Take another look: finding new wisdom

I’ve noticed a trend in books and articles in the past few years. It seems a popular approach to creating a best-seller book or a viral post is to identify a solution to a problem that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, or somehow turns current practice upside down.

For instance, there was a time that multi-tasking was viewed as a way to increase productivity. Now, efficiency experts say it’s best to focus on one thing at a time. There were the early posts and books pointing the way back to the importance of single-minded focus, and that was the pivot, the move away from multi-tasking strategies.

There are lots of examples of this new wisdom in the fields of health and fitness, relationship development, parenting, even in the realm of self-help.

Whatever you’ve read or heard in the past, take the opposite approach, or at least a different approach. Whoever is writing will have their personal story or a string of case studies to show that the whatever you thought you knew, you’re wrong. Again. Time to throw out the old, try something new.

That’s ok…resets are good. Just remember, different styles work for different folks. To each his / her own.

Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.  ~ Stephen Covey

So, can this strategy work? Yes, sometimes it really is good to flout what you’ve been told, go against the grain.

How could you put this into practice?

I don’t recommend this experiment for everything in life. But it can be effective to challenge methods. I believe values should be constant, but process is always fair game for review.

I wanted to look at some of my issues in this light. I began by thinking of problem spots, things that are ongoing headaches for me.

You could try this too.

  • What makes you crazy?
  • What do you struggle with?
  • What defeats you on a regular basis?

I looked at email management, daily quiet time, and my blogging schedule.

Just listing these tasks evokes angst and frustration. Like a routine household chore, these things are part of my daily landscape, but they’re also battlegrounds, habits I’m constantly propping up, trying to mind and monitor.

Right, first things first.

Today I’ll focus on email, and the next posts will focus on the other issues…too lengthy to cover all at once!

Currently, I manage emails by staying on top of them, every day. It’s a running battle, as I filter personal and work emails, from my various email addresses, into the same mail client. I struggle to stay ahead of the unread mail. The reality is I often flag mail to read that I never come back to.

Now and then I have a mass clean out of the messages I’ve saved, flagged, or sent. I delete filtered junk email daily. But it’s still a big job, and I don’t want to have to create new addresses, or simply abandon my current accounts.

So how could I think about this differently? How could I be more efficient, turn my current practice upside down?

One of my habits is to flag anything I might need later, such as travel related mail or receipts. This worked well for me when I didn’t have too many of these items, but now finding a flagged item is not much easier than looking for mail lost in my inbox.

So what began as a means to be more efficient is now bogging me down. But because I know I flagged “important” mail, I can’t bring myself to choose “select all / delete.”

Digital clutter becomes like any other type of clutter…if you can’t find what you have, or you’ve forgotten you have something in the first place, it’s already lost to you. Clean out is one of the keys, even though I think I do this already.

These are the things I’ll be changing, and I’ll see what works.

First, the clean up, which involves:

  • Ruthless unsubscribing from merchant email lists…I know how to find the companies I regularly buy from, and I rarely read emails from retailers
  • Review contacts lists, flagged and saved emails to see what I’m still holding that has long outlived usefulness
  • Begin review of saved emails and delete everything that isn’t critical
  • Set aside a few minutes a day to work on sorting until I complete this
  • Determine if I need additional mail folders to more efficiently file the mail I need to keep
  • I’ve turned off notifications to email so I’m not interrupted during the day and lured to check by the sound of an email arriving on my screen

Then, going forward:

  • To any site that requires an email, give my secondary / back-up email address. If I ultimately want to continue receiving emails from these organizations, I can update my contact info to my primary email address, but these sales-y types of messages won’t be a hassle in my primary in-box.
  • I pledge to limit checking email to three times a day: morning, noon and night. Once I’ve got my current email under control, I shouldn’t need more than a quick check each day to stay informed, delete any new mail I don’t need, and have enough time to respond to mail that requires an answer. Three quick checks during the day will keep me current without sidetracking me.
  • I’ve always been good at replying to emails, and I pledge to continue to answer new mail daily, but I’ll no longer be addressing mail as it hits my inbox, that’s too disruptive.
  • I pledge to close my mail app so it will be less visible and distracting to me as I work through my day.
  • I pledge to regularly go through the unsubscribe process to stay on top of the volume of incoming messages.

None of this is revolutionary, but it’s all necessary. Managing digital life is just as critical as keeping up with physical space. I do so much work through the portal of email, I can’t afford to just stop using it as a means of communication, and it’s really an amazing tool when it’s under control. However, like many good things, email can quickly overwhelm, and then it’s just another weight on my day. And just saving email to view later isn’t really the system that works…eventually you’re just buried with information you’ve lost, but still cling to in the deep vaults of digital storage.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?  ~ John Wooden

How about you? How do you stay on top of your inbox beast? Please share! I’d love to hear from others!

~ Sheila





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