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Time To Discard The Portmanteau

Time To Discard The Portmanteau

In the days of grand ocean liners, passengers used portmanteaus — huge, metal-strapped trunks large enough to throw in everything they might need on a three or six week voyage, plus a good few items they couldn’t even imagine a use for. A portmanteau life is just the same: a mass of dissimilar activities, tasks and responsibilities, thrown together without clear focus.

Too many people suffer from trying to handle portmanteau lives. As a result, they’re overworked, stressed out and always on the run from one activity to another. They’re so busy they exist in a nightmare of firefighting and just-in-time decisions. There’s no focus to what they do. It’s as if they can’t bear to prioritize or exclude anything. Their lives include so much, nothing gets enough time or attention.

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Of course, focus isn’t enough by itself. Your life may be tightly focused and have little impact or usefulness. I had a colleague once who was given the job of handling the organization’s relations with the local community. Despite the tight focus, his role had no impact. The business wasn’t interested in the local community’s concerns, and the local people had long ago given up on hopes they could influence the organization’s leaders. Some people focus their lives on areas that are similarly unimportant, even useless, to anyone — including themselves.

At work, “portmanteau” roles have so much overlap with other roles people expend most of their energy in turf wars. Low impact roles are unneeded and hateful. Who wants to do a job they know no one values? If a role comes into both categories, low impact and poor focus, it’s a blind, lame tortoise trying to win a horse race.

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To be worth doing, any action need to be part of a clear focus and have measurable impact on what you value most. Activities with little impact should be eliminated. No one will notice they’ve gone. Poorly focused roles, especially portmanteau roles, should be split or have the useless elements removed. One main area of impact, one role. Two areas, two roles. A properly organized role has a clear purpose and a single focus. Anything else is a distraction and a waste of time. Delegate it. Drop it. Forget it. Tightly focused, portfolio roles with clear impact are the only ones worth doing. They’re also the only jobs able people relish, since they provide the best opportunities for interest and achievement.

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It’s the same with life in general. Taking on too much, and not discriminating between what you can do and what you should, stops you from accomplishing what matters most. It’s so tempting. There’s so much that needs to be done. Living a portmanteau life will leave you frustrated and exhausted. Find your portfolio: the focus and direction that will allow you to concentrate on activities you enjoy and relish.

Try asking yourself these questions:

  • Does this task affect anything directly useful to the most important things in my life?
  • Could sombody else do it?
  • Could they do it better?
  • What would happen if I didn’t pick it up?
  • If I focused more clearly, what could I achieve?
  • Can I have more impact? Where? How?

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

Ah, Inbox Zero. An achievement that so many of us long for. It’s elusive. It’s a productivity benchmark. It’s an ongoing battle.

It’s also unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, the way Inbox Zero was initially termed is incredibly valuable. Merlin Mann coined the phrase years ago and what he has defined it as goes well beyond the term itself.[1]

Yet people have created their own definition of Inbox Zero. They’re not using it with the intent that Mann suggested. Instead, it’s become about having nothing left in immediate view. It’s become about getting your email inbox to zero messages or having an empty inbox on your desk that was once filled with papers. It’s become about removing visual clutter.

But it’s not about that. Not at all.

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Here’s what inbox zero actually is, as defined by Mann:

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

The Fake Inbox Zero

The sense of fulfillment one gets from clearing out everything in your inbox is temporary at best, disappointing at worst. Often we find that we’re shooting for Inbox Zero just so that we can say that we’ve got “everything done that needed to be done”. That’s simply not the case.

Certainly, by removing all of your things that sit in your inbox means that they are either taken care of or are well on their way to being taken care of. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often applied to clearing out your inbox. But unless you’ve actually done something with the stuff, it’s either not worth having in your inbox in the first place or is still sitting in your “mental inbox”.

You have to do something with the stuff, and for many people, that is a hard thing to do. That’s why Inbox Zero – as defined by Mann – is not achieved as often as many people would like to believe. It’s this “watered down” concept of Inbox Zero that is completed instead. You’ve got no email in your inbox and you’ve got no paper on your desk’s inbox. So that must mean you’re at Inbox Zero.

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Until the next email arrives or the next document comes your way. Then you work to get rid of those as quickly as possible so that you can get back to Inbox Zero: The Lesser again. If it’s something that can be dealt with quickly, then you get there. But if they require more time, then soon you’ve got more stuff in your inboxes. So you switch up tasks to get to the things that don’t require as much time or attention so that you can get closer to this stripped down variation of Inbox Zero.

However, until you deal with the bigger items, you don’t quite get there. Some people feel as if they’ve let themselves (or others) down if they don’t get there. And that, quite frankly, is silly. That’s why this particular version of Inbox Zero doesn’t work.

The Ultimate Way to Get to Inbox Zero

So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero?

Have zero inboxes.

The inbox is meant to be a stop along the way to your final destination. It’s the place where stuff sits until you’re ready to put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it.

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So why not skip the inbox altogether? Why not put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it? Because that requires immediate action. It means you need to give the item some thought and attention.

You need to step back and look at it rather than file it. That’s why we have a catch-all inbox, both for email and for analog items. It allows us to only look at these things when we’re ready to do so.

The funny thing is that we can decide when we’re ready to without actually looking at the inbox beforehand. We can look at things on our own watch rather than when we are alerted to or feel the need to.

There is no reason why you need an inbox at all to store things for longer than it sits there before you see it. None. It’s a choice. And the choice you should be making is how to deal with things when you first see them, rather than when to deal with things you haven’t looked at yet.

Stop Faking It

Seeing things in your inboxes is simply using your sight. Looking at things in your inbox when you first see them is using insight.

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Stop checking email more than twice per day. Turn off your alerts. Put your desk’s inbox somewhere that it can be accessed by others and only accessed by you when you’re ready to deal with what’s in it. Don’t put it on your desk – that’s productivity poison.

If you want to get to Inbox Zero — the real Inbox Zero — then get rid of those stops along the way. You’ll find that by doing that, you’ll be getting more of the stuff you really want done finished much faster, rather than see them moving along at the speed of not much more than zero.

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Featured photo credit: Web Hosting via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merlin Mann: Inbox Zero

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