Buying a bigger pair of pants will NOT solve your weight problem.

Whew! Just in case you panicked at the thought of not having access to email on your upcoming five hour flight to Slippery Rock, JetBlue has come to the rescue with in-flight internet access. You'll never again have to endure three whole unconnected hours without riveting messages from the CEO informing you that his daughter's Girl Scout cookies are on sale in his office.

Presumably, JetBlue's new service will be welcomed as a godsend by road warriors who break out in hives at the terrifying prospect of a few hours in the air without email. These folks live with some sort of imagined corporate armageddon looming over them if they can't respond to an email instantaneously, or at least within 19 seconds. To these poor wretches, I can only say: get over it. Your firm will not collapse like a dying star, nor will your clients wither away for lack of your expert ministrations. And if you really are that vital, well, you probably shouldn't be getting on a plane (at least not a commercial plane) in the first place.

JetBlue's service will also surely be welcomed by those folks who figure with an extra four or five hours of solid time paddling around in Outlook, they can really make some progress on the 639 unread messages languishing in their inboxes, as well as the other 281 messages that have been read, but need a response. To these lost souls, I can only recycle my favorite expression these days: buying a bigger pair of pants will NOT solve your weight problem. If the electronic seams of your email waistband are groaning, an extra five hours or fifty hours won't make a difference.

The problem is the lack of a decent process for handling email, not a lack of time to handle it. It's classic non-lean thinking: throw more resources at the problem by buying newer, bigger machines. This approach invariably fails to produce the desired productivity gains because the underlying process is dysfunctional.

The same is true of adding an extra few hours to your day of reading and writing email. The extra time isn't going to help you get on top of your email. It will only compound the problem. The lean approach is to improve the underlying process by which you manage email.

I've written about how to handle your inbox more efficiently here and here, and Merlin Mann has an excellent series of posts here. So rather than waste an additional five hours getting yourself even farther behind, I'd suggest using that time on the plane to learn the lean process of handling email and finally take care of the stuff that's moldering away in your inbox. And treat yourself to an extra bag of Oreos while you're at it.

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