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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 October 14, 2020

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic

    How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic

    When you become an early riser, you’ll experience a lot of benefits, including feeling more energized and having more time to do what you want.

    If you’d like to join the ranks of those waking up with the sun, there are some things you should know before you run off to set your alarm.

    What exactly do you need to do to learn how to become an early riser?

    Here are 5 tips I’ve discovered to be most helpful in making the transition from erratic sleeper or night owl to early morning wizard.

    1. Choose to Get up Before You Go to Sleep

    You’re not very good at making decisions when you’ve just woken up. You were in the middle of a dream in which [insert celebrity crush of choice here] is serving you breakfast in bed, only to be rudely awakened by the harsh tones of your alarm clock.

    You’re frustrated, confused, and surprised. This is not the time to be making decisions about whether or not you should stay in bed! And yet, most of us leave the first decision of our day to be made in a blur of partial wakefulness.

    No more!

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    If you want to learn how to be an early riser, try making your decision to rise at a specific time before you go to sleep the night before. This frees you from making the decision in the morning when you’ve just woken up. Instead of making a decision, you only have to follow through on your decision from the night before.

    Easier said than done? Of course. But only for the first few times. Eventually, your need for raw willpower to get out of bed will diminish, and you’ll be the proud parent of a new habit!

    Steve Pavlina suggests you practice getting out of bed during the day[1] to get a few of the “practice sessions” out of the way without the early morning fog in your head.

    2. Have a Plan for Your Extra Time

    Let’s say you’ve actually made it out of bed 2 hours before you normally would. Now what? What are you going to do with all this time you’ve discovered in your day?

    If you don’t have something planned to do with your extra time, you risk falling for the temptation of a “morning nap” that wipes out all the work you put into getting up.

    To become an early riser, plan a great morning routine.

      Before you fall asleep, make a quick note of what you’d like to get done during your extra hours the following day. You could read a book, clean the garage, or write up that work report you’ve been putting off. Make a plan for when you wake up earlier, and you’ll do more than protect yourself from backsliding into bed.

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      You’ll get things done, and those results will fuel your desire to build rising early into a habit!

      3. Make Rising Early a Social Activity

      Your internet or social media buddies just don’t have enough pull to make your new habit stick in the long term. The same cannot be said for the people you spend time with as part of your early morning routine.

      Sure, you could choose to read blogs for two hours every morning, but wouldn’t it be great to join an early breakfast club, running group, or play chess in the park at 5am?

      The more people you get involved in making your new habit a daily part of your life, the easier it’ll be to succeed.

      Consider finding an accountability partner who is also interested in becoming an early riser. Perhaps it’s a neighbor who you plan to go for a run with at 6 am. Or it could be your husband or wife, and you decide to get up earlier to spend more time together before the kids wake up.

      Learn more about finding the perfect accountability partner in this article.

      4. Don’t Use an Alarm That Makes You Angry

      If we’re all wired differently, why do we all insist on torturing ourselves with the same sort of alarm each morning?

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      I spent years trying to wake up before my alarm went off so I wouldn’t have to hear it. I got pretty good, too. Then, I started using a cellphone as my alarm clock and quickly realized that different ring tones irritated me less but worked just as well to wake me up. I now use the ringtone alarm as a back-up for my bedside lamp, which I’ve plugged in to a timer.

      When the bright light doesn’t work, the cellphone picks up the slack, and I wake up on time. The lesson learned? Experiment a bit and see what works best for you as you try to become an early riser.

      Light, sound, smells, temperature, or even some contraption that dumps water on you might be more pleasant than your old alarm clock. Give something new a try!

      One final thing you can do is put your alarm at least several feet from your bed. If it’s within arm’s reach, you’ll be tempted to hit the snooze button. However, if you have to get out of bed to turn it off, you’ll be more likely to resist going back to sleep.

      5. Get Your Blood Flowing Right After Waking

      If you don’t have a neighbor you can pick fights with at 5 am, you’ll have to settle with a more mundane exercise. It doesn’t take much to get your blood flowing and chase the sleep from your head.

      Just pick something you don’t mind doing and go through the motions until your heart rate is up. Jumping rope, push-ups, crunches, or a few minutes of yoga are typically enough to do the trick. Here are 10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day. (Just don’t do anything your doctor hasn’t approved.)

      If you’re going to go for a full-on morning workout, remember to give your body at least 15 minutes to get moving before you start[2]. Have a glass of water, stretch a bit, and then get into your workout.

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      If you live in a beautiful part of the world like me, you might want to use a bit of your early morning to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the world around you.

      If you have a coffee shop open within walking distance, dragging yourself out of bed for a cup of coffee to savor on your walk home as the world wakes around you is a wonderful experience. Try it, and you’ll enjoy becoming an early riser!

      Final Thoughts

      Creating a new habit is always a challenge, especially if that habit is forcing you out of the comfort of your bed before the sun is even up. However, early risers enjoy increased productivity, higher levels of concentration, and even healthier eating habits[3]!

      Those are all great reasons to give it a try and get up a few minutes earlier. Try getting to bed a bit earlier and learn how to become an early riser with the above tips and conquer your days.

      More on How to Become an Early Riser

      Featured photo credit: Nomadic Julien via unsplash.com

      Reference

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