The Holy Trinity of the Inbox

In a recent coaching session with a senior client, I had to give the executive some brutal and honest feedback. He had come to me with a specific problem. My Inbox is overwhelming me, he said. So, we worked on some strategies to get his 8,000 odd emails down to zero.

In our second session, he presented a very positive spin on his progress, and said he was feeling a lot better about his email. He had reduced his Inbox from 8,000 emails to just over 3,000. He was thrilled. I was disappointed. My belief is that he had made himself feel good about his progress by clearing some of the low hanging fruit in his Inbox. Deleting rubbish and filing the obvious. This made him feel like a good student, and that he was taking action as a result of our coaching sessions.

The truth was he was still a slave to his Inbox, was still trying to manage his priorities in a reactive way. He was not achieving the Holy Trinity of the Inbox – Clarity, Focus and Control

The reason I bang on about Inbox Zero so much is that I know that people who achieve it on a regular basis experience the following:

  • Greater clarity about what deserves their attention and what does not, because having reduced the noise, they can see the forest for the trees;
  • Increased focus on the important work, because they are consolidating their email-driven priorities into one task system alongside their other priorities;
  • A high level of control over how they spend their time, as they are proactively scheduling their work in a time-based action system, and therefore managing their time.

With my coaching client, when he measured his progress against the Holy Trinity, he came up short. Although he had cleared many emails from his Inbox, that was just the backlog. The real issues still remained. He had no clarity because his Inbox was still way too cluttered and overwhelming. He had no focus because his strategy for managing email actions was still mainly to leave them as unread in his Inbox. And he had no control as things kept slipping through the cracks or became urgent before he got to them.

Although Inbox Zero may feel like a chore and a constraint, it is actually easy and liberating once you put the right system in place, and adopt the right mindset.

How is your Inbox going? Are you achieving the Holy Trinity?

Fight for your priorities

Over the past few months, I have put a lot of effort into spending most of my core working hours doing meaningful, appropriate work that will help me achieve my goals and objectives for this year. A worthy endeavor indeed, but as you will know, there are many things that distract us from our important work every day. We are all extremely busy but sometimes we are busy doing the wrong stuff.

I will put my hand up and declare that I have been guilty in the past. One reason for this is that I had not clarified what I was trying to achieve, so therefore I did not prioritise my time and attention effectively. When you are not clear about what you are trying to achieve, everything that comes your way seems a reasonable use of your time. But when you get crystal clear about your objectives, you protect your time fiercely and fight for the work that is most important.

A good example of this for me is my new podcast – 21st Century Productivity (see sidebar for details on how to listen). I recently joined a gym, and decided that this time I would stick it out more than the usual 4 weeks. So i decided to make gym time also learning time, and started listening to podcasts on my iPhone. A whole new world of learning opened up for me, and I realised that a productivity podcast would be a great way to help our clients embed the system, as well as promote Adapt in the marketplace.

Here is the catch. It takes a lot of time to script, record and produce a podcast (not to mention the time needed to learn how to podcast). How do I fit it in around a full schedule of training, coaching, sales meetings and the day-to-day activities of running a lively small business? The answer – I fight for it! I fight fiercely to make and protect time for the important activities that will make a real difference at the end of the day.

You see, I have decided that the podcast is a valuable strategy to help me to achieve one of my key goals for this year – to position myself as a productivity thought leader in the Australian marketplace. I know that the time invested in creating the podcasts will not only help my clients, it will showcase our brand and will also push my creative thinking on productivity.

“If you really believe in what you are doing, work hard, take nothing personally and if something blocks one route, find another. Never give up”. Laurie Notaro

So there is no doubt in my mind on the importance of this work. The problem is, there is no urgency. You see, nobody has asked me to create a podcast. I don’t have any clients that have contracted me to create a podcast, and there is no deadline looming that will force my hand and make me commit to action. This has to be driven by me, and if I am going to commit to delivering a podcast every two weeks, I will need to fight for that time in my schedule. The fight will mostly be against myself, and my desire to procrastinate if I can.

Does this resonate for you? Have you got a proactive piece of work that you should be fighting for? If so, here are some tips that might help you fight the good fight:

  • Don’t just think it and mean to do it – schedule time to do it in your calendar or task list
  • Resist the urge to defer the activity as soon as something urgent comes along
  • Review your objectives regularly to reconnect with what is actually important in your role
  • If something does come up, reschedule the activity, don’t just cancel it
  • Learn to keep commitments you make to yourself in the same way as you keep commitments to others

My new-found clarity about what is really important in my role has helped me get so much really valuable work done that in the past would have drifted. It has helped me to remember the things that are worth fighting for!

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