Earlier today I posted a comment to my friend Kevin Dewalt’s blog about his finally getting on board with the Getting Things Done personal productivity framework. I wanted to double-dip with that entry and post some additional comments here because I am overdue for a blog entry.
Kevin was specifically wondering aloud about the value of “inbox zero” and the concept that a person would empty his or her e-mail in-box every day. I do confess to be someone who at least endeavors if not always succeeds at having an empty work and personal e-mail inbox at the end of each day. To expand upon my reasoning I am going to do a very lazy thing and copy, verbatim, my comments on Kevin’s post:
A good place to get some practical advice on using GTD is the 43 Folders blog started by Merlin Mann (hotdogsladies from YLNT).
For the e-mail in box I have to admit I find real peace of mind from
emptying it out every day. I try to only check e-mail at certain times
of the day (top of the hour, bottom of the hour, whenever) as opposed
to responding to alerts that new messages have arrived. My infrequent
time spent in my in box is like a triage to determine what needs to be
handled immediately, what can be deferred, what can become an item on
my to-do list and what irrelevant messages can just be deleted.
My archive in my work Outlook client consists of one folder into
which all e-mails I am going to keep are filed. I don’t bother with any
sub-folders. I was inspired by G-mail’s excellent archive and search
functions. Outlook has a long way to go in this regard, and I still
find it easier to look for individual messages in the archive folder
instead of trying to remember which folder I might have stashed it.
I like having an empty in-box because it helps me avoid that nagging
feeling that there’s something I need to get done but haven’t
addressed. One of the ironies for me is that while I only check my
e-mail at most once an hour, coworkers have commented about how
refreshing they find my responsiveness. Many colleagues inside and
outside my company jump like Pavlov’s dog at the “You’ve got mail”
ding, have thousands of old messages in their in-box and still manage
to respond only very slowly if at all. I feel like the cognitive model
modern corporate e-mail imposes on users is that of a treadmill that
they can never get off. The GTD framework has given me the ability to
get off that treadmill.
When I was getting ready to start my MBA, I knew that I was really going to have to step up my time management skills if I was going to balance full-time work, full-time school, engage in some level of professional development and still have a small sliver of life to retain a degree of sanity. So I picked up David Allen’s book and chose a number of aspects of the GTD framework that I thought would give me some mastery of my productivity: inbox zero, a revised approach to information filing, the physical invox and the “tickler file.”
One of the best things that GTD gives me is a mechanism to be productive in my procrastination. One of the leadership assessments in the MBA program provided a set of “executive derailers.” I was not surprised to find one of them was “leisurely.” If I am not genuinely personally engaged and interested in a task, it is very easy for my mind to wander.
With GTD I have a ready list of action items (bite-sized tasks that can generally be performed in a few simple steps). Each action item is attached to a project (the larger goal that needs to be completed) and a context (a place I need to be or set of resources I need to perform the task). Projects are broken down into these small chunks, which makes them much less daunting. “All I need to do is get done this next action item and I can take a break” keeps an unappealing project from becoming overwhelming. I also have a handy list of actions that I can do that progress some other project towards completion if I should find myself just desperately wanting to do something else for a few minutes.
When it comes right down to it one of the productivity tricks for me has not been to stop procrastinating but rather to learn how to procrastinate right. Now I just need to find away to turn those other executive derailers on their side…