In ancient times, there were tar pits scattered around the world. In fact in Southern California, where I live, there is a group of them in La Brea that is still a popular tourist attraction. The tar pits were the bane of prehistoric man and animals. You see they are like quicksand only deadlier. If you get caught in one there is no way you can get out.
Today we do not have to worry about the tar pits… or do we? Today’s tar pits are harder to spot and less deadly but they can still ruin your life, business and career just as easily. E-mail, cell phones and PDA’s will all lead you into today’s modern tar pits and suck you under if you allow them to. They can’t be escaped and they will bury you if you allow it. Recently I was sucked into the tar pits because of my own success. Any offer of work that was offered to me was accepted and I would work to squeeze it into my crowded 20 hour days. As such my customers suffered and my name was tarnished. What I would like to talk about now is my climb out of the tar pits and getting back in control.
In today’s always-connected world you can’t get away from work, customers and associates. They always know how to get a hold of you. Several months ago, I was sick with the flu and went to work anyway. Not only is this risking my own health but it risks those of my co-workers. It is usually considered thoughtless and in poor form. So why would I do this? Simple, I knew that if I stayed home sick I would end up talking on the phone for 8 hours which would prevent me from resting anyway. If I am going to be working, I might as well do it where all my needed tools are.
"The trick to climbing out of the tar pits is controlling the points of contact people have with you and controlling it efficiently. To do that you must manage all points of contact with finesse and intelligence."
When you feel overwhelmed with everything, this means you are getting sucked into the tar pits. Natures way of handling this is to make you lethargic and therefore you withdraw. You have to withdraw to succeed in this case. If you push through eventually you will simply not care anymore and nothing productive will happen. So the first step is to withdraw turn off your Cell phone, ICQ and stop responding to your e-mail, but only for a short time. If you withdraw for too long you will cease to exist and the tar pits will have won.
Having been in the tar pits just recently, I know how difficult it is to get out. While in the tar pits, I was only reaching about 25 percent of my potential and not progressing on any front that I wished. However since starting my climb out, I am working more and experiencing more fullness in my life. Here is my journey out of the tar pits.
With e-mail, phone calls, private messages, reports, documentation and development work, I was overwhelmed. I would put off answering emails until the last possible moment. Projects started to pile up and I continued to feel I needed more work. This is because I wasn’t getting anything worthwhile done. The very first thing I did was withdraw from society for a day to organize and get back in control of at least one monster, E-Mail.
Controlling your E-Mail
At one point, I was getting 900 hundred or more emails a day. I simply didn’t have the time to read all that. Since a lot of them where from mailing lists and newsletters, the answer was simple, I just cancelled my subscription. One critical email list that I am on, I had redirected to a free email account at Hotmail and just check it once or twice a week now.
I still didn’t have e-mail under control though. I was still receiving about 500 messages a day from the SitePoint Community Forums. As the administrator I had set myself up to receive notification when ever a new message was posted. This was my first mistake because it is distracting. So I had to choose which messages were absolutely necessary and prune the list severely.
After doing these two things, I got myself down to about 200 regular emails. Now this is almost manageable. At this point I needed to make my email program work harder. I use Outlook 2000, but you can set up filters and folders in any modern email program. These make your life much easier. I had set these up when I first installed Outlook back with the 95 version and while I added a few, my filters became a horrible mess. The best thing to do was to eliminate them all and start over. I spent several hours creating folders and subfolders along with my filters to intelligently sort my mail for me. This made my email easier to manage and the most critical messages always were available in my inbox right at the top.
After creating my filters, my e-mail was a lot more manageable and I could tackle other issues.
We all have contact lists whether they are lists in a text editor, a specialized contact manager or even an all in one program like Outlook. My contacts were a mess. A long time ago, I had set Outlook to add everyone to my Contact list that I sent an e-mail reply to. This amounted to a lot of people and mailing lists, that I only contacted once to be added. So instead of a list of manageable contacts, I had thousands of contacts full of dead information. This had to be fixed. I deleted many of them, about 4 out of 5 to be exact. Others were able to be consolidated because I had multiple contacts for them at different email addresses. By doing this, I was able to cut it down to about 300 usable contacts that are needed. I was also able to update phone numbers and email addresses from strips of paper, business cards and my cellphone. I suggest deleting any contact you haven’t talked to in 60 days. I did this for my instant messaging programs as well. By pruning ICQ contacts I went from a list of 800 to 100 people.
Telephones, both land-based and cellular, can be great tools for productivity or they can be thieves that steal your time and push you into the tar pits. These double-edged swords have to be managed carefully. My best tool in managing phone time is Caller ID. If you do not have it and it is available in your area, I suggest you get it. It is well worth the extra money. With it I can decide to answer the phone while it is ringing. This way I can manage my calls. It keeps track of who called and when, so if I did miss an important call I could call people back immediately and push less important calls to the side. Used in combination with my voicemail service it is a valuable tool.
Currently I am still working to get totally out of the tar pits but I can see the edge. As I get closer, I will give you more hints and tips on making these tools work better for you instead of dragging you down. Climbing out of the Tar Pits.