I’m one of the founders at Filter Squad where we make Discovr for iPhone and iPad. We’ve been lucky enough to get some decent traction so far with around 3 million users.
Like everyone else, I often feel overwhelmed with too much information — emails, notifications, blog posts, & more. Some of this information is legit. Some is just due to my own unchecked addiction to information. Whatever you call it, one thing is true: a world full of emails, messages, and interruptions will keep you very busy from doing anything at all.
Recently I’ve been inspired by Brad Feld who talks about going off the grid to get more done, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who talks about the state of flow. For me, I definitely do my best work when I have long periods of uninterrupted time to think, to experiment, and to create. So to help me reach and stay in flow, I started a regime about six months ago that reduces my incoming information.
My first step was to add a permanent Out of Office message to my email. This helped establish that I wasn’t always available instantly. From there I’ve been experimenting with periods without email or social media. This has been really good, and I recommend that you try it. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Add an Out of Office
Add a permanent Out of Office message to your email. My current message is: “Hi, I’m working on a new app right now. I’m really focused on that so I won’t be replying to email until Date X. If it’s urgent, you can call my wife on ### and she will pass on the message”. Putting my wife’s phone number stops all but the most urgent calls :)
Step 2: Create an Inner Circle
Restrict information so it comes from a smaller ‘inner circle’ of people. My inner circle is my team, and my investors. They can contact me anytime, about anything. For this they need an easy way to communicate:
Phone – my inner circle has my number, and they can call me or SMS me anytime. SMS works well because typing is a barrier to long messages, and it’s a step away from the net. As none of us really use the phone much this channel hardly gets used. SMS is also cumbersome for sharing files, so a second channel is useful.
Secret email – I’ve recently created a new email account that only my inner circle knows. This works so well. I check this account and I know everything that I really need to know. (You could also use email filters, but I like the mental space of a separate account). A new email address also comes with the benefit of no unwanted subscription emails.
Note: this method does makes it harder for people to engage with you, and it shifts the onus of work onto others. This means you need to be contactable when it’s important, and it also requires a team of great people around you — they need to know why you are doing this, and they need to be self-motivated to get their work done.
Step 3: Delete the Offending Apps
Next, trash Twitter, Mail, Hacker News, Reddit etc from your phone. Stick with this for two weeks. The goal is to break your habitual, reflexive checking all the time. (n.b. the Concentrate app is also good for this, but I like the commitment of the full delete). Once you are used to this, trash these apps from your computer as well. Right now I only have Mail for my inner circle on my laptop and that’s it. No email on phone, no Twitter etc. I still dip into Flipboard every now and then for a little info taste, but the pace is much reduced – it’s less an addiction and more a leisurely stroll.
Tip: If you still want to push content out to the world, you can use the awesome Buffer app for this. This lets me post to Twitter and Facebook without getting too caught up in reading random stuff. To keep the social conversation going (comments, replies etc) set up monitoring to do so at specific times…
For the Pros
If you can handle all of the above, then I recommend you step up to the pro version: hand over control of your main accounts to your partner. Get them to change your email and social media passwords, and not tell you the new credentials. (Your partners are often motivated to keep you away from your email, so this works particularly well). Right now I don’t even know my own passwords for email or Twitter.
After doing all of this, the biggest problem for me was cold turkey malaise – a general uneasiness in the absence of information. This is hard to shake at first. It’s that feeling that important things might be happening and you don’t know what is going on.
In reality, it just doesn’t matter. People will find a way to get through if it is important. Often they’ll contact another team member, or you can set up filters and alerts for your key partners. Also, direct your customer support emails to a separate address that you check at specific times. I love this – it gives me a dedicated time and place to talk with our customers, and this helps me listen to what they need. Hint, if you want to contact me, I reply to heaps of customer emails every day.
If you think you can’t do this in your job, then take another look. As a startup, we get lots of inbound enquiries, we have team members, and investors, and customers, and biz partners. It is absolutely possible to have less information coming at you, and it’s great.
P.S. you can still sneak in an information snack anytime you like. You just won’t feel addicted or overwhelmed like before, and it’s such a great feeling. You should do it too.