Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: E-Mail Box As To-Do List

Last month The Guardian ran an article called Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives by Oliver Burkeman. It's part of something called The Long Read, and, indeed, it is. Burkeman has a lot of fascinating things to say. (I mentioned this was a long read, right?) There's some stuff on the history of time management, for instance. Some material at the end that I'll ruminate upon another time.

What got my attention first came early on. Burkeman describes an e-mail managing system called Inbox Zero that he says became popular about ten years ago. For the most part, it sounds like standard advice commonly discussed now--deleting e-mails, unsubscribing from mailing lists, etc. Oddly enough, it aroused some hostility, because...ah...I don't know. Because all in-boxes have to be the same? Something like that? Burkeman says the "fervour" over Inbox Zero "seems extreme" because  "email had become far more than a technical problem. It functioned as a kind of infinite to-do list, to which anyone on the planet could add anything at will"

A To-do List? That Anyone Can Add To?

Well, that's a totally different way of thinking about e-mail, isn't it?

  • A To-do List: Anyone else leave e-mail in their in-box to help remind them to do something? The e-mails re. a monthly calendar you maintain, for instance? Comments from an editor that you haven't acted upon yet? Requests for book donations you haven't gotten around to dealing with? If you do, your e-mail is, indeed, a to-do list.
  • That Anyone Can Add To?: Yeah, those to-do list items I described above came from someone else. Sometimes these things can come unexpectedly, too. Say, inquiries about school appearances, for instance.

A To-do List That Anyone Can Add To...How Depressing Is That?

Well, actually, being the Pollyanish person that I am, I read "It functioned as a kind of infinite to-do list, to which anyone on the planet could add anything at will" and thought, Hot damn. What can I do about that?

My thought is that I can:

  • Try Treating My In-Baskets Like To-do Lists: What do you do with to-do lists? You delete things from them.  Being careful to delete e-mails I've dealt with, finally, is obvious, but some items on to-do lists become unnecessary before they're completed. For one reason or another, they no longer need to be done. Being careful  to get rid of those e-mails will help, too. A lot.
  • Protect My In-Baskets From Anyone On The Planet Adding Anything At Will To Them:  All those terrific things I signed up to receive...booklists...writing process materials...and never have time to look at? Unsubscribe. I should be realistic and not subscribe to things in the first place, too. This is like precycling, when you don't buy something so you don't have to recycle it later. And I should also be vigilant about companies routinely sending me their marketing. As much as I dislike these people forcing themselves into my life, I've become so accustomed to seeing their #!%% in my in-boxes that I just delete it without thinking. I'm making a bigger effort to unsubscribe now that I'm thinking in terms of these people adding reading to my to-do list, or, if I can't unsubscribe for some reason, mark this unwanted material as junk so it's at least routed away from my main in-baskets. 
Note that I wrote "my in-baskets" above. I have two, one for my personal e-mail address and one for my professional one. That's actually helpful when thinking of in-baskets as to-do lists, because it keeps the e-mails on my family to-do list separate from the e-mails on my professional to-do list.
These are all things I should have been doing, anyway, and was doing, anyway. Sometimes. In a not very consistent way. But thinking about my in-boxes as to-do lists is making me feel a lot more enthusiastic about taking care of these tasks now.

No comments: