Category Archives: the way we work

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 Case Against The Status Quo

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The Grind. The day-to-day. Reality. For some, this is a fantastically comfortable and ideal way to live. It’s what we do, and it’s not that complicated.

In a decade when things have been tough, having a secure job is a wonderful thing to have. It provides steady income and allows us to take care of our responsibilities – for ourselves and for our people.

Interestingly enough, having a secure job doesn’t always fulfill everything. It doesn’t fulfill the need to do what we’re designed to do as individuals; to satisfy our need for the contribution and giving back to the society in which we live. It would be nice to leave the world a slightly better place – even in the tiniest regard – after we’re gone.

There seems to be a positive influx of well-being in the past few years that has arisen post-depression.

After Obama’s “Change” campaign, it’s safe to say that not much has actually changed in the world. Now the people, especially those who were strong supporters of this campaign, are standing up and realizing that we can, or have to, be the instruments of change ourselves.

Regardless of the overuse of the word “epic,” change starts small – and can continue to exist that way.

There’s a scale of doing good versus telling everyone about the fact that you’re doing good. One drives results and the other, in theory, drives business which should drive results. This method has created some wariness among the do-gooders out there.

And really, it’s not about that.

It’s about discovering what you can do. What you were made to do. What you can do to the best of your ability, on this planet, to fulfill why you’re here and what will exist as a result.

Life is short. Why go through the motions?

 

Life Essentials: Core Values + Relationships

If you’re like me you’ve probably had many jobs over the course of your career. And as the first generation to grow up truly digital, we live in a hyper-connected world that allows — and even encourages — the ability to try many kinds of roles in a relatively short amount of time.

Even within specific types of work, titles and set responsibilities are changing. They’re becoming loosely defined — either due to the adaptation of technology, or the evolution of industries acclimating to change.

We’ve gained the freedom to break from the mindset of keeping a job for two years or longer, an informal rule created to establish credibility in the working world. We also have the ability to take on our own clients, work with friends, and start companies with little overhead — provided we’re willing to break from our personal comfort zones and venture into the unknown to do so.

The great news? The unknown is where incredible things happen! And now is a great time to go for it.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to create this change. And if creating change were easy, everyone would go about it. Yet whether we invoke it or not, change is inevitable.

During shifting times it’s important to stay steady and focused, whether you’re going out on your own for the first time or seeking direction in your present position. After all, someone wise once said that everything comes from within.

I’ve found that in my own journey so far, these two little things help.

1.) Have a set of core values.

Core values are, simply put, the words you live by.

Pick 3-5 words that you sincerely believe are key to who you are and what you stand for. You’ll notice that these words inform your interactions with others and your day-to-day working process.

They can be anything. Love, perseverance, influence, peace…you get the idea. If you’re someone whose core value is money, then you’re willing to do anything for money. Live by a set of beliefs, or values, and it becomes easier to prioritize everything in your life. You’re also setting a moral compass to help navigate through tough decisions.

For what it’s worth, mine are Respect, Honor, Passion, and Integrity. I’ve left jobs because actions made on behalf of the leadership team were not something I agreed with based on these values. If your heart isn’t in the game, the resulting output won’t be great. And who wants to do anything less than great? Life’s too short for that!

For me, having respect for others – and respect for myself – helps to build better relationships. I often feel that it’s my duty to honor the passion in others. I also try to work with integrity, which in turn makes the quality of my work better.

2.) Build and maintain core relationships.

Core relationships are the relationships we have with others. They are personal, professional, and sometimes a combo of both.

Grow these relationships and nurture them without any expectation of return. When you hit a roadblock, your network will be there. These people are a deep well of knowledge, support, and connections to help navigate through tough times.

When I lost my previous job, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at how quickly folks in my network came calling. I was amazed at the incredible support I received — simply from putting forth some effort into building relationships over the years.

Here’s the most important part: Put the needs of your network first. It’s never about you. Help them. Find out what they need and what you can do to help. Check in regularly. It may sound too much like The Secret, but it really is true — after you put it out there, you’ll be helped in more ways you can ever imagine.

I’ve always experienced overlap in my personal and professional life simply by finding ways to network and being curious about the individuals I met along the way. These relationships come in different shapes and sizes and often don’t reveal its true meaning until later on.

For example, a casual Friday afternoon meeting once yielded a good relationship with a client. Over time, we began to meet regularly for happy hour and began including others, too. This created a little network that eventually expanded and gave everyone involved a sense of community and professional connectivity. And as it turns out, one of these connections led me to my next full-time job!

The point of telling you this is to underline how individual philosophies are helpful in bridging the gap — not only across personal and professional environments, but in reinforcing our personal goals and objectives in a changing working landscape.

We must know ourselves well enough to know what drives us.

It can sound tempting to take a job with a company with a cutting edge product and forward-thinking staff, but if you don’t agree with their underlying philosophies it may be better to wait and research other options — then, consider a position with a company that does.

If you adhere to these two principles, you’ll find your way regardless of path or circumstance. Having them will give you solid ground to stand on and support your underlying goals. It’s critical that we connect with the passions that drive who we are as individuals — and as workers in today’s changing economic world.

5 Things I Learned From Working at Startups

So far in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work at various startups ranging from a music production house to a buzzy mobile product to an executive staffing firm. At each of these organizations I was fortunate enough to learn a lot – and find myself in various scenarios with equally interesting people.

I didn’t just perfect my description of wearing the proverbial amount of hats and/or make endless jokes about the definition of adequate health insurance (it should be preventative, not circumstantial!). In hindsight, I took away more positive concepts and ideas that affect how I think about doing business as a whole.

For example, many opportunities arise in startup situations as opposed to companies where roles and assorted responsibilities are noted and documented in a more comprehensive way.  Startups offer opportunity – for everyone – if they’re chosen to be found. Below, the top five takeaways I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Nurture your talent.

Once you get them in the door it’s not enough. Look in unexpected places for underlying skill sets and strengths. Encourage each hire to grow on a professional and individual level – these criteria go hand-in-hand. Your talent is the only thing that matters. Value their opinions, pay close attention to direct feedback not only related to their contributions but to the company as a whole. In day-to-day tasks allow them flourish at what they do – then get out of the way.

2. Don’t do it just for the money.

Build something that matters. Ask yourself – at the end of the day, will this product or service help people? How can we maximize what we’re doing to make a contribution in the world? Which leads to…

3. Invoke personal investment through Passion.

It’s simple: when people are passionate about what they do on a daily basis, they place greater value and a subsequent higher level of tending to their work. Demonstrate interest, acknowledge value, encourage communication, and ignite passion.

4. Create structure.

Don’t do things like allow programmers to work for 24 hours straight. Totally #uncool. To be fair, it’s easy to let that happen when everyone is under the gun to get something out the door. But people are not machines, and even the most promising of products is not assembled via assembly line. Humans need rest and sunlight too. Create infrastructure through clear job descriptions and duties, regular interdepartmental meetings and 1:1’s between supervisors and direct reports.  Keep everything organized, stick to timelines – and demonstrate accountability, respect and value for your team members.

5. Be wild.

Be creative, have fun! Allow pets (within reason), offer classes, go on bowling outings, trips to the zoo, paint, draw, create, collaborate. Allow the magic to happen!