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The Low-Information Diet

Until recently, my typical work day went a bit like this: I’d be working on a project when a dozen e-mail alerts popped up on my screen, followed by a random instant message from a friend or relative. Meanwhile, my office and cell phones battled for my attention, and a co-worker invariably buzzed through the intercom saying, “Hey, quick question,” for the umpteenth time. Struggling to focus, I’d retrace my steps until new interruptions sent me running for more coffee. Somehow the whole multitasking thing wasn’t working out so well…

Then I heard of the “Low-Information Diet.” The concept, coined by Timothy Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, is quickly spreading through corporate offices and making cubicle dwellers giddy over newfound time and productivity.

Simply put, “The Low-Information Diet” is the art of cultivating selective ignorance, limiting useless and non-urgent information that clogs up your schedule and slows you down.

One tactic offered up by Ferris is e-mail batching: Calling most e-mails “manufactured emergencies,” Ferris advocates checking e-mails no more than twice a day: once before lunch (after you’ve completed a critical to-do item), and again around 4 p.m. Checking e-mail first thing in the morning, he says, “scrambles your priorities and plans for the day, and [checking it last thing at night] just gives you insomnia.” (I know, the thought of limiting e-mail access hurts, but since Ferris promises to multiply my productivity, I decided to try it out. So far, so good.)

E-mail batching adopters often set up auto-responders or notify key contacts about their new e-mail policy, citing higher efficiency and offering a phone number for emergencies. I opted for offering no explanation, and, frankly, no one’s noticed. At any rate, you’ll find it easier to curb your e-mail addiction if you turn off audible or pop-up email alerts.

Ferris also applies the batching technique to phone calls, telling callers that he checks for messages at specific times, and offering his cell number for emergencies. (I love the idea of shutting up my phone when I need uninterrupted focus.) Whether you choose to adopt or ignore this advice, you can help cut down on phone time if you don’t give your personal digits to business contacts, or give your business number to friends.

Interested in learning more about the Low-Information Diet? Here’s a handy download that promises to triple your productivity in 24 hours.

No question, it’s hard taking time off the digital leashes. Still, I’m intrigued by the potential payoff and set on trying it out for a month. Meanwhile, I’ll share more productivity tactics with you on a 3-part post. (Coming next: cultivating Not-To-Do lists and cutting your work day in half.)

What are some of your time-saving tricks?

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