The other day I was searching my email archives for some old correspondence and a blast from the past appeared in the search results;
Lovefilm was a UK DVD rental service, subsequently gobbled up by Amazon, whereby you chose your movie on their website and a couple of days later the DVDs would drop onto your mat in a cunningly-designed folding freepost envelope so you could post them back when you were done.
Viewed from the world of streaming that we now live in, it sounds as efficient as square wheels. So why, then, did I feel a wave of nostalgia as I remembered Lovefilm? Why such warm feelings for a process with such obvious practical downsides?
I didn’t know, but I mentioned it to a client over a coffee a couple of days later and was intrigued to discover that they felt the same way, launching, for good measure, into some energetic grumbles about Netflix and their family ordeal of scrolling wearily through screens every Saturday night trying to agree what to watch.
Could it be that Lovefilm harked back to an easier time when you just made your choice then got on with other things? Choosing your film was a process with an endpoint and an off-switch, so that when the weekend came, the only thing left to do was to stick the disc in, open your popcorn, and enjoy the movie.
The Netflix problem will be familiar to many. Even more familiar will be the inbox problem, as email is another part of life where people crave an off-switch, and sometimes struggle to stop scrolling. It generates weird emotions, too – they resent getting so many emails, but secretly love the status that this represents and would probably start to freak out with workplace paranoia if the email volume started to drop. All of this results in constant, distracting inbox checking right alongside the rising stress of not getting enough real work done as a result.
As GTD® trainers, we help people detoxify their relationship with their inboxes by helping them reduce their email checking addiction and, while it’s often a challenge for many, there’s a point in seminars where a particular lightbulb moment occurs…
It’s right after lunch. Prior to the break I’ll have been explaining the GTD clarifying step and, as well as picking apart the GTD decision-making process, I’ll usually suggest that people might be able to check their email less often as well.
The scepticism isn’t always vocalised but it’s there in the room. They know it and I know it. After all, the need for constant checking to ‘keep an eye on things’ is just the way it is nowadays, right?
So we take lunch, leaving this conundrum hanging in the air, but what happens next is both predictable and helpful, because the first thing that many do on a lunch break is whip out their smartphones and dive into their inboxes.
Watching their heads bowed over their smartphones in ‘digital prayer’, I smile, knowing that the next teaching point will sell itself in the series of simple questions that I ask when we reconvene after the break;
“Hands up who checked their email over lunch?”
(All hands go up.)
“Who found something so urgent it absolutely couldn’t wait till later?”
(Most hands go down)
“Who thinks they might be able to check email a bit less frequently than they do currently?”
(Air of silent contemplation fills the room.)
(Me: No further questions, Your Honour.)
The point is that constant inbox checking is often culture- and habit-driven and is being done way more often than is actually needed (especially once you learn GTD best practices for processing it in the speediest and most efficient way when you do).
It may feel counterintuitive in terms of your productivity to do less constant checking and scrolling but if you don’t then you never get to stop and truly focus for long, whether it’s watching a movie or just getting some actual work done.