So switch email off, what’s the problem?

You get too much email and – more importantly – you react to it too quickly. Even if you’re the sort with self-control enough to not reply to someone until you’ve given their question proper consideration and maybe looked up if it’s one g or two in ‘bugger off’, you still react too quickly. You react to the bleep.

So stop the bleep.

Of course you want to know what’s going on and of course you want to be responsive. But it’s rarely significant to the other person whether you replied in an hour or a picosecond and it is always significant to you. Reply to emails at the top of the next hour and you’ve just got yourself something like 59 minutes uninterrupted working.

Except of course it is interrupted. It’s interrupted by the bleep or the red flag or whatever your system has.

But your system has an off switch. So switch it off.

On iPhones, for instance, just go into Settings/Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and then click on Fetch New Data.

It will be set to Push but turn that off and then make sure everything is set to Fetch. Beneath that there’s a definition of what fetch means plus how often it will do it.

email off iPhone

Mine’s set to check for new emails every 15 minutes there but I will regularly change that to Hourly. It’s a shame you have to dig down all these levels to it, but once you know it’s there, you’re away.

I have no idea why my iPhone has a holiday calendar, by the way. I just schlepped through a storm trying to get Google Calendar to play nice and when it finally did, I had a holiday calendar on there. I’m leaving it well alone.

It takes more power to start the engine than keep it going

This is really just about my sum total of knowledge about cars. I can drive and I can see when they have enough wheels, but otherwise, they are magical devices whose magicality is reduced every time you have to pay insurance or go for a service.


I also know what cars look like from underneath, but that’s just because I used to watch The A Team. It’s quite complicated under there, you know.

We’re now into March and while I am loathe to write you another piece about how gosh-hard it is to keep being productive, I need to talk to you and this is how I’ve managed to do it. About thirty times in the last few days I’ve started to write something serious but it turns out that I can only do serious by accident.

So let me take this one car fact and treat it with more seriousness than it warrants.

It is true, though. Starting to write to you got harder the longer I spent not doing it. Where I have not lacked for news or information to tell you, I have lacked the discipline. I will again say that, look, very bad cold, right, six weeks and I’m still snuffling, but I’ve lacked it and that’s that.

Except, you do of course know the phrase that what’s done is done. I reckon that in the same vein, what isn’t done, isn’t done. Somehow that sounds more defeatist but I hear it the same way: the past is the past and we can only change what comes next.

There is so much to tell you. Such gorgeous nuggets of news and details that will help you get more done and enjoy doing it. I’m going to be right here telling you it all – though I’ll understand with far more humanity now why you might sometimes just want to skip thinking about this stuff.

Give yourself a “should-less” day

Even I read that and think it says “shoulderless”, as in strap, but it’s a day in which you do not do things that you should. That’s not to say you need to spend it robbing a bank or having a tryst but all that stuff on your plate, all those bloody tasks you should be doing, don’t do them. Just for a day. Just for a single should-less day.

This isn’t my idea, though I love it. Instead, it’s actor Ellen Burstyn who originally said it on the WNYC’s Death, Sex and Money show. It was picked up by Science of Us in New York Magazine like this:

I have what I call should-less days. Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it. I had that kind of day yesterday.

Should-less days, I recommend them. Because what I figured out, is we have wiring, I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy if I’m not doing something. God, you’re so lazy. … And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it.

But what I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days. So when that voice goes off and says, You’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, No, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want.

Give Yourself a ‘Should-less’ Day — Melissa Dahl, Science of Us, New York Magazine (undated, probably 31 October 2014)

Read the full piece. Also, hat tip as ever to Lifehacker for finding it.

Yeah, yeah, put the phone down, all that


I was a mobile junkie. The phosphorescent glow left me mesmerized and needing more. Each Snapchat or push notification fueled my need for news, updates, and winning the battle against boredom. At my worst, most conversations with friends and family would start with “do you have a charger?”

I remember the turning point. I had just returned from a camping trip where I ‘witnessed’ a beautiful sunset. As I was reminiscing over the dozens of photos I took, I barely had any recollection of ACTUALLY being there. I was so focused on eternalizing the moment through my phone, that I hadn’t taken the time to eternalize it in my brain. I accepted my addiction and decided to make a change.

This is your brain on mobile — Jeremy Vanderhey, Medium (10 August 2014)

Read the full piece.

What happens when you switch off your smartphone

I mean, seriously switch it off. Keep it as a phone instead of the entire world in your pocket and knocking at your door. Spoiler 1: it works out just fine.

Spoiler 2: I’m not going to find out for myself.

I’m fine with reading about it in a happy piece from someone who has now clearly achieved the kind of zen utopian state we can all aspire to just so long as we never get there:

In 2012, I realized I had a problem.

My iPhone made me twitchy. I could feel it in my pocket, calling me, like the Ring called Bilbo Baggins. It distracted me from my kids. It distracted me from my wife. It distracted me anytime, anywhere. I just didn’t have the willpower to ignore email and Twitter and Instagram and the whole world wide web. Infinity in my pocket was too much.

I wanted to get control, but I didn’t want to give up my iPhone altogether. I loved having Google Maps and Uber and Find Friends and an amazing camera.

So I decided to try an experiment. I disabled Safari. I deleted my mail account. I uninstalled every app I couldn’t handle. I thought I’d try it for a week.

My year with a distraction-free iPhone (and how to start your own experiment) – Jake Knapp, Medium (31 August 2014)

Find out what exactly happened and how to do it yourself, if necessary.