The Longhand Challenge

Do you hide behind emails and texting?

Just a question.

For me, the answer is certainly “yes.” While I have plenty of extroverted moments, I still fall squarely within the “introversion” half of the interpersonal relations spectrum.

One of the consequences of my natural introversion is a nettlesome habit of using texting and email, but especially email, to exert more “control” over my communications with the outside world.

It’s more comfortable to email. There is more predictability to an exchange, and none of the pressure/anxiety from an actual conversation’s cascade of small, moment-to-moment decisions.

The problem is, those moment-to-moment decisions in a conversation are a highly efficient means of communication and usually lead to better understanding, faster progress, and improved social bonds.

But left to my own devices, I’ll just email the day away … occasionally not speaking to a soul.

Hence the longhand challenge. It’s a two parter.

Longhand Challenge DAY 1

First put up autoresponders for your work and personal accounts. Feel free to copy, paste and customize this text:

“Hello, although I will not be checking email today, I am open for business. Please call my mobile (xxx-xxx-xxxx) for anything that needs to be discussed today. Otherwise, I will respond tomorrow.”

Then, you conduct your business the old fashioned way. With pencil, paper, and telephone if necessary. Today would be a good day to do some “deep work” since your favorite shallows pool will be closed for maintenance.

Longhand Challenge DAY 2

For the first hour of your day or workday, continue from the previous day by not checking email. When you can’t stand it anymore, you may log in and peak.

NOW, your goal is going to be to “process” this email as much by hand as possible. With fresh eyes. If the first message in your inbox is from a marketer, why not consider hitting unsubscribe? If the second email is a forward from a family member, why not call them up, tell them you love them, and then politely ask them to stop including you on the lame forwards? If your third email is from an employee or colleague or your boss: You guessed it. The goal here would be to take care of it by speaking to them if possible.

And so your goal for today will be to process your email without actually hitting “reply.”

If you reach an email that “absolutely” has to be replied to. Then the recommendation is this. Write your reply in longhand. March it across the office if possible to avoid sending it as an email. Copy it and distribute if there is more than one person on the chain. If it is not time sensitive, then send it through the mail. And if it absolutely needs to be sent, then snap a photo of your longhand reply and send it as an attachment with a brief explainer of what you’re up to.

If your colleagues or bosses raise eyebrows, refer them to this article on time management and tell them your goal is the same as theirs: increased productivity and effectiveness.

Longhand Challenge Day 3

Your only assignment is to watch how yourself as you go about your day. How, if at all, has your behavior changed? How do you feel when you open your email client? How do you feel about picking up the phone?

There are no correct answers. Only the afterglow of serious detachment.

It’s always a good day to take the longhand challenge, but if you’re anxious about how others will perceive your experiment, you could wait until Friday before a holiday weekend, or some equivalent day to “fly under the radar.”

Good luck.

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