7-min read

Taking back your life and enjoying it

Like you, I like my computer and I find it hard to survive without it. I love the Internet too and I like being totally connected. However, few years back, I began to realize that I’m addicted to it – the computer, the Internet and my work. You’ll say, “That’s with everybody. What’s the problem?”

The “No Problem” Problem

Well, there are no problems at all. I just wanted to stay plugged but be able to remain disconnected. I wanted to reduce the time spent shuffling between Emails, Instant Messaging, the Internet, work and everything else in between. I also wanted to maintain a sane state of connection where I’m not digitally Cast Away. I’ve been experimenting with various disciplines with my digital life and I’m at a stage where I’m at peace and happy with my life, computers and the Internet.

The Siddhattha Gotama Stage

Let me tell you a story of my addiction to being in “constant connection” with the Internet. Way back in 2004, during the prime days of my freelance career, I attended a week-long Wedding ceremony for a good friend. That disconnected me from the connected world for almost a week. I was enjoying my time with old friends, chilling out in the hot desert but I was agitated, confused and got the “disconnected” feeling from the 2nd day. I was helpless and felt that I needed to be ‘always connected’. I had always been in constant search for a balance in my digital life ever since.

The Buddha Moment

That urge and the need to stay connected remained with me for long. It was only few years back that I started embracing minimalism, started feeling OK to be disconnected, not the first-one-to-know, not be a beta tester. Somewhere in summer 2007 I got myself totally disconnected for about 15 days with no Internet and I survived gracefully. That pushed me forward in my new found strength and discipline to be more productive in work and life without the trivial and distracting pursuits.

Self Discipline

I’ve developed a rather strong discipline of following very few things in my day-to-day activities that proved to be working effectively for me. I’m more productive without spending too much time. I’m able to spend enough time with my daughter. Yes, I play, talk and spend a lot of my evening time with my daughter.

I’ll try to profile some of my own activities, the tools/utilities I use and my ways of getting things done. I hope they will help you decide coming up with your own ways of being more productive and more sane. They are not yet perfect and I’ll push the envelope to becoming more precise, more productive and have more free time in between.


For today, let’s talk about emails (others will come soon). Like you, I had the habit of constantly monitoring my emails. My email client was set to check emails every 5 minutes and at times wished I can set it to 1 minute. Well, I applied my new-found discipline and rules to it. Btw, I use Apple Mail on Mac OS X but the ways I’m suggesting should be applicable to any email client easily albeit their own respective options.

No Notifications

The idea is to not allow your tools to disturb you while you’re working. They’re means to an end and should not hamper your normal flow, the tools should not sideline you while you’re in the zone. I’ve set my email client

Smart but no need to push it to me

This is an awesome feature if your email server supports it (Gmail and Google Apps for domains does). When enabled, the IDLE command will get your new emails even if you’ve set your email client to check at some interval (hourly) or even manual.

I’ve disabled it. I’m OK with the hourly monitoring routine of my email client.

Side Effects

Well, if you seriously look at the above simple steps/settings/changes, they’re not just some checkbox and optional selection but serious decisions that will implicate and complicate your life drastically. Some might even scream, revolt and may even go wild and mad. I almost did. I got frustrated, irritated, agitated and was in constant fight with myself and I got defeated more than once.

Yes, I did changed back to the ‘normal’ settings, visual indicators to show new mails, check regularly at 5 minutes interval and never miss a mail with the IDLE command. It was only after the fifth or the sixth attempt that my withdrawal symptoms began to subside enough to be able to stay at the current state of totally non-disturbance with emails.

Nonetheless, I allow myself to send-out emails anytime I need to. And with all the notifications turn off, I’m now acclimatized to the idea of not checking emails at all. So, it’s only when I’m free or works lighten up that I ‘remember’ to check my emails.

I think I’ve won my war with emails. I’ll continue to experiment with better and more efficient methods to stay plugged but not disturbed. Don’t get it wrong, the idea is not to disable emails but allow it to be dormant, be there just when you need it.

What about Productivity?

Well, what will happen if I don’t respond quick enough to my client, my colleagues and to other offers? That was the constant nagging feeling that I felt too. Some of the glaring ones being

Well, if you ponder and look closely, it’s not at all correct. It is OK to be the second person to know something, to reply after sometime, you’ll always get the client if you are good with your work. Your client will still be happy if you reply within couple of hours. You can even try the vacation settings while you’re vacationing. Some wise-men have rightly said, “It is OK to be last in the line.”

Productivity Practices

I’ve tried many tools, utilities and options and have settled with a very minimal set of rules for my email. Productivity is not in using many tools but reducing it and getting to the task faster, finishing it quickly.

In my email client, whenever I’m checking my emails, I focus only on the two filters “New & Unread” and “Flagged”.

New & Unread

Of course all new emails that I should read or scan. I usually reply right then and there whenever possible. If an email need more attention and cannot be replied instantly in few lines, then I just ‘flag’ it. So, the primary and most common actions need to do with the “New” filter (or label or folder) is to (i) reply quickly or (ii) flag it for future action.


This is the place where I come back in my free time to re-read, reply or keep it ‘flagged’ till I’m ready to reply.

The idea is to stay disconnected but plugged in. Reduce distractions and be productive so you can spend more time with your friends, family and the people around you. The ideas mentioned here nurtured after learning from other zen gurus and productivity masters. One should try, experiment and formulate a discipline of your own to getting things done without taking a toll on your time.

I’ll try to write more as soon as possible about my time management, getting work done and be able to continue being productive despite throttling the time spend in front of the computer.

← Prev Next →