In a recent coaching session with a senior client, I had to give the executive some brutal and honest feedback. He had come to me with a specific problem. My Inbox is overwhelming me, he said. So, we worked on some strategies to get his 8,000 odd emails down to zero.
In our second session, he presented a very positive spin on his progress, and said he was feeling a lot better about his email. He had reduced his Inbox from 8,000 emails to just over 3,000. He was thrilled. I was disappointed. My belief is that he had made himself feel good about his progress by clearing some of the low hanging fruit in his Inbox. Deleting rubbish and filing the obvious. This made him feel like a good student, and that he was taking action as a result of our coaching sessions.
The truth was he was still a slave to his Inbox, was still trying to manage his priorities in a reactive way. He was not achieving the Holy Trinity of the Inbox – Clarity, Focus and Control.
The reason I bang on about Inbox Zero so much is that I know that people who achieve it on a regular basis experience the following:
- Greater clarity about what deserves their attention and what does not, because having reduced the noise, they can see the forest for the trees;
- Increased focus on the important work, because they are consolidating their email-driven priorities into one task system alongside their other priorities;
- A high level of control over how they spend their time, as they are proactively scheduling their work in a time-based action system, and therefore managing their time.
With my coaching client, when he measured his progress against the Holy Trinity, he came up short. Although he had cleared many emails from his Inbox, that was just the backlog. The real issues still remained. He had no clarity because his Inbox was still way too cluttered and overwhelming. He had no focus because his strategy for managing email actions was still mainly to leave them as unread in his Inbox. And he had no control as things kept slipping through the cracks or became urgent before he got to them.
Although Inbox Zero may feel like a chore and a constraint, it is actually easy and liberating once you put the right system in place, and adopt the right mindset.
How is your Inbox going? Are you achieving the Holy Trinity?