E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

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First, the 4-minute mile couldn’t be broken. Then, men couldn’t land on the moon. Now, most have accepted e-mail as the permanent bane of their working existences.

But not all of us.

The following came to me via the prodigal Cameron Johnson, originally in USA Today. Below it are my recommendations for making this weekend one to remember:

SAN FRANCISCO — Overwhelmed by e-mail? Some professionals are fighting back by declaring e-mail-free Fridays — or by deleting their entire in-box.

Today about 150 engineers at chipmaker Intel (INTC) will kick off “Zero E-mail Fridays.” E-mail isn’t forbidden, but everyone is encouraged to phone or meet face-to-face. The goal is more direct, free-flowing communication and better exchange of ideas, Intel principal engineer Nathan Zeldes says in a company blog post.

E-mail-free Fridays already are the norm at cell carrier U.S. Cellular (UZG) and at order-processing company PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services in Alpharetta, Ga.

Prominent techies are tackling the problem individually by declaring “e-mail bankruptcy” — deleting or archiving an entire in-box and starting over. Among them: prominent tech bloggers Jeff Nolan, Michael Arrington and Vanessa Fox, and venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

E-mail overload is caused by the sheer volume of messages zipping around the globe. Each day, about 39.7 billion person-to-person e-mails, 17.1 billion automated alerts, and 40.5 billion pieces of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) are sent worldwide, researcher IDC says. White-collar workers often receive 140 messages a day, executive coach Marsha Egan says.

E-mail can be a useful communication tool, and people who write a lot of it are more likely to receive it, IDC (IDC) tech analyst Mark Levitt says. But it can quickly get out of hand.

“I didn’t even have time to figure out where to start,” says Edward O’Connor, a Web developer from San Diego who declared e-mail bankruptcy two weeks ago. O’Connor had about 750 messages dating back three years, almost all of which needed a reply. “I was completely overwhelmed,” he says.

Egan says even the busiest e-mailers can, with care, keep control of their in-boxes. Her tips:

•Don’t use e-mail to avoid unpleasant tasks. “I couldn’t believe people who had never talked to each other but worked in the same office,” says Scott Dockter, CEO of PBD. Dockter started e-mail-free Fridays about a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, the number of messages his 400 employees send has dropped by about 75%.

•Don’t constantly check for new messages. It can take four minutes to refocus on work after checking an e-mail, Egan says. Jay Ellison, chief operating officer of U.S. Cellular, estimates that his 7,000 employees spend about 1½ hours a day on their in-boxes. E-mail-free Fridays give them more time to solve customers’ problems, he says.

•Respond to important messages first — even if they’re difficult. Less-pressing issues can wait until a free moment, Egan says.

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So, how to save your weekend from e-mail or — worse still — the mediocrity of “what should I do?” and having it end before it starts?

I’m just as lazy as the rest of the world about weekend planning, so here’s the trick: I asked people to describe dream “dates” in detail in the second-to-last post. Now, in the comments, you have beautifully detailed itineraries for having an unforgettable 24 hours in dozens of cities and states, including:

Las Vegas
Honolulu
Utah
New York City
Washington, D.C.
Chicago
Los Angeles
Toronto, Canada
Boston
Atlanta
Munich, Germany
Seattle, Washington
Perth, Australia
Sydney, Australia
Jerusalem
New Orleans
Portland, Oregon
Missouri
Namibia
Jerusalem
Sedona, Arizona
Sydney, Australia
Cambria, California
Raleigh, North Carolina
Malaysia
Esfahan, Iran

Here’s the challenge: using the comments as samples, create at least one day this weekend that is truly amazing and put it in the comments here.

The reader whose description I like the most will get at least 36 copies of the 1st printing of The 4-Hour Workweek as early X-mas presents. First-edition manuscripts have sold for more than $1,500 on eBay, so these are nice stocking stuffers :)

Photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and such are not required, but some evidence will help prove the experience wasn’t just your imagination.

So, make haste — plan now and play hard!

[P.S. The winners of the dream date competition are mthorley, malia, AF, donovan, andrewrogers, ryanmcknight, macewen, and adam (seattle date). Please check your inboxes for further instructions.]

Posted on: December 7, 2007.

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58 comments on “E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

  1. A couple of years ago, we were in Boston, and the weekend was a blast.

    We started by following the red trail that visits all the historic monuments: we followed it loosely, breaking off when interested, and stayed on for sights like the U.S.S. Constitution. I would name where we did what, but really, it depends on individual taste. Of course, when you pass by the part on the tour where a tour guide would say that this is where Patrick Henry saw the lights in the church tower from across the water, make absolutely sure you stop by the Cheers restaurant based off of the TV show and have their giant burger.

    That will take up an immense part of your day. But you will see so much history, and you will be awed enough to find it worth it. Next stop is the Redsox game, in the perpetually sold out Fenway Park. Assuming that it’s the fourth of July, as it annually is, board the dinner boat that you had booked earlier in the day. The dinner will be great, if you work it right you can get champagne on the house, and the fireworks up and down the coast are beautiful.

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  2. Thought that’s where you were going. Nice! I skimmed the comments earlier today and was struck by how useful a resource they were. Unfortunately I’m not in any of the relevant places right now, but I think I’ll save a hard copy for future reference. Come to think of it, my wife and I will be in DC in a few weeks. I’ll have to look closely at that one. Meanwhile, they’re all great for inspiration.

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  3. This is a combination of unforgettable moments from several trips to Seattle. I’d love to go again, and combine them into one amazing day:

    Flight arrives Friday afternoon. Get settled, then go (by invitation only, of course) to “Game Night” at one of the area’s many tech companies. Lots of fun, laughter, and the scintillating company of brilliant people. Stay up way too late, but don’t regret it.

    After a good night’s sleep (I’d recommend a hotel, but I always stay with friends), have a hearty late breakfast (I believe they serve it all day) at the Issaquah Cafe in Issaquah, then drive down to Snoqualmie, see Snoqualmie Falls, wander through the misty forest, walk through old trains, and visit the Farmer’s Market. Pick up some snacks at the market for a light lunch.

    Drive back up to Seattle and visit the Experience Music Project (don’t miss their art exhibitions, too!), then head over to the waterfront. Go for a ferry ride, explore some islands if you have time (you’ll need your car), then back to the mainland and have a luxurious dinner at the Waterfront Seafood Grill on Pier 70.

    Sleep hard, happy and exhausted.

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  4. My truely amazing weekend is simple and actually will happen this weekend.
    Because of work I’ve been putting off construction on my place which I’m making a DIY job. It’s going to be myself and some friends, some beer and pizza. No phone/email/work related stuff. Construction and building things has always been a hobby so its a nice break from the stagnant sitting behind a desk routine.

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  5. This weekend I’m taking a break from the normal routine. My hobby is building things and I have been putting off a DIY project for a while. So this weekend I have some friends, beer, and pizza coming through for a nice saturday of working around the house. As much as I like getting away (I usually weekend in florida during the winter months) I want to get some stuff done. It breaks the normal routine of just doing nothing over the weekend.

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  6. @purevoid
    Boracay is amazing, but a bit too commercial nowadays. Every ten feet is another person in your face begging you to buy fake sunglasses or ride in their boats. Now Palawin (spelling?) is the place to be. Still in the Philippines but much quieter and better beach access.

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  7. @TimFerriss
    On a side note, I’m launching a new web site with a friend in Jan/Feb of 2008. It’s going to be focused on 20-somethings and everything vital to our age bracket (career advice, apartment hunting, hot spots in various cities, etc.) I’m not going to include the Domain Name here because I’m not trying to get free ad space. The reason I mention this is because as part of the site my friend John and I will be authoring blogs. I read your example of the four hour body based on the Colorado experiment (http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/category/the-4-hour-body/) and I’m going to do the experiment, but with slightly different terms (the diet part – I’m going to eat worse than you did, see what the effects will be). The experiment will be one of my first few blog postings and if you’d like, I can send you the article before I post it.

    Cheers!
    Dave S (SchraderTrader)

    ###

    Hi Dave,

    I’d love to see it! Please email it to me via my assistant Amy at amy-at-fourhourworkweek.com. Happy gaining!

    Tim

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  8. As I write this the weather here in Sarasota Florida is a balmy 75…the breeze coming in through all the open windows feels vitamin-rich and is scented with the fragrance of grapefruit blossoms from my tree. This weekend — tomorrow, in fact — I will start the day with a run on Siesta Beach, just a few miles from home. Siesta Beach has sand the color and texture of confectioner’s sugar. It doesn’t get hot, even on the scorchiest Florida day, so one doesn’t have to run from shadow to shadow to prevent foot burn. After my run I’ll have breakfast at The Serving Spoon, a great little neighborhood place…”Veggie Spuds” (six kinds of veggies, potatoes, cheese, and a fried egg) is the dish of choice…side of fruit and an English Muffin. After breakfast I’ll head to Crowley Nursery, which specializes in tropical exotic plants. I’m shopping for a new variety of banana to add to my tropical fruit garden. I can wander there for hours. After dropping off my new banana tree at the house, I’ll drive to Crystal River (north of here) to snorkel with the manatees. I have a new waterproof cmera so I hope to capture a few closeups of the lovely sea-cows. There’s a great fruit stand on the drive back…I’ll buy some mangoes and have those with some fruit from my own garden for dinner…an old Mel Brooks movie on DVD and early to bed. That’s it, another day in Paradise.

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  9. For my awesome day this weekend, I’m taking the train into Chicago with my sisters. We’ll start the day at Lincoln Park Zoo enjoying the animals and the Christmas lights. Then we’ll move on to State Street and wander over to Millenium Park. Dinner will probably be at Uno’s or another iconic pizza place, followed by a fun train ride home looking at our pictures from the day.

    Total cost will probably be $50 per head (excluding shopping!)

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  10. I am a student with no money so getting up and leaving wasn’t the easiest thing to do but when done it was well worth the trip. I decided first of all that all my papers and homework can be done on the train so I won’t have to be at home to get it done. Me and my buddy decided to take a trip to chicago randomly one weekend. The train we decided was the best and cheapest way to get there. We then went to the city and found out there was a beer pong tournament going on. Amazing time watched football played some beer pong had so much fun had the cell phones turned off and had complete freedom. We ended up meeting up at the bars later with some friends from back awhile ago. The thing is when you do something like this and you get back into the real world your not the same person you know control what gos on not other people

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  11. Hey Tim,

    Looks like I missed the dream date contest. Here’s mine:

    (Assume it’s summer) Start at the Art Institute of Chicago. They have a really cool collection of medieval weapons, katanas, etc. in the lower level. They usually have an exhibit or two I also want to see.

    Then a walk along Michigan avenue to the Chicago Summerdance. They have a HUGE 3,500 square foot open-air dance floor. They have a lesson starting around 6, then live dancing from 7:30 to 9:30. There’s all different kinds of music, but I love their tango and salsa nights the most.

    I usually skip the lesson, since I know how to dance. But that means the best spots to sit near the dance floor are taken. My solution? I usually bring chocolate fondue and wine, and make friends with some older people already seated. They keep an eye on it for me.

    After the dance is over, a carriage ride up Michigan Ave (also called the Magnificent Mile) to the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock tower. For dinner reservations, ask to be seated in the southeast corner of the restaurant for the best view of Navy Pier.

    After dinner, have your date scout the woman’s room for you. When it’s empty, have her sneak you in for the best view of the city anywhere.

    (Optional – if you have a bike or don’t mind a 4 mile scenic walk, start earlier. Go to the Lincoln Park Zoo and admire all the animals. I like the seals and polar bear the best. From there, exit to the north and go east to the lakefront. Head south on the bike paths – it’s usually crowded but not so much that it’s annoying. Then head over to Navy Pier for the Ferris wheel and other entertainment. After that, head to the Art Institute as above.)

    I don’t know if links to pics will show up here, so I just put a post on my own blog. http://www.burtonkent.com/dreamdate

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  12. On the way to anywhere — read “The Hamster Revolution”, a short book dedicated to getting 15 days more free time a year by cutting back on the e-mail overload. That’s 7 more weekends (dream dates) a year.

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  13. I am going to keep it simple. I will board our dog for the day on Saturday. Sat. AM, I will take my wife to a small family diner for breakfast, than off to a European day spa, lunch at our favorite deli in Royal Oak, MI, an afternoon nap and then dinner at a great seafood restaurant followed by a jazz club and martinis to cap off the night.

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  14. A lot of people bitch about email, but I think the problem for many is actually an email addiction. Like you have to keep checking it to see if you have anything new, or because you don’t want to miss something. It’s actually used to avoid doing something painful/boring (but usually important). And the popup notifications also creating ADD in everyone where the ability to focus is reduced.

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  15. Raining in California, but this also brought a very large swell. Surfing Saturday morning, followed by breakfast burritos and coffee at chill-out cafe in Santa Cruz. The trails are moist from the rain so will hook up in the afternoon with some buddies for downhill mountain biking up by the University (UCSC). We will then celebrate our victories together at the local brewery by Seabright beach.

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