Hi, my name is Andy and I’m addicted to email. I check my email at least 5 times a day, probably more some days, depending on where I’m at and if they have free wireless. I have 3 “main” email accounts, 2-3 “secondary/junk” accounts (which I only check once every couple days), plus the inbox for my facebook and myspace pages; add it all up and the amount of time I spend simply checking all my emails (not even reading or writing messages) is getting out of control. My “problem” has become more noticeable lately as I’m trying to be a productive student and finish the semester strong. I have a lot of work to do before I can really enjoy the Christmas season and working on school stuff often takes a backseat to other-much less important things; I’m actually proud/embarrassed to admit that sometimes I find myself checking email or reading articles online while sitting in class (I hope none of my professors are reading this, although I doubt I have them confused since it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m not paying attention to their lecture). I’ve come to realize that grad school is pretty much all writing (papers and projects) – at least it is in my experience as a seminary student – there are very few tests…in fact, this is end of my third semester (plus one J-term) and when I buy new books after Christmas I will have only taken one real test (you know, the kind you take in a classroom after the professor comes in and asks everyone put away all their study materials and all you hear for the next two hours is the sound of furious writing – the joyful release of knowledge before it’s forgotten – and an occasional sniffle, since students are always sick around finals, especially in December when it’s cold outside and people haven’t been getting much sleep).
The thinking seems to go something like this… when you’re studying for a test you’d rather be writing a paper, but when you’re writing a paper you’d rather be studying for a test.
Having 4+ final papers and/or projects all due within a few days of each other is the reality of the end of a seminary semester. Having learned this in past semesters, I have been forced to discover (or, attempted to force myself into) what I call my “focused academic mode.” I basically know what the final assignment is for all my classes on the first day of the semester because it is spelled out for me in the syllabus for each class. So I suppose, if I really wanted, I could start working on my finals the first day of class, but this probably wouldn’t be a good idea since the “final” is meant to be an expression of ones cumulative learning from the class throughout the whole semester (if I had started it in the beginning, I wouldn’t have had time to learn anything yet). So what I did last spring was extend finals “week” (it’s actually only a couple days) into finals “month.” I started working on my finals about 3-4 weeks before the end of the semester. Nothing huge, I just started chipping away at them, starting by opening up a new word document and typing out the explanation of the assignment. Then I’d take maybe 15-20 minutes to write some bullet point thoughts and ideas about what I might like to focus on for the paper. I tried doing this for all my “big” finals and slowly I had each of them off to a good start. I would try to make time to revisit my short bulleted thoughts and expand them into full paragraphs until the paper began taking some form, before I knew it, I had a solid rough draft and after staying focused in academic mode for a few weeks in a row (rarely spending more than 60-90 minutes at a time on a paper/project) I was nearly done with all of my finals, so that when the end of the semester did come (which it always does, whether you’re ready or not) and many of my classmates were freaking out and frantically trying to work on six things at once – I was watching reruns of Scrubs, reading stupid articles online and checking my email a million times a day (all things I had to give up for a little while in order to get my finals done).
It’s ironic that I just wrote all this on a Wednesday afternoon within three weeks of the end of a semester (read: I did this when I should have been working ahead on my finals like I just wrote about). I tried though, seriously. A few hours ago I actually closed all the windows to the world wide web that were open on my computer, I cleared off my desk and got out all the articles and handouts I was going to use to start working on one of my finals, but before I could get into the zone, an important thought crept into my head – what if someone emailed me since I last checked…5 minutes ago?!? It’s like I said in the beginning, I’m addicted to email. It’s a disease really, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has it. Maybe you’re not lucky enough to live the life of a born-again-student* like me, where access to personal email is not as strictly monitored or discouraged like it is for those of you who spend your days in cubicles and offices working for the man (or, in the interest of being sensitive to all six of my readers–some of whom are females–I suppose you might also be working for the woman), but even the “work-related” emails you get all day (and especially the little bell noise from Microsoft Outlook telling you there’s a new message in your inbox) can be distractions from actually getting real work done.
This whole thing reminds me of something I read online this past summer on the distraction of email at work and the decrease in productivity as a result. Passing on a link to that writing was my original reason for this entry, but then I started realizing how true it was for not only people in the work place, but for students as well, and it got my mind going on how I’ve attempted to deal with it during my busy/stressful times in grad school (and how I should be focusing on school right now!). Sorry for all the extra commentary above; here is a link to a blog entry by Michael Hyatt, President & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing. He is writing in response to a book he had just read (The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris) about email addiction and its affect on productivity. I promise it will at least get you to consider changing your email routine. If nothing else, it offers some interesting thoughts.
*This term isn’t used to describe a conversion experience in my faith, but rather, it is a statement about my renewed status as a student after spending some years after college working.