Monday, February 25, 2008

Serenity Tip: Radio Silence

Recently, several self-employed people have told me that the biggest block to their serenity during the day is compulsive checking of email.

Boy, do I hear you. I love the little "ding!" of my email program to tell me that something new has arrived. Whether it's a coupon from Staples or an email offering me work, I seem to have the same Pavlovian response. And boy does it make it hard for me to complete tasks.

The worst is when I get an email that unnerves me or angers me in some way--and then I'm off and running, and the smooth progression of my day grinds to a halt.

But I had an inspiration on Friday that I thought I'd share.

I've heard several people say that it's OK to turn off your email while you're hard at work. I've also heard people say it's okay to relegate your email time to a certain part of the day, but I've never been able to do it. Like I said, there's something gratifying and compulsive about that little ding.

On Friday, though, I was on deadline with two stories. Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of time for that kind of compulsivity. So when I meditated that morning, a gentle thought drifted into my mind. For some reason, I was willing to listen to it.

I set up the away message on my email for three hours--just till noon--saying that I was on deadline and would not check email until after that time. I urged them, if it was an emergency, to call me.

And guess what? No one called. No crisis broke out that I had to deal with.

Something about setting the away message on my email made me comfortable clicking off the email program. I think I often feel scared to turn it off because I'm afraid clients will think that I'm not responsive enough. And in this world on immediate accessiblity 24 hours a day, we have to work very hard to not be available, and there's a strange pressure to never set any boundaries around communication. But to do so is also to keep ourselves chained to others' needs instead of acting on our own.

It's not selfish, though. When I turned off my email, I was doing it so I could give my full attention to my client's project. It was the furthest thing from selfish. It was completely professional.

At the same time, I also turned off the ringer on my office phone so I could work without distractions. I turned off my Web browser also, except for things I needed for work.

In two short hours, I had written both stories. And I had done so calmly and happily.

It doesn't have to be a struggle. Others will understand if we give them a chance.

Does this answer your question? If not, fill me in on what I've missed and I'll answer that, too.

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