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Back to Basics: Processing

Back to Basics: Processing

Your Inbox

    In my first installment of “Back to Basics”, I discussed the importance of your inbox – a single place for collecting all of your inputs for processing. In this installment, we’ll discuss the processing itself – how to turn inputs into action.

    In principle, processing is simple. All it means is making a decision about what to do with every piece of information that enters your life. In practice, it’s actually very hard, mostly because with a few exceptions, we aren’t usually ready to make those decisions – or to make the commitment to act that decision-making implies.

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    There are really only a handful of decisions you can make about an input:

    • you can delete it. It’s unimportant – junk mail, information you already have, reminders of tasks already completed, etc.
    • You can redirect it. If there is another person the task or information would be better suited for, forward it to them.
    • You can archive it. Anything you don’t need now but will likely need in the future – a business card or address, a vendor’s brochure, an article from a magazine – can be filed away for future reference.
    • You can record it. Information you might need again but don’t need in it’s original form can be extracted and entered into a note-taking program, your contact manager, a notebook, etc. and the original deleted/thrown away.
    • You can do it. Some inputs require immediate action and can be done at once.
    • You can schedule it. Some inputs require action but not immediately – block out a suitable length of time in your calendar to do them.
    • You can defer it. When an input requires action but you are unable to take that action, you have to defer it to later.

    Given the limited number of possible choices, it should be a relatively easy thing to power through your inbox, extract the information you need, file things away, add a few items to your todo list or your calendar, drop a few things into your outbox, and get on with things.

    But it’s not. We get hung up on things, mostly because of those pesky “defer” inputs – things we know we should do something about but can’t, for several reasons:

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    • Lack of information: You don’t know enough to figure out what to do with something.
    • Lack of resources: You know what you should do, but you don’t have everything you need to do it – money, time, equipment, manpower, etc.
    • Lack of urgency: You know what to do and could do it, but it’s not important to do it right now so you put it off.
    • Lack of authority: You are ready, willing, and able to make a decision, but don’t feel empowered to act on that decision.

    The typical pattern where any of these barriers apply is to pick something up out of your inbox, look at it, recognize that you lack something important – information, resources, urgency, or authority – to act on it, and then: you drop it back into our inbox!

    Don’t do that.

    If you’re ever going to keep on top of everything and keep your inputs from overwhelming you, it’s important to break that habit. Which means you need to change the way you think about processing and about the decisions and actions processing entails.

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    When an item hits your inbox that you’re not able to deal with immediately, it becomes a project – an outcome that will take several steps to accomplish. And the first step in that project is to solve the problem, to fill the lack that’s preventing you from completing the task.

    In order to avoid putting things back into your inbox, you need a place to keep pending projects. This could be an accordion file on your desk, or a filing cabinet drawer for live files. You also need a way to keep track of things – a project list with pointers to the pending file.

    And you need to add whatever action you need to take to make it possible to act to your todo list. “Get list of potential team members from HR for Build Team”; “Look up how to find a reliable drywall installer for Fix Hole in Kitchen Wall”; “Set appointment with VP of Marketing to discuss possible action on partnership offer for Movie Tie-In Offer”; “Read Lifehack’s Back to Basics series for Figure Out How to Process my Inbox”.

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    This isn’t all that hard – I label a file with the project name, and I tag actions in my todo list with “for [Project Name]”. And I keep a list of active projects in my notebook. Give yourself permission to reuse the heck out of your folders – you don’t need any excuse to think of something as “too small” to be considered a project. If it’s not something you could sit down and do right now, it’s a project.

    Processing isn’t hard, but it takes some discipline and some clear-thinking time. Discipline because it’s easy to get distracted and easy to put off making a decision for things that you can’t do right now. Clear-thinking time because you ultimately do need to make a decision, and you can’t do that with a thousand other things on your mind.

    So I recommend scheduling a few 15-minute (or longer) blocks of time for processing your inbox throughout the day. Close the door (if you have a door) and get into the “processing zone”. Have your file folders, label-maker (if you use one – it seems silly, but it’s quite a help in getting into the right mindset), your todo list, and a pen handy. Do the same thing at home – set aside a few minutes every day or so to process everything.

    How many times you do this a day depends on your particular situation – keep an eye on your inbox for a few days and see how often it fills up and how urgent the items that come into your inbox are likely to be. For most people, once in the morning and once about an hour before you leave work is enough, and possibly once around lunchtime. If your inbox gets full particularly fast, you may need more than 15 minutes. The trick is to find a frequency and amount of time that leaves you as free as possible to do your actual work the rest of the time.

    And do keep yourself free the rest of the time. Don’t respond to each item as it hits your inbox.  You may as well not have an inbox at all if you’re going to give the world permission to interrupt whatever you’re doing at any time and place whatever they think is important in front of your face. That way madness doth lie!

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    Last Updated on June 20, 2019

    50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    Most people want a few more dollars in their wallets. But between an employer and family, the time most of us can devote to a second job is severely limited. Running a small side business can provide a few more options: you don’t have to show up at a set time and you can use skills you already have. Not all will be perfect for everyone, of course, and I’m sure that you’ll have a few ideas of your own after reading this list. If you’d like to share any other business ideas, please add them in the comments.

    1. Selling collectibles — From antique books to teddy bears, there are plenty of opportunities to buy and sell collectibles. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the collectible of your choice but if you choose something that you’ve been collecting for a while, you’ve got a head start.
    2. Locating apartments — It can take time to sort through apartment listings, but you can make some money by finding the perfect apartment for a renter.
    3. Baby proofing — New parents often prefer to bring in an expert to make sure their home is safe for a new baby.
    4. Calligraphic writing — If you’ve got elegant handwriting, you can pick up gigs writing or addressing wedding invitations, holiday cards and more.
    5. Selling coupons — Search on eBay for coupons right now and you’ll see thousands of listings for coupons. It’s just a matter of clipping and listing what you find in your Sunday newspaper.
    6. Pet training — A surprising number of people don’t know where to start in training a pet. Even teaching Rover simple commands like ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ can bring in a few dollars.
    7. Running errands — A wide variety of people want to outsource their errands, from those folks who aren’t able to leave their homes easily to those who have a busy schedule.
    8. Researching family trees — Amateur genealogists often call in experts, especially to handle research that has to be done in person in a far off place. If you’re willing to go to a local church and copy a few records, you can handle many family tree research requests.
    9. Supplying firewood — The prerequisite for selling firewood is having a source of wood; if you’ve got some land where you can cut down a few trees, you’ve got a head start.
    10. Hauling — As more people trade in their SUVs for compact cars, hauling is becoming more important: people have to rent a truck or hire a hauler for even small loads.
    11. Image consulting — Image consultants provide a wide variety of services, ranging from offering advice on appearance to teaching etiquette.
    12. Menu planning — For many people, the trip up in eating home-cooked or healthy meals is knowing what to prepare. Meal planners set a schedule to solve certain dietary problems.
    13. Microfarming — Cultivating food and flowers on small plots of land allows you to sell produce easily.
    14. Offering notary public services — Notary publics can witness and authenticate documents: a service needed for all sorts of official documents.
    15. Teaching music — If you’re skilled with a musical instrument, you can earn money by offering lessons.
    16. Mystery shopping — Mystery shoppers check the conditions and service at a store and report back to the store’s higher-ups.
    17. Offering research services — Just by reading up on a topic and compiling a report on it can earn you money.
    18. Personal shopping — Personal shoppers typically select gifts, apparel and other products for clients, helping them save time.
    19. Pet breeding — Purebred pets can be quite value, especially if you can verify their pedigree.
    20. Removing snow — During the winter months, shoveling walks can still be a reliable way to earn money. You might be asked to take care of the driveway too.
    21. Utility auditing — As people become environmentally-concious, they want to know just how efficient their homes are. With some simple testing, you can tell them.
    22. Offering web hosting services — Providing server space can be lucrative, particularly if you can provide tech support to your clients.
    23. Cutting lawns — An old standby, cutting lawns and other landscaping services can provide a second income in the summer.
    24. Auctioning items on eBay — Want to get rid of all your old stuff? Stick it up on eBay and auction it off.
    25. Babysitting — Child care of all kinds, from babysitting to nannying, can offer constant opportunities.
    26. Freelance writing — If you’ve got the skills to write clearly, you can sell your pen for everything from blogs to advertising copy.
    27. Selling blog and website themes — Do a little designing on the side? Customers that don’t want to pay full price for a website will often pay for a template or theme.
    28. Offering computer help — Particularly with people new to computers, you can earn money by providing in-home computer help.
    29. Designing websites — It may require a little skilled effort, but designing websites remains a reliable source of income.
    30. Selling stock photography — For shutterbugs, an easy way to put a photography collection to work is to post it to a stock photography site.
    31. Freelance designing — Check with local businesses: you can provide brochures, business cards and other design work and get paid a good fee.
    32. Tutoring — Math and languages reamin the easiest subjects to find tutoring gigs for, but there is demand for other fields as well.
    33. Housesitting / petsitting — Stopping in to check on a house or pet can earn you some money, and maybe even a place to stay.
    34. Building niche websites — If you can put together a site on a very specific topic, you can put targeted ads on it and make money quickly.
    35. Translating — The variety of translating work available is huge: written word, on the spot and more is easy to find even on a part-time basis.
    36. Creating custom crafts — No matter what kind of crafts you make, there’s likely a market for it. Etsy remains one of the easiest places to sell crafts.
    37. Setting up a wi-fi hotspot — With a little bit of equipment, you can set up a wi-fi hotspot and charge your neighbors for the access they’ve been ‘borrowing.’
    38. Selling an e-book — You can write an e-book about almost anything and put it up for sale online.
    39. Affiliate marketing — If you’re willing to market other companies’ products, you can earn a cut of the sales.
    40. Renting out your spare room — From looking for a long-term roommate to listing your guest room on couch surfing sites, that spare room can make you money.
    41. Offering handy man services — Handling small household tasks can provide you with plenty of work, although you’ll probably be expected to have your own tools.
    42. Teaching an online class — Share your expertise through a website, an online seminar or variety of other methods.
    43. Building furniture — For those with the skill to create handmade furniture, selling their creations is often just a matter of advertising.
    44. Providing personal chef services — Personal chefs prepare meals ahead of time for customers, leaving their customers with a full freezer and no mess.
    45. Event planning — From planning corporate events to bar mitzvahs, an event planning business can require plenty of work and offer plenty of pay.
    46. Installing home safety products — Particularly as Baby Boomers age, people able to install handrails and other home safety products are in demand.
    47. Altering / tailoring — If your sewing skills are up to par, altering garments is coming back as people try to stretch more wear out of their clothing.
    48. Offering in-home beauty services — Hair cuts, makeup and other beauty services that can be performed at home have a growing demand.
    49. Business coaching — Helping others to establish and develop their businesses can provide many opportunities to earn money.
    50. Writing resumes — Writing resumes can provide a reliable income, especially if you can put a polish on a client’s credentials.

    There are plenty of offers that claim to provide you with the opportunity to make thousands of dollars a week. Unfortunately, none of these businesses will provide that sort of income, but they aren’t scams either. They were chosen because they all require a minimum investment to get started — some require nothing more than a flyer advertising your business. Even better, if you do enjoy any of these businesses, there is a potential with most of them to continue to expand — perhaps even to the point of going full time.

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    Featured photo credit: Omar Prestwich via unsplash.com

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