Thought Leadership

Technology: Taking a Back Seat

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I am not a big believer in government intervention, particularly regarding how we use technology to conduct our business or personal lives. However, beginning this week, a good law to ban text messaging by drivers finally goes into effect in Georgia. If you, like me, live and work in Atlanta — one of the “worst commute cities in the U.S.” — this is welcoming news. The obvious reason, of course, is safety on the highways. But, I am also using the new law as an inspiration to cut back, unplug, enjoy the road, sing along to the radio and finally focus on taking a break from e-mail! 

I have fully embraced advances in personal technology, believing it makes me more productive, a better communicator, and available 24/7 to clients, family, friends and the like. And, as an early adopter (to use marketing parlance), it was fun while it was the new “thing.” (Granted, it was new about 15 years ago! Okay, when I embrace something, I really embrace it!) 

I find that I spend way too much time on e-mail these days —  e-mail that must be read while the coffee is brewing, e-mail that must be replied to while backing out of the driveway, e-mail that needs to be forwarded while walking to grab some lunch, e-mail that just can’t wait! Of course, I just have to e-mail during meetings.  When I get home, I sit in the car in the garage to respond to e-mail that has arrived since I left the office. Right before dinner, I do another e-mail check, then one more before going to bed. E-mail, e-mail, e-mail, all the time! Why? Is it really all that important? 

You know what? It’s not! It’s just a bad habit. Or, as some would say, it’s an addiction. And we all know addictions are bad. Hmmm, now what to do… How do I beat it? How do I take back my life? Naturally, I turned to technology for my solution and Googled “e-mail addiction” — of course, there were more than five million hits! Goodness, this addiction is pervasive to say the least!  But, as with any addiction, the first step is admitting you have a problem. 

JR Raphael said it best in a 2008 PC World article:    

“First, recognize the signs:

  1. You check your e-mail more than once an hour, even when you aren’t on the clock.
  2. You look at every message that comes in, as it comes in, either at or away from the office.
  3. You feel the need to respond to messages instantly or within minutes of when they arrive.
  4. You interrupt real, in-person activities on a regular basis to deal with e-mail.
  5. E-mail has, in some way, interfered with your regular life — be it in the form of sleep loss, relationship troubles, stress, or any other noticeable effect. “

If, like me, you exhibit all five warning signs, then you need help. Thankfully, help is something you can do on your own. Based on exhaustive research and personal experience, I’d like to suggest you do the following: 

Take a  Break and Focus

Technology has become a compulsion. So, get a timer, set it for 5 minutes and focus on other work. Or better yet, schedule some face-to-face time with your colleagues. Then build up to 30 minutes at a time away from e-mail. Before you know it, you’ll actually be working again, instead of reflexively replying to every e-mail.

Edit the Clutter

Half of my e-mail is stuff I’ve subscribed to in order to be better informed — via sources like the trade press, research institutes, Google alerts, breaking news, Facebook feeds, Twitter updates and so on. I find, though, that once I’ve subscribed, I never go back and actually stop any one of them. I suppose I just need to edit out some of the clutter I no longer need. And then there’s Facebook. Try checking it just once a day — you certainly don’t need to know what every high school classmate is doing with his or her day. 

Remember: It’s PR, not ER

Pick a time and just shut off your e-mail. Start small, perhaps during lunchtime. Try to turn it off for just an hour. Pick a time to end e-mail each day and stick with it — this could be the start of reconnecting with your family at night or taking a walk with your dog.    

Make Sunday a No-Email Day

On Sunday afternoons, I find myself trying to ”catch up” on all of the e-mails I haven’t read, haven’t responded to, and haven’t deleted. Instead, take a one-day break — it may be all you need to reclaim your spot on the couch in front of the TV or with a good novel. 

Start Using “Out of the Office”

We’ve all moved away from letting people know we’re not going to check e-mail. I say, let the world know you’re on vacation and unplug. 

Finally, Obey All Traffic Laws! 

I am very happy to say that e-mail reading and responding will no longer be taking place while I’m driving.  It’s now the law as well as my new rule. It’ll be my own contribution to conquering my e-mail addiction as well as to making the roadways around Atlanta just a bit safer. 

Hopefully, some of these tips will help you kick the e-mail habit, too. For me, I’ll take it one day at a time. And, if it works, maybe I’ll see what I can do about those twice-a-day stops at Starbucks!


Mickey G. Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a member of the PRSA Board of Directors and managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in its Atlanta office.

About the author

Mickey Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA


  • Mickey, what I particularly like about your posting is that it offers some solutions to what most people admit is a problem…while they blithely exacerbate it. It also reminds me of the late, great Pat Jackson telling a seminar full of PR pros how to handle any client who demands instantaneous responses to all communication. Ask, he said: “Don’t you want me to THINK about it first?”
    Tony D’Angelo

  • I totally agree with you!! Being the fact that I am 29, so I am pretty much the last generation that was 12 years old and didn’t have a cell phone or internet, I think it’s really important to understand what communication is. I was eating with my father in the Waldorf the other day, and he expressed to me how nervous he is about my generation and the lack of social interaction we have. Of course we are glued to our Facebooks and blog sites, but honestly I can’t remember the last time I wrote a real letter.
    I think there is going to become a time when people are going to get sick of all the social media. I know, I know, that is like blasphemy for me to say, but think about it. I reminisce sometimes about the days before cell phones, how you could leave your house and you were free. Now people can track you down anywhere!! The next time you go into a restaurant, look around and see how many people have their phones right next to their entrees!!
    I think there might just come a day when the new trend is face to face meetings and interactions!!

  • This is a great post! I find it’s so easy to become addicted to checking my email and responding ASAP. But truly, will it really matter if I don’t happen to respond a few minutes after the email is sent?! Probably not! I’ve been realizing lately I can’t allow others’ expectations to rule my life. It’s much easier said then done, but I think it’s so important to set boundaries and allow yourself to have time for yourself… email aside.

    Also, Tony, I love your quote from Pat Jackson – it speaks volumes! Thanks for sharing!

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