Why Inbox 0 is a Determining Success Factor

Recently, I noticed almost every successful manager, C-level exec and CEO I’ve met* had an overlooked common characteristic: clean inboxes. Whether they were high level decision makers in Fortune 50s or start-ups, their emails were always organized. So I started aiming for constant Inbox 0, as I’m one of those crazies who emulates behavioral patterns of people I respect.

Well, whaddya know? I think it worked. I started noticing fundamental thinking patterns changing.
My brain now naturally:

organizes — most email programs have filters, folders, labels and other misc. tools to assist with organization. Since I constantly think of ways to keep my inboxes organized, I trained my brain to framework problems with the end goal in mind. i.e., how do I manage massive email loads (work-flow) for constant and consistent tidy inboxes (end-goal).

prioritizes efficiently — everyone has different prioritization methods when it comes to email. I’ve found that when I do not reply right when I read the mail, the probability of not responding is almost 99.9999999999991%.

So I figured out a system. If the email needs a response, I reply right away. If the email is a task, I label it as a To-Do (with a fire engine red label so the email is right in. my. face.) and keep it in my inbox. All emails I do not respond to, are immediately deleted/archived.

Sounds like a lot of effort, but as soon as this work-flow became routine, I do the above every time new mail comes in while working on other things. If something urgent comes up or I am interrupted, the current task at hand is in my inbox as an incomplete To-Do. Multi-tasking at its finest? Naaaah. It’s simply habit that came to be, as the end goal (tidy inbox) is always in the back of my mind. It also helps my email programs are off the hook: Gmail, Sparrow and the number one email client used the most: iPhone.

Now, my brain automatically prioritizes most efficient ways to achieve goals even outside of email.

focuses on what I will do vs. what I won’t do — we all strive to be efficient, responsible, responsive and reliable. My daily goal of inbox zero forces prioritization in order to be efficient, responsible, responsive and reliable. The one thing I found through many many (and I mean A LOT) of mistakes, failures and OOPSIES is: honesty is a must. The countless number of trials and errors of:
– taking on too much
– inability to delegate
– not knowing what I will realistically accomplish and what I can not
have taught me the importance of knowing myself, realistic time/workload management and how to be and stay the best I can always be.

The above may sound a bit hokey, but it just so happens to mirror characteristics HBR and best selling biz management books says are success factors. And look! Those skills also resemble Bill Gates’ fundamental framework – who, you know, is kinda sorta successful.

So unless you’re a journalist or spammer, Inbox 0 is an attainable daily goal.
Try it. I dare you.

Suggested reading: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” – David Allen (Over drinks, a CEO friend of mine who I respect and adore told me in passing about GTD. I downloaded and read a bit – it’s pretty amazing. Good luck!
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Everything is simple. Complication is a choice.

“It’s complicated.” is the biggest bullshit excuse. But more so than a load of crap, those three little words are toxic. They have the power to  lead our minds into a rabbit hole of inevitables. Once our brains go down that path, it’s over. We sit, ponder and get stuck in our heads: “What if  ____” or “Should have ____” and “Could have ____”.

I know. I’ve been there. We all have.

Some of you may still be there but don’t get caught in the downwards spiral. There is always a solution – we just need the courage to face the solution. Sure, it is easier to say: “It’s complicated.” and push our realities away. But take a step back, breathe and think of ways to change whatever is causing your pain.

Am I making this sound too easy? Well, it is. Everything in life is really simple. We are the ones who choose to make things complicated. Things don’t change. People don’t change. The only thing we can change, is ourselves. And by changing ourselves, we become a solution and while we work towards solving the problem, things change. We change. It’s really that simple.

These are lessons I picked up along the way, but a dying parent had the most significant impact. My mother passed away from cancer in 2006. There is no solution to a dying parent – especially when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. What I did do and still do on a daily is tell myself how grateful I should be that with my mother’s death, she left behind wisdom that takes people a life time to learn: life is too short.

So change yourself. Your situation. Do something. Change something. We only have one life.

Where there is a will, there is always a way. Look at Alan Turing who spent his lifetime to prove all problems can be solved. But even after all of his accomplishments, Turing’s legacy (at least to me) is: given the right approach and with time, there is always an answer.

We are not genius mathematicians like Turing but we are humans just like him. Take the lessens he left behind. Don’t waste precious time. Train the brain to approach things head-on and as soon as you empower yourself with the comfort of knowing that everything will work out and things do get better, you will find the courage to simplify yourself and your life.

Here’s a challenge. The next time you find yourself in your head, try thinking as Bill Gates does:

  1. Prioritize
  2. Ask smarter questions
  3. Make data-driven decisions
  4. Divorce your ego
  5. Frame the problem
  6. Get perspective on the problem
  7. Model the problem
  8. Think of the system and the ecosystem
  9. Think of the problem over time
  10. Think strategically

With that, I leave you with words from the great Steve Jobs, who keeps me practicing what I preach:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.

I am human too.

The other day, a friend mentioned in passing how I am very zen-like which made me, well, a little uneasy. Me? The one with no filter? The one who inappropriately curses like a truck driver?? Zen like? ZEN LIKE? Really? REALLY??

After skimming through my Twitter and Facebook, my face flushed. He was right. A lot of my shares lately have been cheesy inspirational crap. An over abundance of Steve Jobs quotes. Tips on minimalistic mindsets. How to find your center, balance, how to hold hands with your worst enemy, etc. etc.

Seriously. I should rename my blog to butterflies-and-rainbow-kumbaya-vomit.

Well. Perhaps it was the rough month of August. Or it could simply be my old age but all the inspirational reading helped a lot. Needed a few reminders about what I knew. Or what I thought I knew as the more I grow-up, the less energy I spend on things that are out of my control. On a superficial level, it’s easy to be and stay composed, as I’ve mastered the art of determining how much time, effort and emotions I want to invest in almost every thing I do in life. That way, if I make a mistake or bad judgment call, I brush it off and happily go on with my day. But on the true, real, where it matters the most level? FAIL.

The one thing that’s helped me, is figuring out long ago: people do not change. Since the only thing I can change is my self, subconsciously, I became well versed in self-control and discipline (or stubbornness) especially when emotions are involved.

But as I become more honest with myself, the more I become in tune with myself. The more I become in tune with myself, the more I see: the majority of my displayed strength is a facade. A defense mechanism, if you will, to never let anyone see my weaknesses. Vulnerabilities. Frailties. Now that I identified, acknowledged and embraced weakness, vulnerability and frailities, the need to work on how to be strong and weak at the same time. To find balance. To remain true to myself, while allowing myself to live. To love…is clear. Crystal frickin’ clear.

So I’m learning. I want to learn. I have to learn, to be the best I can be every second of every day.

So pardon all the cheesy junk that may flow through your streams.
My hope is, if articles that touched or inspired me affects even one person, I will happily take all your smack talking. Because I am still me. The one who has no problems telling people to ‘SHUT YOUR TWITTER/FACEBOOK/INTERNET-HOLES’ ;)

Until then, remember that I am perfectly flawed. A constant work in progress. I am weak and fragile just like any other person.

I am human, too.
(Ok, fine. Sometimes binary. 0101, Mona)