Category Archives: discourse

Getting To Inbox Zero In 3 Hours Or Less

Photo Credit: Liane Metzler via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Liane Metzler via Unsplash

I always thought “inbox zero” was an urban myth. How is it possible that one’s inbox could have literally no emails in it whatsoever?

The last time I checked there were around twenty-thousand messages. Incoming ones starred for later, bookmarked newsletters going back to the beginning of time begging for acknowledgement — the dutiful read, watch, response, purchase or listen that may or may not make our lives slightly more whole.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a hoarder of information. I’m pretty much obsessed with emailing myself several times daily — links to recipes, lengthy thought pieces, cute shoes — never to be opened at the fabled moment for where there’s actually time. Let’s face it, emails generate more work than pleasure. And if the case was in fact pleasure, my pocketbook surely wouldn’t be pleased.

I also have a terrible habit of staring at my inbox for moments on end. I sit unblinking and motionless, eyeballs glossing over the never ending list. Whether starred, marked as “important and unread,” or falling within the categorical everything else, without moving a muscle the meter on my forehead goes from full to hovering near bone dry.

One Friday evening I decided to take matters into my own hands. It was time to part with these missives from the past. They were slogging things down, preventing crystal-clear clarity in order to have a more fulfilling, energized, and productive day.

Here’s how I finally reached the ever-so-elusive Inbox Zero in less than three hours.

1. I took to e-mail management tools.

Basically, if there’s a way to cheat through technology I’m going to do it. In this case the enablers were Sanebox and Boomerang.

I implemented Sanebox to filter out everything that wasn’t urgent. Most emails were automatically delivered to a new inbox called “SaneLater.” Urgent e-mails, as defined in this case, arrive directly in my main inbox from the fingertips of human beings I actually know. Anything and everything else goes to SaneLater.

I made use of Boomerang, which I’ve had installed for years and never actually noticed. I scheduled starred emails to return on the day an action item was due. The original message was then archived.

2. I took the plunge.

The great thing about Gmail is that all your archived emails are still searchable (via the nav bar at the top). They live in a far-off place you don’t need to visit unless absolutely necessary, far away from your actual inbox.

Sanebox offers a simple and useful methodology for e-mail management: Delegate, Defer, Delete, Respond, and Do.

After responding to, rescheduling, or filing away everything timely I could find, I did the unimaginable. I selected everything in my inbox — I mean everything — and *gulp* clicked Archive.

Sanebox has a tiny learning curve when it comes to additional features. Part of the fun is leveraging them for specific needs.

For example, I don’t always need a message to return if I don’t hear back from the recipient. I do, however, need constant reminders in order to follow up with people within a reasonably courteous timeframe and/or get things done by a specific date. Having the message go away then reappear when the timing is relevant is a hack that’s been working massively well for me so far.

After it was all said and done, my inbox looked like this!

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Day one went flawlessly. By removing the clutter I felt immeasurably energized and ready to do the deep work instead of staring at the screen in an overwhelmed stupor. I didn’t miss anything about the old e-mail workspace. I found myself attacking the “to dos” — the major bullseyes of the day that mattered most.

Email became secondary to workflow. Actual work came first. By using chunks of time specifically set aside for e-mail I now manage inbound communications tactically (while attempting to avoid becoming obsessed with the notion of persistent zero!). This week was noticeably more productive — my headspace has been clearer and I found that my mood was actually better.

All in all, the tedious effort was worth it in the end.  Inbox Zero for the win!

Now, does anyone have any tips for keeping it this way?!

A Quiet Revolution Is Happening

Cartoon from the June 1, 2015 edition of The New Yorker

Cartoon from the June 1, 2015 edition of The New Yorker

The other week I attended a Creative Mornings lecture featuring David Allen, founder of the forthcoming Jazz & Art Museum in Oakland. Each monthly lecture features a theme and this month’s was “Revolution.”

Allen spoke about the history of jazz, folding in its founders as key examples of revolution. He said that bebop musicians understood their present and transposed it into action –  men and women who struggled like crazy for a genre that would later be called “America’s classical music.”

A few hours later, news broke that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled gay marriage legal in all fifty states. What a glorious time to be alive as we fight for equalities on American soil and see real progress being made.

Revolution comes from struggle. Personal struggle funnels up to a group of individuals who share their personal experience with others and choose to take action.

As a society, we are in the midst of a revolution. It’s not experienced in the way it was in the past because its roots take place online. We are no longer observers. We have countless channels for communicating our beliefs and participating in public discourse. There are easy-to-access options for liking and sharing; simple tools to comment and express.

Thousands of people are at our fingertips while ironically enough we ignore the person in front of us. Still, we can be heard.

We are in the midst of a quiet revolution.

We are a version of the New Abolitionists – a force that is non-violent yet aggressive, independent yet united, creating a sentiment and building a mentality that’s impossible to imprison.

Protests have been replaced by individual storms that spread across the internet like wildfire, collectively building in strength. Sit-ins have been replaced by Facebook. Moral outrage has turned inquisitive, even irreverent. Daily, we fan the flames of our collective fire.

We are ambitious, informed, and connected all the time.

We are the first generation to have grown up truly digital. As adults, it is now our responsibility to make the world a better place. In this century of innovation we have awesome tools at our disposal and through ambition are all too aware that we have limited time on this earth. The goalposts have moved and our challenges are greater than ever before.

When we tell our stories and use our voice, somehow the world aligns. It funnels back to the feeling that we are participating in our own personal revolution. “This is mine.” The present has evolved from the future I had previously imagined for myself and my kin.

We, a united group of voices, continue to be relentless in building solutions and seeking better ways of doing things and treating people.

It takes civil disobedience to enforce and encourage Democracy, a word that hasn’t been used in practice for decades. That disobedience is really a mentality our generation has created through collective mindshare.

Together, we speak. United, we have the ability to create change.

 

I Won’t Wear Android…Yet

Samsung Smartwatch

I don’t want a computer on my wrist. Or anywhere on my body, really. Having an iPhone tracking every movement from my handbag is alarming enough.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a flip phone? Sure, there wouldn’t be any fancy games, or maps, or cleverly branded apps for taking selfies. Sure, I could turn off “Location Services” and refrain from checking-in. But what’s the fun of that?

Maybe I’d enjoy life a little more.  Maybe I’d experience some…freedom.

Google wants it all. The contents of my e-mail, exact location, browser visit, search, preferences, along with anything else they can reach.

And, similar to Facebook, it’s my fault for willingly giving it to them in exchange for free services and the convenience of a single log-in.

But are these services free? These days privacy is seemingly more valuable than an SSN. Why would I give up privacy so voluntarily?

Then again, who cares? It’s not like I’m a criminal unintentionally leaving digital breadcrumbs of evidence strewn across the internet.

But, back to the Watch.

The only functional solve I see to the Android Watch outside of what the iPhone already provides is pure physical convenience. You don’t have to continually pull your phone from your pocket to read a text or answer a call.

For now, I’m unwilling to have a computer strapped to my body for the sake of convenience. A line has to be drawn. Until the phone offers drastically new features, and until I’m in control of the information I choose to disclose (likely, never), I’ll default to my trusty analog watch.

A watch is the kind of device that does one thing and does it well. It retains a timeless style that requires actual physical tending. Conversely, it does not tend to my physical being by recording every output.

Also, it doesn’t die every 4 years.

Perhaps I’ll be seduced by the sleek design and inevitable heart-tugging campaign surrounding the launch of the Apple iWatch. Until then, I’ll cling to the throwback of form and function as my daily business continues to tick on.

The Nominal Network: When Things Go Asocial

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Location-based social networks like Connect and Highlight alert you to people who happen to be near your current location. By “people,” we essentially mean friends or those with similar interests (friends of friends). For a fee, SocialRadar even allows you to hook in LinkedIn contacts for quick access to someone’s  professional details (or – eek! their connections!) on the go.

And then there’s Cloak, the polar opposite – a reverse model because you’d actually prefer to avoid bumping into said people on the street. It works the same way as the others, but Cloak has a very different user interface to differentiate its purpose – dark and mysterious, with a setting that makes the phone vibrate anytime someone is within a distance of your choosing.

Cloak is social rehab – for those who want to avoid an ex, a client, a mutual social malcontent. Connections remain where we can browse them, at a safe distance and at our convenience in the two dimensional space of digital terroir.

In a similar vein, Breather advertises “Peace and quiet, on demand.” It’s essentially a room-rental service where users can find and rent rooms by the hour – ideally to take a nap, meet with clients, work, or to meditate.

Are we around each other so much that we’re actually fighting for the opportunity to be left alone?

Historically, digital tools were developed for connecting us to one another in order to share and spread information. With the overwhelming amount of ways to do that, it’s only natural that we start craving some distance, allowing ourselves to disconnect for actual Headspace (ironically there’s an app for that, too).

Come to think of it, we’re awfully hard on ourselves and these tools are strong evidence of that. I’d like to see an app that encourages me to be lazy on the weekends. Or better yet, the reverse of a to-do list – a blank screen allowing me to willing enter what I  did that day without the hassle of a pseudo digital nanny.

Today, I:

Ate a salad for lunch. Did 30 minutes of cardio. Thought happy thoughts. Didn’t run into anyone too horrible. And, actually remembered – without any alerts – to pick up rice milk on the way home!

 Yay for me!  Little Things!

At the end of the day perhaps I’m not going to avoid anybody or anything, except maybe trust the real world a little more, take a deep breath, and avoid anything beeping or blinking coming from my phone.

Secrets And Whispers: The Social Limits Of An Anonymous Internet

Secret - Speak Freely

“If you could kill someone once a year and get away with it, would you?”

This was an anonymous message posted to the app Secret and according to its algorithm, was written by someone I know.

Users were outraged and dismayed at the words, quickly posting comments like  “get help” and “what’s wrong with you?!”

I was somewhat reassured by the decibel level, readjusting my social antennae slightly towards some semblance of moral compass. The reactions served as a reminder that oftentimes in social media, communities tend to police themselves.

It got me thinking. Was the writer serious – or was he or she merely taking advantage of the medium to be controversial?

Will we ever really know what kind of friends we have? And what does that say about us? (Am I that messed up too?!)

Secret and Whisper are mobile apps that allow users to anonymously post thoughts generally 1-sentence in length. The unmoderated submissions  range from from fluffy to business-ish  (e.g. Silicon Valley rants and rumours) to the profound. The delight lies in where these topics intersect –  a technological venn diagram distributing random missives to the masses.

Twenty years ago at the dawn of the popular internet, anonymity was de rigeur. Digital omnivores created arbitrary handles and sent requests for information only when we could confirm, to the best of our naive ability, that the information sent was heavily encrypted on the receiving side.

With each considering keystroke of our credit card we added a fake layer of security, a counteragent framed of deliberation and trust.

Tap, tap. Tap, tap. I. Am. Trusting. This.

In chatrooms and private messages we reduced our identity to the most basic credentials.

30/f. New York City.

We placed a premium on self-disclosure.

In recent years, these allowances turned a significant corner. Not only did we become eager to share our personal information but we did so in a way to showcase our best possible self. This showmanship comes at a price –  there’s no ability to retreat from the real world through anonymous browsing or mutual confession.

Disappearing messages are also of trend.  In this model, content disappears after a preselected duration of seconds. Most evidenced is the wild success of SnapChat, who turned down a $3B (yes, billion) offer from Facebook, deciding instead to retain ownership and go forth on their own.

The messaging service was rendered primarily for serving the needs of a typical lowest common denominator, in this case sexting. While the postings aren’t anonymous, their temporal nature provides a semblance of safety since in theory, the content will no longer exist thirty seconds from now.

Online privacy has always been a hotbed issue, and anonymity with some added ephemerality appear to be good partners  for communicating in today’s closely monitored world.

Perhaps these expedients serve instead as counteragents;  a fallback solution until we discover the real technological lifecycle here.Even if messages allegedly  “disappear” or post without provenance, there’s a precedent-setting case waiting to happen if these postings can in fact be tracked. If a threatening message is shared, will the government intervene? Should they?

Given the level of trust in digital security today, it would be little surprise if these messages were not traceable.

After all, when the message is sent, after the tiny bit of information is posted to a server somewhere, ownership is transferred from the creator to the owner along with social currency of unfair supposition. Context is lost and the message becomes subject to whomever has the largest fists and holds its grip the tightest.

Ultimately, who holds the strings?

Let’s again go back twenty years. Let’s say I took a photo (let’s say, just for fun with one of those sassy disposable cameras). I had it developed at the local drugstore and kept  the album at home. Would the government have the right to search my house?  Would they have the right to search the records from the drugstore without probable cause? And who defines probable cause, if, like my friend who posted on Secret, we’re clearly all a bit nuts?

If secure, tools like Snapchat and Secret enable us to exercise our first amendment rights. We can speak, question, and share freely without running the risk of being held to either substance or context. This goes back to the beginning of the popular internet when it was less about oversharing and more about simply…connecting.

However, this right should be exercised with caution. If  you don’t have anything nice to say…it probably shouldn’t be posted at all.