Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Update: In-box zero

Back in June I pledged to achieve in-box zero by the first day of autumn, so I owe you, dear readers, an update.

How did I do? In a word: busted.

I managed to keep up with most everything that came in during the past three months, but the backlog is a mere 10 percent smaller than it was. My 500+ message in-box has been whittled to just under 450.

Two points need to be made as I consider my failure to live up to my plan. First (and I think it was Merlin Mann who first said this), before you get good, you have to stop sucking. I did succeed in not sucking. I kept up with incoming mail. That alone is a habit worth latching onto and nurturing for all its worth.

Second, to be fair I had some dire family issues that intervened. Entrepreneurs need to be good bosses to themselves, remembering that we must sometimes cut ourselves some slack. I had some understandable reasons for missing my goal.

So, what have I learned so far?

  • In-box zero is an illusive goal. It’s really hard to get there and stay there.
  • Even in tough times, I did better than stay even. I made progress. Good for me.
  • I really want to reach this goal. I will keep working at it.

The modern work world throws more stuff at us than we can comfortably handle. Those of us who experiment with new ideas in organization and distill others’ productivity prescriptions down for your easy digestion, we’ll continue to seek new ways for all of us to keep up with what really matters and let go of what isn’t important.

Have you tried to achieve an empty email in-box? Tell me about it. And if you’ve found a brilliant way to make it happen, definitely tell me about it. There are thousands of us who are dying to know!

No Regrets

When I asked my father, then aged 85 and about to move out of the home he’d built with his own hands 25 years earlier, whether there was anything more he really wanted to do, his response was memorable: “You can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done. But, no, there’s no place I want to go and nothing I want to do that I haven’t already done.”

Snowy Plover, hand-carved by Donald Lukens (photo by Margaret Lukens)

What an inspiration, a life so well-lived as to be free of regrets!

My father is the source of my “organizing genes”. His well-appointed workshop was  legendary for being immaculate: no sawdust, no unlabeled bins, no tools without a home. When I was 12, we worked together on a large project: he painted some 50 empty coffee cans an appealing pale yellow and I hand-painted labels on them in black: “3/8 inch bolts”, “roofing nails”, “1/2 inch washers”. The ones that made everyone smile were the set of three labeled “miscellaneous”, “maybe here”, “it’s here”.

From his workshop my father turned out a succession of projects requested by his family — a desk for my mother, adjustable stilts and a toy sailboat and a slingshot for my son, a cuckoo clock for one granddaughter, a chicken coop for me, a playhouse for my brother’s girls, a coffee table for my sister, and much more — along with many projects inspired by his own varied interests. (The snowy plover in the photo was made for me at my request; if I had asked for a six-foot California condor instead, I probably would have gotten it.)

One year I phoned my parents at about 9 pm on December 31st to wish them a happy new year. My mother and I chatted for a while, then she said, “Well, I’d call your father to the phone, but he’s got a project that he wanted to finish this year, and he’s downstairs working on it.”

For a man in his 70’s and 80’s, January 1 was much like December 31, yet he valued his time, he established goals, and he did what was necessary to achieve those goals. He couldn’t come to the phone on December 31st; he had a deadline to meet!

His joyful dedication to his chosen work resulted in a long life well lived, with no regrets.

Last week I read an article about the regrets of the dying by Bronnie Ware, that I found quite striking. The author, who worked for many years in palliative care, assembled the top five regrets that she had heard repeatedly from those at the end of life. Listening carefully to those with very little time left can often help us clarify what matters most to those of us who, for now at least, have time to spare.

The one I found most surprising was the fifth on the author’s list of five, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Wise men from Marcus Aurelius to Abraham Lincoln have observed that happiness is a choice, requiring very little to be within our grasp. Yet it seems that many of us have a hard time realizing that happiness is ours for the choosing.

My father had made that choice, and kept it throughout his long life, which ended this past Saturday, at the age of 92. Among the many things that I appreciate about him, one that I value more highly than the many objects he gave me  is the fine example he showed me of a life with no regrets.

Worth Repeating – September posts from New Leaf News

(photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve sorted through the New Leaf archives to choose a few posts from Septembers past. Here’s a sample of what was on our mind during recent years.

When no work is getting done, you can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm, and yet you can’t relax either, it’s time to get serious about avoiding burnout. Here are some important clues to look for and some useful steps to take.

The modern world seems determined to shatter our focus ; don’t allow it! Minimize interruptions and feel the joy of focused work.

Need a quote for your September screen-saver? Try this Chinese proverb to remind you of your commitment to focus.

Wishing all New Leaf News readers & writers a lovely September!

One Easy Way to Get That Shredding Done

Give your files room to grow

Feeding old financial documents and client files through a small office shredder is no one’s idea of fun. Finding a shredding company that will pick up less than 10 boxes of paper can be tough. So how does the small office or home office clear out a backlog of shredding?

Many local stores such as the UPS Store and various pack-and-ship places take shredding by the pound. I recently dropped off about 10 pounds (one fully loaded grocery bag) of confidential paper at a UPS store, where for $1.50 a pound they dump it into a locked container, which will be picked up by a NAID-certified shredding company.

The store didn’t advertise this service, and I scoured the UPS main website in vain, looking for the ability to search for this service throughout the US. Why they don’t advertise it more widely is a mystery to me. Many home and small offices are run by people with badly bruised knuckles, thanks to attempts to stuff just one more sheet into a file drawer that needs a good cleaning out.

How do you get your shredding done? When did you last do it? Any questions about what to shred? Leave a comment here.

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