I'll be frank (you can still be you).
One of the blames we hurl on computer technology is our own inability to walk away from it. We talk Facebook and email as if they were the ones insisting we pay attention to them.
I could bore you for paragraphs with anecdotes of friends complaining about their phones or computers as if these inanimate object were worthy of blame somehow.
"I hate this thing" they mutter, after checking their phone for the thousandth time.
I don't need to, since you hear that stuff from yourself and your friends everyday.
The mirror in your house is the only place you'll find someone worth all that blame.
Is anyone surprised by studies showing that people who don't look at email on a regular basis at work are more productive and much less stressed?
It's true, of course, and produces over-jealous headlines like "your email is killing you." Again, the work of people who want to pretend that you are some sweet innocent bystander pounded into submission by big bad technology.
A study by the U.S. National Science Foundation recently found that the people they studied switched windows on their computers to check email 37 times an hour. That sounds a bit unnecessary, but absolutely normal.
Email is killing us! What do we do?
There is an off button. Sometimes.
Most products have a power button, an on/off switch.
Apple, legendary in its pursuit of simplicity and the perfect user experience, got rid of the off switch as soon as it could. When you get an iPad, you might ask, "Where is the power button?" There isn't one. They designed it to never to be turned off, no need. You can put it to sleep to save battery, you can turn the screen off and on, and you have a hidden function if you really insist on powering it down all the way.
Maybe "off" is too far anyway, let's lower the stakes to "sleep."
The reason people don't do many vacations from email is that they'd feel disconnected, in the dark, out of the loop, and worried they might miss out on something.
The tech we have problems with is all social technology that connects us to other humans, that's the big thing behind Facebook and email and the like. Your spouse isn't addicted to their phone or the computer, but to being connected to other humans.
We humans have always longed for connection and community and always want to know "what's going on" to some degree or another. It's a good thing, more or less, but our ability to get anything done fails and splinters when we are preoccupied with messages we might get.
The funny thing is, people who check their email 37 times an hour when working on a computer (the average person) also have a average of more than 10 emails they are not responding to, but not deleting either.
Maybe we are anxiously waiting for more email to ignore. I know I am.
We don't want to miss out on any new messages, but we don't want to deal with what's there. We need to go through learning and counselling on minding our time and attention.
We can't simply say email shouldn't be at the highest place in our time and attention, because maybe a critical email from a loved one could fit that description. The thing is, that's quite a rare happening.
How do we use the the off button? How do we put our email to sleep for a little while in order to stop splintering our thoughts and time and attention?
We just do.
Here's the news flash you don't want to hear, but that is possibly closer to the truth than every headline you'll see this week: That article teaching you a system to manage your time and attention better, those "three steps to better email practice," are never going to cure your addiction.
They will be plenty, but they won't help. You already know enough, you just need to do something about it.
Listen, l love putting off doing things until I have "enough" information to do it. I'm a master at negotiating the need to know more before I'm required to tackle anything.
Let me give you the only good advice on this kind of thing.
You're never going to find the time to read all the articles you want, to answer all the email the way you want, to get everything done that you want to, to check everything that you want to. That's the obvious secret you hide from yourself.
Therefore, stop pretending to look for a better system to help you get it all done, to help you manage all the lines of communication possible, to be in on what's happening.
You can't have it all, you can't get it all done. Therefore, all you can do is choose which things are the things you want to do most.
Is checking your email constantly, as if the leader of the free world asked you to wait patiently by your gmail inbox for their forthcoming message, it?
Start with the things you want and need to do first, not last.
Check your email at noon, not all morning.
Wait, I shouldn't give actual advice on how this plays out, let me return to you and the stuff you want and need.
The "all" will never be yours, and therefore, like it or not, you have to choose which things you want most, and would cost you the most if they don't happen.
Today, like all days, you'll try to do some things, and some things will take longer than you wanted to spend on them, and you will not get to everything.
Try your hand at the important stuff first, and leave the lazy afternoon brain to handle the email.
Instead of giving yourself away to the lame stuff first, like deleting spam, let the unimportant stuff be the things you never get around to today.
I love getting to say, "oh I didn't see that email you sent of your cat, I was busy doing what I actually wanted to do."
Never-mind that I have an email filter set up to automatically delete any emails with references to "cat" or "cats."
Anthony Thomas Creech, MFA, is a filmmaker and lecturer on media, faith, and filmmaking. He's the instructor of Media Arts & Communications at Briercrest College & Seminary. You can find him at thecreechleague.com.