I’m staying in a lovely house (other than dealing with traffic to get into town and back) in the quasi-suburbs of Accra for the next few weeks, and it normally has a pretty fast DSL connection. The internet has been down for the last day or so, probably the result of the router resetting itself to nonworking settings, and as a result my only option for checking email has been on my phone.

It turns out that this is great. OK, it’s mostly not great and is slowing down some of the work I need to be doing, but there’s one big advantage. I don’t check email compulsively when it’s slow and little on my phone. I look periodically, and defer handling most emails until a TBD time in the future when I have full connectivity again. Looking periodically – like once or twice a day – and deferring most email to batch process at a future time is probably one of the biggest productivity boosters for me.

Email is inherently asynchronous, but I think many of us (myself included) have gotten into the habit of treating it like a real-time life support feed. Every time I look at email, I’m not present and focused on the thing in front of me (whether that’s researching a new company, writing up a strategy idea, meeting with someone interesting, or chilling out and listening to music). Instead, I’m thinking about what might be – pretty much the direct opposite of being present with what is – and usually being unintentional about it.

I’m getting much better about this even when I do have connectivity, but it’s nice to have a little reminder every now and then that teaches me a) that the world doesn’t end when I’m not checking email and b) that I get more done better when email is turned off. My eventual goal is to get down to checking email once a day (or less), but for now I’m working on a routine that has me checking twice a day. We’ll see how that goes. (another contradictory lesson learned: get a flippin’ USB modem for backup, which I am doing tomorrow morning)

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