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Don't let technology be the boss of you

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As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Be not the slave of your own past — plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”

If Emerson lived today, he’d find out that society is a little messed up right now. Human interactions have been replaced by device interactions. In essence, we’ve become slaves to technology. It’s time to take a step back and ask ourselves, after all these years of instant communication, are we better off than we were before? I’m convinced that we’ve stopped managing technology and allowed technology to begin managing us.

This blog might change your life. Then again, it might not. I want you to read this with an open mind. Instead of thinking “this wouldn’t work for me,” understand that “this” works for me, and it’s been working for me for about two years.

The “this” I’m referring to is unplugging, that is, simply changing how you manage your e-mail. “This” is working differently than you do now, but by working differently, you can become much more efficient.  

Taking a step back

I’m an owner of a small insurance agency located in Indiana. I have 17 employees and we’re a small, but profitable company. We’re a generalist agency working with various industries. I have a partner in my company, and she also is my partner outside the office although we’re not married. Our agency runs Applied Systems EPIC system, we’ve made extensive investments in technology and we’re always looking for ways to make our company more efficient.

Industry leaders have acknowledged our aggressive approach to technology, but as an owner, I have slowly begun to see the error of my ways, opting to go “old school” in many areas of my life. The last two years have been some of the least stressful of my 45 years on earth. These words are my plea to you, to take a step back and rethink your addiction or slavery to all things e-mail.

Early in my career, I was always on the leading edge of technology. I still have all the toys and tools, but I no longer am plugged in as I once was.

do not have e-mail come to my phone. I check e-mail twice a day, usually in the morning and at night. I stick to this most days, but on occasion, I have been known to pop into a Starbucks and open my iPad for a quick check of the day’s mail. This is the exception, not the norm. I try not to check my e-mail unless I’m sitting down, clear-minded, and am able to understand the message that has been sent, but more importantly, to reply with a message that addresses the true request or question of the e-mail.

I stole this idea from Tim Ferriss after I read his book “The 4-Hour Work Week” two and a half years ago. I was blown away by the concepts and ideas from Ferris and immediately set out to implement his ideas into my life. If you haven’t read the book, I can’t recommend it enough. It was a game changer and helped shape the best two years of my life.

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A quality response is better than a quick response

How do you go from being connected 24/7 to getting your life back? It starts with a simple auto response from your e-mail. If you send me an e-mail you will get an e-mail back that states, “In an effort to be more efficient with my time, I only check e-mail twice a day. If this is an emergency, please call my cell at 765-744-3518. If this is not an emergency, I’ll respond with a clear and quality response to your request.”

In the two years that I’ve been using this response, I’ve had three clients comment. One is no longer a client and the other two are not fans of my approach, but they understand why I do what I do. 

Your clients really don’t need you to respond to their e-mails within one minute. Society has contorted and confused message response to favor speed and not quality. Taking time twice a day, and reading and thinking about what the true question or request is, allows you to send a quality response.  

Most of my peers have their e-mail come to their phone. Scratch that: All of my peers have their e-mail come to their phone. They’re constantly checking it and shaking their heads at the message they just received from their staff, client, wife or significant other. Many an e-mail has ruined the quality time one is spending with a loved one, family member or friend. If you don’t get it, it won’t ruin your day, morning or afternoon. There is always time to get bad news or for that matter, good news.

The quality of the message you send from your phone is usually embarrassing. The point or two that you glean from the e-mail you just received when driving, running or eating is not the true message. There are words within words that we miss when rushing to answer a question or respond to a dilemma. There are tones that need to be felt when reading an e-mail and, for the most part, reading a message on a two-inch screen limits your ability to consume the entirety of the message.

More on this topic

“Speeeling errorors” are rampant when responding from your phone with some people asking for forgiveness in their signature stating, “This was sent from my phone, please excuse any spelling errors.”  Here’s an idea: don’t respond from your phone.

The biggest pushback from my detractors is, “I could never do that; my clients demand 24/7 access to me. If I did that, I’d lose clients.” If you lose a client because you don’t respond to an e-mail within a minute or an hour, you might be a lucky person. Demanding clients are a pain; let them go and replace them with clients that respect and appreciate your time and quality response.

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Talk to me, don’t e-mail

My agency offers 24/7 customer service. If someone calls my company at 2:20 on a Sunday morning, a cell phone is answered by…me. I want to talk to my clients when they are in need. My clients appreciate that approach far more than an immediate answer to an e-mail.

Are you the person reading this that thinks, “My company demands I answer my e-mail.”

I hear this excuse as well. “My company wants me to be available all the time.” “I’m required to answer e-mail all the time.”

OK, let’s do a quick check of labor laws and compare your compensation with that of a 24-hour work day. I’m sure you’re not compensated for a 24-hour work day so you might want to discuss your current arrangement with your human resources department.

If you’re an owner, requiring your employees to be available also is a slippery slope. If I need to chat with an employee after hours, I call the employee’s cell, I don’t e-mail. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen.

Give it a shot.

Do a little life management and see whether changing the way you manage your e-mail changes your life — for the better.

See also:

Scheduling appointments: stop typing and start talking

Stay out of the trash!

Perfect words attract perfect clients