March 29, 2010

Write First, Check Your Email Second

Last week, I had a problem with my Internet access and was not able to get online from home. Last week, I consistently wrote for at least three hours before lunch. There is definitely a connection between these two facts.

Some people are very disciplined and can look at their email for twenty minutes, close it out, and get down to writing. Most of us, however, are easily sucked into the Internet vortex – compelled by a link in an email or a comment on a webpage. And, one hour later, we realize that we have just wasted quite a bit of time.

One strategy that has worked for me in busy times is to write for 60 minutes in the morning before opening my email – without even taking a peek. Once I finish writing, I allow myself to open the web browser and begin my day connected to the world.

The problem with opening email before writing is that sometimes you might have a message that either 1) appears to require immediate action or 2) provokes an emotional response. For example, you could open your email and find a message from someone who wants a document from you, and you feel obliged to look for it and send it. Alternatively, you could have an email from a student who wants further explanation for an assignment. In addition to giving you work, it might produce an emotional reaction where you are reminded that your students this semester consistently fail to read assignments or listen in class. Worse still, you might get a rejection from a journal you have been waiting to hear from, and thus find yourself emotionally unable to write. If, however, you write first thing in the morning, you will have your writing done before you have to face these challenges.

The best part of those days when I am able to avoid email all morning is to open my email account to find an “urgent” message followed by another message letting me know that no further action is required as the problem has been resolved. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

For me, the morning is the best time for writing because 1) I am most alert; 2) I usually have resolved the conflicts left over from the day before. Being alert and calm, I have a clear head and am able to be most productive with my writing. As I am at my best in the mornings, I reserve that time to do what I think is most important in my career – to write.

In the afternoons, I am usually tired, physically and emotionally. That is the best time for me to catch up on reading or to get lost in the Internet vortex. I also have no trouble using the afternoons to respond to emails, to look for documents, and run errands.

Using your time wisely requires being aware of your own internal clock and your own hours of highest productivity. For most people this time is the morning. Others, however, find that they are at their best later in the day. What about you? When are you most productive? Do you use that time to write, check email, prepare PowerPoints for class or to do other things?

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