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Cool, Calm and Collected at Work

cool_at_workStress management is a lot about treating email as a hot medium.

Most people aspire to working in a state of being that can be summed up as “cool, calm and collected.”

The meaning here of “calm” is fairly obvious. “Collected” less so. In this context it probably means “focused” – a mind that is centred, and grounded, not distracted nor agitated

What is meant by “cool?” That’s a term that has been in common use since the 1930s, often referring to jazz musicians.

The phrase “cool as a cucumber” goes back to 1880s England.

In the 1960s it even became the last name of the alter ego of Snoopy, the rakishly loveable beagle in the Peanuts cartoon – “Joe Cool.”

In its comical representation, cool looks a bit arrogant and indifferent. And those are potentially the risks of an excessively cool posture. But for people who try to cultivate an authentically cool way of being, it can manifest itself as balanced, relaxed, untroubled, adaptable and resilient. The term in English often used by Buddhists to describe this type of cool is “equanimous” from the noun “equanimity.”

In the 1960s, the pioneering social scientist Marshall McLuhan developed the notion of “hot” and “cold” media. Because of the high level of stimulation they put out and the lack of interactivity, radio and television are hot media, especially television. Personal correspondence (a letter on paper) and classic text-only newspapers are colder media. Some magazines are (or were) somewhere in the middle.

Of course, hot is a form of energy, but so is cold. For an optimal state of focus and productivity (or “flow”), the two need to be in balance. So we aim for something in between – a comfort zone between warm and cool.

The challenge of dealing with e-mail on a continuous, if not constant basis is that messages best delivered in a cool manner arrive instead through a hot medium, sometimes complete – literally – with bells and flashing lights.

In order to become cool, calm and collected at work, we need to be very careful with e-mail. Whenever possible we need to lower its temperature and slow it down. We need to create a separate place for it in our working day, and keep ensuring that it stays as coolly as possible in that place.

“Un-train” the people you work with so that they don’t expect a response from you on a minute-by-minute basis. Get them to call you on the telephone (remember those?) if they really need an urgent reply.

Corral, contain and quarantine your e-mails into manageable batches. Check and respond to e-mail as few times per day as possible. Maybe start by receiving and sending e-mail only three times per day, for example from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Eventually you might be able to reduce that further, perhaps down to two slots of 90 minutes each. And then maybe down to just one 2-hour e-mail window per day.

Be brave, be bold, be focused!