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My inbox is my to do list

Posted by Arjendu on January 18, 2010

I juggle plenty of hats and responsibilities, and sometimes do get asked to talk about how I get all done.

I shared one trick/technique with my junior colleagues a couple of years ago, and gather that at least one of them uses that technique better than I manage, most days. It’s a simple rule: Schedule it. Put everything on your schedule: Class prep, research, down time, exercise, schmoozing with colleagues, everything. Put it on your schedule. Then you don’t fool yourself when you do something, and don’t fool yourself into accepting more than you can manage. If there’s a spot on your schedule to write it down, then accept the new responsibility. If not, don’t, unless you make room for it.

A second technique that I swear by: My inbox is my to do list. My email inbox is almost always *clean*. That is, even in horribly crowded times, the ‘steady-state’ of my inbox is fewer than 10 messages, and every message in there is something I expect to act on in the given work week. Everything else is filed away — either in a specific folder associated with a project (I have one called ‘QSD-chaos, for example, for all my work with Arik, and equivalents for everything else I do), or in a folder called ‘Pending’. I check ‘Pending’ every Sunday night, and move anything in there that I can deal with that week into my inbox. If something sits in ‘Pending’ for over a term or so, I delete it (though not always, but I don’t sweat it). This works for me. It may not work for you. But I don’t get the point of an email inbox where you have no idea what’s beyond the first page. And those who have pages of inbox email, most of it unread … I don’t get that at all. ‘Cos out of sight is usually out of mind.

Let me be clear: I have a messy enough office, and a messy enough home office, and so on. But my inbox (and my folder hierarchy for research, but that’s another post): Impeccable.

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