I have to get my oil changed. I hate to get my oil changed. So I planned ahead; I would do this detested chore in the least time possible with a minimum of psychic pain.

My Plan for My Day 

Here was my plan: I always start my workday early – around 6:30 am, so no big deal to work for an hour, shut down my laptop, and then leave for Big O Tires. I’d arrive 10 minutes before they open, holding at the ready my special discount coupon that arrived in the mail last week. I’d be first in line. I’d have to spend maybe a half hour, 40 minutes tops, sitting in a folding chair smelling rubber and hearing some godawful daytime TV show from the overhead set. While I sat uncomfortably, I’d read and answer emails on my phone so as not to let my eyes wander over the ugly sales and service signs plastered on the walls.

I was so on top of my game that I sat down to begin work at 6:25, not 6:30, dressed and ready to go. Ta da! Look at me!

But First, I Check My Email 

First I checked my email…

Do I need to even finish writing this story?

My assistant Phoebe sent me a caterer contract for me to review for Women At Woodstock. Gotta read that and get back to her so we could get that nailed down and settled before the contractor might book with someone else. Then a software notice popped up that said I needed to do an update and then reboot; now or later? Sigh. Might as well do it now or the popup would bug me all day. Then back to emails: Delete. Delete. Delete. Inquiries. Notifications of updates needed on clients’ websites – gotta do those right now. Then something with one of my daughters. Then some scheduling changes that needed to be done. Then reading a response to a tech inquiry I’d made of a plugin developer, then logging into one of my websites and adding the code and adjusting the settings that he included with his instructions. Then a request for a quote from a prospective client. Then a notice that payment was due on the house rental I’d reserved for my upcoming getaway weekend with a couple of my girlfriends; gotta get that done before I forget. And then…

I was waaayyyy down the rabbit hole.

Seven Hours Later… 

So at 3:00, I finally felt able to break from the Unending String of Whatever and head for Big O. Yes, this was a full 7 hours and 15 minutes past my plan. Which was absurdly too late. Now my half hour errand would be an hour and a half. Maybe twice that, depending upon how busy they were. Baloney. I moved the errand to another day, whereupon I will strive to NOT go down the rabbit hole again.

How To Stop the Email Onslaught 

I hate this feeling of lack of control. I do actually get a lot done. It just doesn’t feel as though it’s on my own terms most of the time.

Do you have these same kinds of days? If not, how do you head off the detours without anxiety creeping up your scalp that you’re neglecting everything and everyone who needs your work or input or help?

I think the answer is probably, “Just stop.” Make your plan, and then execute it. Barring some honest-to-god, realio-trulio emergency, do not jump to something that someone else wants, right this very minute, just because they asked. Add their request to your work schedule, but not in place of your own plan. Or maybe put a star on their email, and make it a practice to search your “stars” every day an hour before lunch or something like that. (Oh wait, did I say an hour? Maybe the last half of your day…)

But the main challenge for me is to just stop doing what I’m doing when I need to, with confidence that I’ll get back to the Thing I’m In the Middle Of, once I’ve finished the Thing I Was Supposed To Do At This Time. Believing that the world will not burn down in the interim. Telling myself that I will not be fired by my clients – or if I am, then good riddance; no one needs someone in their lives who expects them to drop everything and jump whenever they clap their hands. (There’s a big difference between being responsive and kowtowing.)

Or – there’s – gasp – the option of turning off my email for a couple hours a day while I work; like literally preventing myself from receiving inquiries, notices, or requests – at all – making my inbox sit silent and dead while I work.

I know, you’re probably saying, “Why do you need to do that? Just don’t look at your email,” but there’s a big psychological difference, for me at least, between not looking at something while it cranks on, email stacking upon email while your last leaving-off point sinks down out of sight, and just hitting the “stop” button and making the whole process halt until you’re ready to turn your attention to it again.

Boomerang “Pause” Feature 

I don’t think this is just me, either, because Gmail offers exactly this service; a Pause button that closes off the spigot of email and makes it sit and wait for you until you turn it on again. How does it work? It’s really simple: You go to a website called Boomerang and you install their program for free. Once you do, a new button will appear on your Gmail inbox page right under the Google logo in the upper left corner. It’s blue and it says “Pause” and all you have to do is click it and voila. It’s as though you’ve frozen time for yourself while you now go about your work, undistracted, unfettered, and unbothered. Psychologically free, you can travel on a straight path above ground, not run this way and that through bunny tunnels underground.

There are more features to Boomerang at the free level, and even more levels of service if you upgrade to a paid account, but Pause is the feature I wanted to point out here. I just have one complaint; I think they should rename it “Stop It!” So much truer to the feeling I get when I click it, and frankly, such a celebration of the warm infusion of power it gives me. A daily act of empowerment. My new cry of revolt: Power to me! Power to the people!

This article was originally published on Sixty and Me.

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