Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Simplicity – a quote

St. Louis Arch (photo by Margaret Lukens)

You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.

Antoine de Saint Exupery

Advertisements

In-Box Zero

Remember merit badges, those embroidered circles used to mark achievement for Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts? Now there is a company that makes merits badges for grown-ups, and there’s one I desperately want to earn: In-Box Zero.

My goal of an empty email in-box is more elusive than live tech support. I crossed into the new year on 1/1/10 with an empty in-box and a zero credit card balance. The credit cards are still paid off, but the in-box currently houses over 500 messages.

I know what’s there. It’s not that I haven’t taken in the content of those 500 messages; I have. Some are offers I wanted to think about, like a class I wanted to attend but wasn’t sure I’d have time for. (I didn’t.) Some are newsletters I haven’t read (and probably never will.) Some are threads of complicated conversations involving several people, conversations in which I am not an active participant but was copied on the messages because someone thought I might be able to contribute or might need to know.

I receive between 80 and 100 emails each day, which based on my non-scientific observations of business people, is about average. I deal promptly with the vast majority. I respond and delete, or I file for later action, or I file for reference. Still, that 3 or 4 percent that I don’t move out of the inbox immediately begins to accumulate, until by mid-year I’m looking at a 500-message surplus. A quick calculation indicated that if I could deal with just three more messages each day, I could have kept the message count to nil. But three more was too many.

The goal of in-box zero is a great goal, but I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with it. How do I know? Two ways: I’ve worked with clients who’ve had tens of thousands of inbox messages they needed to clean out. And whenever someone reaches inbox zero, they’re apt to crow about it. Just this week author and business guru Tim Sanders posted a screen shot of his empty inbox. That’s a measure of how difficult it is to achieve.

Still, I remember how great it felt to have my computer desktop as well-ordered as my physical desktop. I’d like to get back to that happy state. And the causes of my email clutter are the very same things that cause my clients’ physical clutter: deferred decisions, being unclear about what the next action should be, and keeping things I don’t need.

So here’s my mid-year resolution: I’m going to return to inbox zero by the first day of autumn. That means dealing with an extra 5 or 6 messages a day for the next 3 months.

  • I will unsubscribe from newsletters I don’t read; I’ve already canceled three.
  • I’ll make time each week to review those tempting offers and make a firm decision about whether or not I’ll accept them, then either delete the email or sign up and delete.
  • I’ll make time to review any long conversations in which I’m just copied, and either participate or bow out.

And I’ll do the work required to keep the email from accumulating again. Check back to see my progress toward my goal. And if you’d like to join in with a goal of earning your own In-Box Zero badge, state your intention by leaving a comment here.

Rest, rejuvenate, recommit

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

— Bertrand Russell

Stinson Beach, CA - enjoying a break

One of the most popular productivity books of the past two decades is David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. And while I appreciate his approach, and use many aspects of it myself, I’m afraid that his title may lead some people astray.

Ultimately, it is not about “getting things done.” There are so many things to do, we could get things done 24/7 and still not make any progress. There will always be tasks to do. In our hearts we know this, right?

What matters most is choosing the right things to do, then approaching them with focus and organization. Too much attention on getting things done can lead us to overlook a crucial piece of the productivity picture: time for rest.

Every week, without fail, devote a day (or two half-days, if you must) to rest, rejuvenation, and re-commitment. Do those things that give you joy, that make you pause, that remind you of why you bother to “get things done” in the first place.

Without attention to rejuvenation and re-commitment, business people are in danger of burning out — that condition where nothing matters, no carrot is juicy enough, no stick is scary enough, to make us move. Do not flirt with burn-out.

Remember that your professional life is about the pace, not the race. You must create a pace that is sustainable over years in order to succeed as an entrepreneur. If you are ill, take days off. If you are frazzled, take an afternoon and do what you love. And every week, give some time to activities that provide rest, rejuvenation, and re-commitment.

Here are some of the things that give me some “R & R & R”:

  • drive an hour to the mountains & hike among towering redwoods.
  • drive to the beach, walk miles on sand, get chilled and sunburned, eat lunch at Barbara’s Fish Trap.
  • attend a conference that really gets me excited about the possibilities of being an entrepreneur and reminds me that not only can I do it, I MUST!
  • walk my feet off in the city (in my case, San Francisco.) Take pictures.
  • if physical effort isn’t called for, spend a day (and I mean a whole day!) in a hammock with a library book that has nothing to do with work. I suggest West With the Night, by Beryl Markham – she’s not nearly as well-known as she should be.
  • or spend the day on the sofa with a bunch of movies in the “watch instantly” queue: five good heists (The Thomas Crown Affair, Dog Day Afternoon, The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, …) , ten hours of English history (Anne of a Thousand Days, Elizabeth R, A Man for All Seasons, Mary Queen of Scots, …), or six degrees of Kevin Bacon (Footloose, The River Wild, A Few Good Men, Mystic River, National Lampoon’s Animal House, …) — you choose the theme.

What have you done lately to rest, rejuvenate, and recommit? What will you do this week? Leave your comment here to spark ideas for other readers.

Worth repeating – June posts from New Leaf News

How can you create a deadline for a goal that doesn’t have one naturally? Try the Pink Poker solution.

My father and various “father figures” have provided several lessons that I draw on to become more organized and productive. What have fathers taught you about the good life?

How do we set big goals? Should we start with the “big picture” and work out details, or maybe start with a clear-eyed view of where we are now, then plot the way forward? A jigsaw puzzle suggests the answer.

Television coverage and a new awareness of the problem has many people asking, am I chronically disorganized? The good news is, probably not. Whether you are or aren’t, help is available.

Would you like another reason to finally get that old task done? William James provides one.

I hope you enjoy these posts from the New Leaf News archive!

%d bloggers like this: