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How I Achieved Inbox Zero in 4 Steps

How I Achieved Inbox Zero in 4 Steps

I love email. I can be hooked to my inbox all day on my trusty smartphone — and therefore, I love my smartphone too!

But I was not always an email-lover. Three and a half years ago, when I was working at a day job, I barely felt the need to check my email. Only after I started on my entrepreneurial journey, did I begin holding my emails dear. I am a blogger, a freelance writer, an editor, a behavioral coach and an online marketer. I am also religious about responding to every message I possibly can.

If you’re an entrepreneur too, and wondering what is it with us and email, you’re not alone. To me, email is the gateway to opportunities, an exchange of stellar ideas, or a chance to help a budding job-quitter blaze the right trail. That said, at times, email has become my worst enemy. For one, my partner has “caught” me checking and responding to messages on my phone in bed. At other times, my inbox has been the sole reason I’ve had near-zero productivity for hours.

There was an urgent need to manage my inbox (it counted 41,377 at the time!) and keep it clean.

So, I subscribed to the Inbox Zero practice, where every day each item in your inbox must be moved to the archives, trash or some other folder.

Here are the four simple hacks I used to do it, and you can too:

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1. Be Generous With Deleting Email

I was talking to Aymeric, founder of Weekplan.net, and asked him how he maintained his sanity and kept his inbox clean all the time. Aymeric was kind enough to give me his top tip, but also honest to reveal that he only recently hit Inbox Zero (which is pretty hard).

His number one tip? Be generous with email deletion.

I have a confession to make: I used to save each and every email, thinking I may need it sometime in future. May be it is a Cancerian trait or something, but I certainly was not deleting generously.

Then Einstein spoke to me: Psst…”the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Of course! Here I was expecting to achieve Inbox Zero and yet doing the same ol’, same ol’. Once I took Einstein’s advice, changed my ways and hit DELETE, things became more manageable.

A word of caution: You can go and delete everything in your inbox, followed by a momentary sigh of relief, only to be attacked by panic shortly thereafter. So don’t be a blind deleting machine — delete smartly. The best way I’ve found for smart deletion is to have folders or labels (or whatever you prefer). You can also choose a label and delete it entirely without touching other messages.

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For example, in 2009, when I started my freelance writing business, I subscribed to loads of newsletters that helped freelancers. I labeled them as “Blogging stuff”, “Freelance writing”, “Follow up blog emails” etc.

In hindsight, I admit my labeling skills were below par, but they served the purpose. Today I’ve come a long way and don’t need beginner tips anymore. So I hit DELETE and killed these labels in a heartbeat.

2. Unsubscribe Ruthlessly

And I mean ruthlessly. In the last few weeks, I have unsubscribed from 60% of the newsletters I don’t need any more. That was a relief because I didn’t have to keep working at cleaning up the mess.

Not only that, having put the effort into unsubscribing so much in the past few days, I kept the habit of subscribing in check.

I can sometimes suffer from the shiny-object syndrome. I think we all do. When I saw a new website, a cool app, or found a nice blog, I wanted to subscribe to them. And let’s not forget, I loved collecting and filing away the freebies people give away on their websites!

So, I became mindful of subscribing. Just before hitting “submit”, I asked myself: Do I really need this service/e-book/subscription? The keyword here is “need” versus “want”.

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It’s amazing how most of the time the answer was a resounding, “No”.

3. Ask Smart Questions First

One of my first blogs was in the area of freelance writing where I shared writing tips and tricks with other freelancers. I received a lot of email from fellow and budding writers sharing their thoughts, and at times, asking for help. Of course, being who I was, I took time and religiously replied to every email. Then it started getting a little too much because I was spending a lot of time writing long replies to a dozen questions that a newbie had packed into just one email. At times, the answer would be already available on my blog or the Net. The sender had not done their research.

So I came up with a few ninja questions:

  • Can this wait? If yes, move to “Follow up” label. If no, ask the next question.
  • Does this really require my attention? If no, move to Archives/Trash. If yes, ask the next question.
  •  Can I direct them to a resource instead? If yes, send the resource link and move to Archives/Trash. If no, ask the next question.
  • Am I ever going to respond/refer to this? If no, then move to Trash. If yes, respond in less than 5-sentences, move to Archives/Trash and get it done.

4. Be OK If You Don’t Achieve Inbox Zero Literally

I must admit, the first time I saw my inbox size go down from 41,377 to 0, I felt a little lonely. It was as if I was left in the Australian bush all on my own. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to really do Inbox Zero.

Yikes!

When I received a new email, I tried wiping its existence off the surface of my inbox. But it hurt me a little more. If Inbox Zero was the bush, a thriving, overflowing inbox was the city. And I’ve always been a city gal.

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I continued to keep my inbox empty for the next few days, but the sombre feeling wouldn’t go away. Then I looked online to see if other people were feeling the same uneasiness inside and bumped into Jeff Bercovici’s Inbox 50.

What a relief! Jeff probably describes the feeling much better than I do. He writes, “To do Inbox Zero, you have to like Inbox Zero.”

How true. To do the bush, I must like it first. Which I don’t right now.

So my point? It’s OK if you cannot survive the zilch. I’ve found the mid-way in Inbox 50-100. You can find it in Inbox 80, or Inbox 20. Take your pick. So long it doesn’t get back to Inbox 41,377!

Your Thoughts?

Would you ever try to achieve Inbox Zero? Or have you already? Love to hear your thoughts!

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

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Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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