Processing your inbox is your work. It's not something extra you have to do, or some distraction that doesn't belong in your life...unless of course you feel the same way about your physical mailbox. Like it or not, dealing with all your email is as much a part of your work (and required to do your job as well as you can) as keeping lists, clearing your head, or doing regular reviews. Yet consistently, we come across a resistance people have to driving their inboxes down to zero on a regular basis—as if that's a luxury reserved for those who don't get much input or don't have anything better to do. It's a critical component for keeping you in a clear, current and creative space to work and play at your best.
It also helps to have tools that enable you to efficiently process and park the results of that thinking in leakproof, trusted systems. I'm on a Mac these days, with Lotus Notes (our company-wide tool) and the eProductivity software I co-designed with ICA to build GTD logic into Lotus Notes.
All the best,
DAVID'S FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Processing your work is part of your work
I'm struggling with my impatience. I'm not as neutral as I'd like to be yet about how many professionals regard their inbox processing time as "extra" work that they can't find time to do.
The stress many people feel can be directly attributed to the avoidance of daily and weekly catching up—with the flood of emails, voice mails, meetings, projects, and other informational and actionable items.
What bugs me the most is that most people behave as if this stuff is relatively unimportant, and frankly a pain to have to deal with. I argue that it's where much of their primary value lies. Knowledge workers are paid to bring their intelligence to bear on input, and improve things by doing that. The decision about what to do with an email and its contents, what it means in terms of the work and standards at hand, is knowledge work.
We've noticed that it takes an average of about 30 seconds to process each email—decide what it is, delete it, file it, respond to it quickly, or defer it to an "action" file or list. For someone with 100 emails a day (more and more common) that's 50 minutes just to get through a day's email load. That doesn't count memos, phone calls, voice mails, conversations, and meetings that must also be processed.
A typical professional these days must factor in at least an hour a day and an additional hour at the end of the week (for a Weekly Review). And not as "Hey, it would be nice if I could..."—but as an absolute requirement to manage their life and work with integrity.
I empathize that processing input these days is a particular challenge for most people. They have lacked a consistent processing methodology, a sustainable system that would work with this kind of volume and speed, and a reference point that there actually is a way to deal with it all, and get a clear head in the process.
Well, no more excuses.
Q&A WITH DAVID
Question: How do you really separate processing from organizing or do they actually occur at the same time?
Answer: They sit very closely together. But you have to process to know what to organize, so they are discrete activities. You can't get organized without processing first. And processing can also generate doing (as in less than two-minute actions) that skips organizing and reviewing.
"It's much easier for me to make major life, multi-million dollar decisions, than it is to decide on a carpet for my front porch. That's the truth."
"Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level."
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