First, a confession. I can sometimes let clutter build up. Where this occurs most often is in my workspace. I work from home, so I don’t have co-workers to shame me into keeping a clean space. Recently I did a major clean up, and it really made a difference. I felt better about coming to work and had fewer distractions (read: things to trip over) getting in the way of working.
However, even with a clean desk and office, something was still off. Every day I would come in to an inbox that was overflowing, including a bunch of old emails which I had a nagging feeling I should do something with. My To-Do list seemed to just be growing, and I felt like I was just constantly moving tasks forward and not getting that many done. On top of all that, I would start the day off mired in a jungle of open tabs, and that problem would just get worse throughout the day. I might have a single Google Doc open 3 times, just because I didn’t know it which tab it was on and it was faster to open it again.
It was time to clean my workspace again, this time my virtual workspace. With a little effort, I was able to get my inbox to zero, my To-Do list current and all my tasks for the day checked off, and also to bring my tab count down and keep it low. It is amazing, but once I did this, I felt a lot lighter. I didn’t worry that I was missing things. It became a lot easier to get things done. So I thought I would share with you how I managed this trifecta, and maybe it will help you experience the joy of having a clean virtual workspace as well.
For me, the biggest thing that gets in the way of inbox zero is an email that demands some action, but which I am not able to act on right away. Other emails I can just answer immediately or delete. But these “action later” emails tend to hang around like an albatross around my neck. They are the emails that add anxiety to my day.
When an email doesn’t need immediate action, add it to your To-Do list.
My solution for dealing with these isn’t terribly complex. If the email demands action but I can’t get to it, I add it to my To-Do list in Batchbook and get it out of my inbox. That way, I know I will still get it done, but it doesn’t clutter things up. For other emails, such as trip reservations and things I know I might need to reference, I place those in my Starred inbox, which I periodically clean out.
In Gmail, I can hide the other inboxes that I don’t need to see constantly. By just seeing the Priority inbox, I can focus on the emails that need my attention and get them out of there as quickly as possible. If you get bombarded with emails throughout the day, you probably want to get a little more complex, using things like labels to filter your inbox and setting specific times to check and respond to email.
To-Do List Done
Of course, by assigning tasks for nagging emails, I am moving the problem from one place to another. Is it just a giant shell game? Not quite. I am actually putting things where they belong. Action items that I am not going to act on right now always belong in my To-Do list.
To get my To-Do list completed, I have to start with one that is not too big. So, when scheduling tasks, I take the pulse of my day and week and look at the priority of the task, and then place it on a day I think I will be able to get to it. And then I do a lot of procrastinating.
Either do a task or reschedule it. Never let it get overdue.
Okay, now you are thinking I am a bad person for putting things off. But my job is pretty diverse and my priorities change a lot. So, when I procrastinate something, I am simply making a decision that the task is not important enough to focus on right now. I either move that task to tomorrow, a later day, or get rid of it all together.
When I start a day, if I have some high priority tasks, I will go ahead and flag them and work on them first. Otherwise, I just move down my list. If the task is important and I can take action on it, I do. If less so, I move the task forward. I loathe having overdue tasks. They’re pointless and if you let them build up, you will just stop using your task management system.
If I don’t finish all of my tasks for the day, I move them forward until tomorrow. My preference though is to finish everything. I do this by quickly identifying the tasks that don’t need my attention at the moment and rescheduling them. My theory is if I get done with everything else early, I can always go get a head start on tomorrow’s tasks. That’s what I am doing right now, in fact, in writing this blog post. It is one of those lower priority tasks that got punted earlier in the day, but since I got everything else done, I was able to pound it out before quitting time.
This may seem like cheating to you, but by being quick to move tasks that you don’t really need to get done today and then actually getting done the tasks that are important, you can end the day with an extraordinary sense of accomplishment.
Tabs Under Control
Right now I have one instance of Google Chrome open and 6 tabs open inside of it. I’m not crazy. I can’t go through the day working in one open tab at a time. I have two screens for one thing, so it would be a waste of real estate.
But lately, my open tabs have gotten out of control. I might have 20 or 30 open at once, over several instances of Chrome (and the two screens). The reason this happens is simple. There is information on those tabs that I need. Lots of times, open tabs will take the place of To-Dos. I will run through what I have open and be “oh right, I need to do that”. To get this under control, I have started to assign tasks and close tabs.
Too many open tabs make it harder to focus.
The other big offender is articles. I’ll see something I want to read, open it, but not have the time to read it right then and there. Or worse, I will read it, love it, and leave it open in some odd hope that it’s message will be absorbed completely into my brain and I will be a better person for it. If only this worked! To get this under control, I use Readability and Evernote. The first is for things I want to read later, the second is for those articles that had an impact that I want to resurface in my life at some point.
By moving things out of my inbox, keeping tabs closed, and managing all my important tasks in an up-to-date To-Do list, I have been able to accomplish more during the day. It’s amazing what a little clean up and organization will do!
Let me know how you keep your virtual workspace clean and organized!
Image by ollesvensson
It was a joy to share some business building strategies with Gary. I would love to hear how you all tackle these work/life balance issues at your business and in your life. Please share.