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3 People You Need to Train to Use the Inbox

3 People You Need to Train to Use the Inbox

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    When you get to your desk, is there a message slip on your keyboard? Maybe a Post-It note on your monitor? Perhaps a stack of important files on your chair? Each of those piles of paperwork needs your attention, but there’s not exactly any order to it. The files will get stacked somewhere else on your desk so you can sit down. The message slip will get pushed off to one side so that you can take care of something online immediately — and something similar will happen to that Post-It so that you can see the screen. All those very important pieces of paper are probably lost in the shuffle moments after you sit down. Don’t you wish that they all went to just one inbox, so that you actually can process it all in one go, when you have time?

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    It’s relatively to make sure that all your email and online notifications go to the right inbox. With email forwarding and a few filters, you may even be able to automate your email inbox. But when you’re working with paper, you can easily wind up spread across half a dozen inboxes, struggling to keep up with the paperwork. Even in supposedly ‘paperless’ offices, you still wind up with plenty of paperwork you need to process. It’s very possible to streamline your paperwork, but it can take some training to make sure everything winds up in your inbox. There are a fw people who particularly need that training.

    1. You!

    When it comes to making sure that papers make it into your inbox, you’re a key culprit. First of all, do you have a set inbox? Many people treat their entire desk as an inbox — and they’re even worse at home. Your first step should be to put out a basket or otherwise denote your inbox. From there, you need to make sure that anything that needs to be processed makes it into your inbox, rather than falling anywhere else. That stack of files on your chair and message slip on your keyboard both need to be set in your inbox as soon as you sit down.

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    It’s also worth putting anything else you need to handle in that inbox: if you routinely take notes or make lists on pieces of paper or in a notebook, those notations probably need to be checked and possibly completed as much as any memo dropped on your desk. Putting those notes in your inbox creates a habit of looking through them.

    You also have to train yourself to go through your inbox on a regular basis. Personally, I find processing paper immediately before or after I take care of my email inbox means that I can blow through all of it at once, but you’ll have to find a system for yourself. The goal of Inbox Zero is just as important for your paperwork as your email.

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    2. Your Co-Workers

    Depending on your ideal world, you might want your co-workers to email you regarding any new tasks, projects or other items they want to bring to your attention. But it’s fairly difficult to eliminate all paper exchanges: after all, if a co-worker needs to hand off a physical file to you or needs your signature on a particular page, he or she is probably going to hand off some papers to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t control just how that hand off goes, though.

    If you’re sitting at your desk, you can generally direct your co-workers to set things in your inbox. Refer to it as such and most of your co-workers will get the idea that setting papers there will get them taken care much faster. There will always be some people that won’t manage to hit the inbox — even if you put a big sign over it — but if you can get even a few people using your inbox, you can get to the point where shuffling aroud papers yourself isn’t so much of a hassle.

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    3. Higher Ups

    Training supervisors, managers and other people who effectively get to tell you what to do can be difficult. You can politely ask them to conform to your system of course, and some will make the effort to do so, but some higher ups will take the view that you really ought to conform to their system, given the state of the food chain. This may translate to more re-filing for you, without many steps you can take.

    However, training your supervisor to use your inbox is not impossible. It’s a matter of showing the effects of actually getting something into your inbox: if you can get to something in your inbox faster than something outside of it, you can prove the value of using it. I’m not suggesting that you go completely passive aggressive on your boss and ignore everything that doesn’t make it into your inbox — it’s not going to help your situation — but it’s not unreasonable to handle everything in your inbox first and then start looking for projects or tasks that may have accumulated in other places someone might expect you to check.

    Your Inbox

    An inbox on your desk may sound like a little thing for productivity. After all, if something’s on your desk, you’ll likely get to it eventually. An inbox is simply a way to speed up the process. You don’t need to worry about what to tackle next. Just grab the next item in your inbox and keep on working. Even better, if you can get in the habit of filing, shredding or otherwise putting away any paper you pick up from your inbox, there is some hope of maintaining a fairly clean desk — one you can easily work on!

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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