Maybe next time you'll stick to the total unplugging. And when it's time to turn it all back on, flag away. You know what's important. I use this simple rule:

My Golden Email Rule: Do I need or want to do anything with this later?

Yes? Flag it. No? Well, it may get lost in the in-box, and I'm OK with that.

I feel like this is an area I'm still getting better at. I've learned a lot from efficiency experts like Seth Godin or even "The Four-Hour Work Week Guy," but what techniques do you like for effectively unplugging or triaging your electronic existence? I have a few friends who swear by SpamArrest, but I'm not a fan of the extra barrier, and I feel like Gmail does a good job of sorting out the wheat from the discounted-Viagra-pill chaff. Are there any email sorting or productivity apps that work well for you? Do you have an email golden rule that you employ? Please, do tell!

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