Since the dawn of e-mail, my inbox has largely ruled my work days, often displacing the important for the seemingly urgent. And since the advent of mobile devices, e-mail went beyond ruling my work days to largely ruling my life. As a result, I was in permanent and perpetual reaction mode. I jumped from the hottest fire to the next hottest fire, never feeling like I would ever catch up. I let my environment control me, instead of me controlling my environment. It was affecting my health, my family life, my friendships, and it was only getting worse.
It became clear that I needed to figure out task and time management once and for all. And in doing so, one key realization was that I would never have peace in my life if I didn’t get my inbox down to zero – and keep it there. Here was my thought pattern:
- To have peace and harmony in my life, I need to feel in control over my days. This cannot be done if I am in perpetual reaction mode, letting the events of the day rule how I exerted energy and time. I needed to be deliberate in all that I did.
- In an environment where the volume and velocity of information coming our way is ever increasing, it was essential to have some kind of system and/or methodology to capture, sort and categorize this input, so I could see the full picture and in light of everything in front of me, and prioritize how to best use my energy and time.
- Using multiple competing task systems where different tasks are in different systems and some tasks are in multiple systems leads to dropped balls, poor task coordination, and the inability to see the full picture. Hence, not only is the use of multiple task systems impractical, but they are counterproductive and will ultimately fail. In this environment, one task system will typically crowd out the others and become your only task system.
- If you use a formal task system or methodology but don’t routinely get your inbox to zero, those “get to” messages left in your inbox will continue to grow. In this situation, your inbox becomes a parallel competing task system.
- If there is a face-off between an informal inbox task “system” and a more formal system or methodology, the one with the most current and urgent information – i.e . my inbox, will win out putting me right back at the beginning in perpetual reaction mode.
So when I followed this syllogism to its logical end, I realized that I could not have peace and harmony in my life without routinely getting my inbox to zero. Resisting the urge to work out of my inbox is difficult, but living my days without stress provides ample willpower to continue this practice. It takes discipline for sure, but the pay-off is well worth it.
How do you do this? What if your inbox has 22,000 message in it? Stay tuned for future posts.