Sabrina Horn (email@example.com), 40, founder, president, and CEO of the San Francisco-based Horn Group, a $10 million public-relations firm focused on the high-tech market .
"I was addicted to email," Horn recalls. "I lived for the little bell that would go ding! when a new message arrived." Horn's addiction wasn't just the usual neurotic fixation. Three years ago, after she returned to work from maternity leave, Horn relied on email to get plugged in to what was going on at her company. "I got sucked into using email to try to figure out where in the organization I could best focus my attention."
"I had this nagging feeling that I was never getting anything done at the office. I went home every day completely frustrated. I knew what was going on at work, but I didn't actually do anything."
Horn cut the umbilical cord. Well, sort of. She resolved to check email only three times a day: first thing in the morning, once during lunch, and then again before going home. The genius of the plan lies in its simplicity, Horn says. And she needs the structure: She receives about 100 email messages a day and can easily spend three hours just reading and responding to them. Last year, Horn came up with another simple email rule: She decided to use her company address for work-related emails only. Personal messages now go to a separate Yahoo account. "My husband didn't like the idea at first," she says, "but it's too distracting otherwise." Will she hang tough? After all, baby number two just arrived in June, and Horn has been on maternity leave since then. She says that she plans to stick to her ground rules when she returns to work next month. "Something as basic as making email rules can help me find moments of balance throughout the day," Horn says.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.