You’ve Got NO MAIL

no-mail

I woke up this morning to this. What?!?!

It’s been a long time since I had a clear inbox, so why the sudden purge? There’s a logical answer…today’s my last day at Downstream.

After 3 1/2 years of satisfying and fantastic work for the Portland, OR based experiential design firm that hired me to take over their sports group and gave me the opportunity lead a fantastic team of designers, developers, and project managers through some of the most fun projects of my career, I’m moving on. It was a blast and I have had fantastic clients and wonderful colleagues. So why leave?

I’m leaving to pursue an entrepreneurial project with what I believe is huge upside with another group of people that I have worked with before, enjoy, and respect. My new career will put me at the lead of Campus Initiatives for Adams Outdoor here in Charlotte, NC. I’ll be working with college and university campuses around the country to design, develop, implement, and sell out of home advertising networks and assets to help generate new revenue to support their university projects and missions. I am very excited about this venture and proud to be working for a company that is willing to innovate when they see opportunity.

So, that’s an announcement. But it isn’t really what was on my mind this morning when I saw that I had NO MAIL. The first thing that occurred to me is how have we as a business culture become so addicted to email? I work REALLY hard to be mindful of having meaningful personal interactions and engaging with real people, so why do I feel anxious when I see an empty inbox? For that matter, why am I looking at my email within 2 minutes of opening my eyes? And what is going to happen to me over the next week while I have NO EMAIL until I start at Adams on November 28?

I’m not sure I have answer to all of these questions. I feel like this new position gives me the opportunity to reset my own personal behaviors and expectations, so I want to spend some of this next week being THANKFUL for the respite and thinking about how to move forward in a healthy manner.

It isn’t realistic to say I’m just going to quit email in the new job. Email has become a vital form of communication in all manners of business today. Ignoring it would lead to missed opportunities and a failure to communicate with the very people I want to do business with in my new role. However, I do think it is realistic to reset my own standards and therefore create a set of new standards for my new clients and colleagues.

On this, my final day at Downstream, I am reflecting about my time in this role. As I do this, I look back on this blog, which began in my early days in this job as a way to reflect on my travels and express the ideas and emotions that flowed out of me. As I look through them with the lens of learning from the past, one jumps out – SMALL THINGS – which I wrote after I’d been on the job a little over a year and had been pushing hard to make my mark. You should go read it. As I re-read it, what stood out to me was that I had consciously decided to put things like exercise, reflection, meditation, and focus at the forefront of my mornings and emphasize staying in the moment with people and eliminating distractions. So what happened? That post was in September of 2014 and when I look at my business in Q4 of 2014 it is astonishing how much work got done! During that season when I was intentionally preventing email from controlling my life, we closed 3 of the 4 biggest deals I completed during my time at Downstream. Reducing the importance of email in my life, led to getting things done.

At this point, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking…”then do it again.” Ok, time to re-commit. As I walk away from the addiction of work email for a week, I commit to start the new job with a renewed focus on the things that centered me in a way that made me a great leader and salesman – start the day in quiet meditation, make health and exercise a priority for each day, stay in the moment in each conversation and eliminate distractions (a buzzing phone) that might reduce that, and choose to talk on the phone over email and face to face over on the phone when possible. As I start this new adventure with old friends, it seems like a good time to return to habits that led to success! I hope you’ll choose to start fresh today too.

Small things

hotel work

The past year and a half has been an ongoing lesson and instruction for me in both mindfulness and productivity. It has been very interesting to me to watch my own development in these areas because when I started to really focus on mindfulness in my life, I had no idea what an impact it would have on improving my productivity. This improvement has come through focusing on and making changes in several “small things” that have added up to huge gains. I still have a long way to go to improve both of these areas, but I believe I’ve experienced the path that leads to success in these small things that will allow me to duplicate it as I strive to be a more mindful, present person and see that lead to improvements in my productivity.

There are many small things that I could go into great detail on that have changed in my life because of improved mindfulness. From setting aside time each morning to be quiet and meditate which has a calming effect to the start of my day to leaving my phone in my bag when I’m in meetings on the road so I can truly focus on the conversations and be present with my clients. Both of these things have made me healthier mentally and more productive. The list goes on and on, but recently I realized a small thing that I could change that would have monumental impact on my productivity directly.

I’ve been re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss as an inspiration to continue to push myself to greater flexibility and freedom in my life while being able to continue being a productive employee for the company I really enjoy working for and want to continue to be a part of as long as they’ll have me. One of the great things about the book is that it has a TON of useful suggestions of small things that you can change that will allow you to work more efficiently, with more focus on what is important, so that you can get more work done in less time (therefore freeing your time to do what you really want to do in life).

Two weeks ago I went in to my Outlook mail settings and turned off all of the desktop notifications. Long ago I had turned my cell phone email notifications to vibrate only, but always had that ‘ding’ and the small pop-up box in in the corner of my computer screen turned on so that no matter what I was doing I would see when an email came through and see the first few lines of the message. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in the middle of building an important proposal for a client or researching a prospective project and see something like this pop up:

FROM: Bob Smith
MESSAGE: Client Issue
PRIORITY: High!

Well, you know what I did…stopped everything and jumped over to my email as fast as possible as my blood pressure spiked and my mind started racing about all of the projects I was working with Bob on and speculating what it could possibly be…only to find the following message:
John,
Just keeping you in the loop on the issue at Client X that we were working through last week. Everything has been resolved and the development of their interactives is back on schedule. Call me if you want more details.
Bob

Whew, blood pressure drops back down, mind starts to settle back, but now I see there are 4 other messages in my inbox that I should look at and see what is up with those, maybe fire back a couple of responses; or it jogs my mind of something else I wanted to do and I start surfing the internet. 30-40 minutes later I remember that I was working on something and shift back over to the proposal where I spend 15 minutes refreshing my memory of what I was doing and the topic I was working on so I can get started again. Just like that, an hour of the day is gone.

The simple change of removing those notifications has kept me focused on the tasks I’m working on and finishing them before moving on to other things. And you know what I’ve found out…none of those emails that I don’t respond to immediately have cost me any business or any client goodwill, not one. It is a small thing, but one of the many small things that I’ve changed that have had a profound impact and it won’t be the last.