Sign Up! Save 5 Hours Per Week!

This post is a bit of a rant…

I just came across a Time Management and Productivity program that guarantees that the attendees on 4 teleclasses will save 5 hours per week of lost time.  It’s a money-back guarantee that has to be exercised half-way through the course for a full refund.

Unfortunately, you can’t get the refund after the program is over, so you aren’t really testing the quality of the ideas — just how you feel about accomplishing the goal at the half-way mark.

It ticked me off — mostly because there’s no way that we know of to measure, verify or prove to oneself that 1, 5 or 10 hours have been saved by using any new habits, technology or software.

Also, I hate like the fact that you don’t have a chance to do the full program before deciding whether or not you have saved 5 hours.  That kind of saving equates to some major habit changes for most people, and these don’t happen overnight.

I happen to be reading a great book: “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.  Among the great points he makes is the fact that the average person makes the most progress when they are learning to do something for the first time… like learning to drive a car.

Over  time, however, their rate of learning declines and flattens out as they stop getting any better.  In fact, after a while, their skills often deteriorate.

What world class performers do in every discipline is that they keep on learning, by engaging in rigorous, structured practice in their areas of greatest weakness… and they are willing to keep practicing even as the gains to be made occur painfully slowly.

Maybe the program that I bumped into is only for those who are just starting out in their careers, or whose time management systems are so broken that a 5 hour gain is possible?

That seems to be stretching things a bit, but I hope that those who sign up for MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free before it closes today find that in this programe:

  • there are no false promises
  • we have made it easy to rank yourself in terms of your skills
  • it’s even easier to identify upgrades regardless of your current level of expertise

This makes the program a unique one… and here is the link to the program information page if you’d like to find out more, but remember… new registration in this free training closes down today until May in a few hours.

Research Question #12k876: How many time demands are created in a day?

How many time demands are created in a day?

This critical piece of information is one that remains a mystery, it seems, and there hasn’t been any research that I can find to answer the the question.

(For a definition of the term “time demand” see this post located on the 2Time website.  The rest of this article relies on your understanding the definition.  Also, I’ll write this post as if time demands can be found outside the mind.  The truth is more subtle than that… time demands are created by individual minds in response to some outside stimulus, but I’ll write this article as if they can be found in the stimuli themselves, so I’ll say things like “a piece of email has no new time demands” when what I really mean is “a piece of email has no stimulus for any new time demands.”   I have taken the liberty to speak imprecisely in order to enable the larger point to be understood.)

The only research that I have found is simplistic – it measures the number of emails that come in each day.  This is an almost useless estimate, as any given email might have absolutely no time demands whatsoever.  Email spam, or one that closes out a discussion e.g. “Thanks” are both examples of email that do not include time demands.  The message is read and then immediately tossed, or thrown away.

Another piece of email might include multiple time demands in just a few sentences.  For example, a one-line email (e.g. “O.K.”) might affirm a prior request to receive the authorization necessary to execute a huge project involving thousands of people and millions of person-hours.  Therefore, just counting the amount of email that one receives means little or nothing.

At the same time, email arriving in one’s inbox is only on source of new demands.  Here are some others that fall neatly into different categories, depending on the circumstance:

– in a meeting, during a shower or while driving, you have a brainstorm and decide to take a complex series of actions.  You capture these new time demands on a paper pad

– while watching television, you decide to take advantage of a weekend sale, and you make a mental note to stop by the store on Saturday morning with some cash in hand

– when you check your voice-mail,  you receive a request for someone to send you additional information on a product your company is selling.  You leave the message, promising yourself to come back later

– you wake up in the morning with a mysterious back-pain.  You call the doctor’s office to make an appointment later that day

– you chat with your sister, a real estate agent, and decide to buy your first house

All these time demands are created in the moment the decision is made, but there doesn’t exist any easy way to measure their total number.  Furthermore, all time demands are not created equally as they vary in length, and presumably have their own start and end times.  Some may be complex, and are actually made up of many smaller time demands that can be scheduled into a calendar.

In the mind of the creator, the consequences of failing to complete one time demand are very different from another.  This gives rise to a feeling that they might have very different priorities.

The fact that there is little research, however, doesn’t stop employees from making assumptions each day about how volumes of time demands vary in volume.  Some may seem to be commonsensical, but I believe that we can make tremendous daily mistakes, based on incorrect conclusions.  Consider the following hypotheses:

– managers receive more time demands each day than their subordinates, and taken together, they require more total time to complete
– employees create fewer time demands on weekends than on weekdays
– the more time demands are created in memory, the greater one’s stress level
– the amount of email in one’s Inbox is correlated with ones’ stress level
– the number of time demands that we enter our lives each day has been rising steadily
– retirees have fewer time demands than active employees
– meeting quality is correlated with the number of time demands that are created
– new channels of communication (such as BBM) generate new time demands
– Facebook generates new time demands, in keeping with the number of one’s friends
– the number of time demands that slip through the cracks and are lost or forgotten is an indicator of time management skill
– it is impossible to complete all time demands successfully
– as the number of time demands in one’s life escalates, new techniques are needed to cope
– smartphones enable the creation of an increased number of time demands

We probably each have our individual opinions on these items, and the quality of our lives is probably dependent on the way we each answer them.  The fact that we don’t have solid answers reveads a gaping hole in time management research, and I’m not optimistic that it will be filled anytime soon.

One positive note is that skillful managers who don’t use memory (i.e. Green Belts in the 2Time terminology) do track each of the major time demands that enter their system faithfully, and could be studied to answer some of the questions above.  Unfortunately, the tools to capture this information doesn’t exist today, but I believe it’s only a matter of time before they are invented… perhaps in our lifetime!

Shrinking Attention Spans

I had a recent conversation online with a few young professionals who complained that they need to check their smartphones in meetings because they are simply too boring.

While there’s an immediate problem of their lack of responsibility, it points to a fact of life for Gen Y and Millenial employees.  They were raised on video games, remote controls and high-speed internet access, and they have been led by doting parents to believe that they have a right to switch to something more captivating whenever they want.

Not that they are the only culprits.

Employees of all ages are using their smartphones to look for, and find, better stuff in the middle of meetings, conversations and conference calls.  Their eyes glaze over, and as they succumb to the “Blackberry Itch,” their mind starts to conjure up wonderful messages, websites and instant messages that will be instantly theirs in a matter of seconds… in the time it takes to grab their smartphone and fire it up.  For some, this need to find instant distractions has become an addiction, as their mind convinces them that it needs additional stimulation whenever there’s a momentary lull.

It’s no insult to the other people in the conversation, meeting or call.    It’s not meant to be rude or disrespectful.  In fact, it’s not meant to be any more significant than changing the channel on a TV or clicking on a link to a website.

Unfortunately, it IS unproductive, and while some may think that it’s simple multi-tasking, a meeting in which half the attendees are lost on their smartphones is a meeting that will take longer than it should, wasting time and costing thousands of dollars.  The cost far outweighs the potential benefit.

In passing, I read about some research that’s just beginning to explore the widening problem of reduced attention spans in the workplace, but in the meantime younger employees would do well to realize that their careers are being endangered by everyday habits.

The Herbie in Time Management

I’m writing an article that I’m submitting to the Harvard Business Review, and in the process I asked my subscribers for feedback on the latest draft.

In the process, I received a great response that was more than just a comment on what I had written.  Instead, it was a thesis of sorts, about the ways in which technology should be helping us to become more efficient.  The author argued that we need to figure out our true needs before looking for new technology. This is in contrast to buying technology and then figuring out how it can help… in a haphazard kind of way.

When it comes to smartphones, I agree.  For example, I’d argue that many people who bought smartphones are actually using them as “time-saving” devices, when I’m not sure that’s what they were intended to be.

For example, a small device that allows you to get email wherever you go could be either a laptop, iPad or smartphone.  However, the particular advantages of smartphone design have lead to professionals using them in unlikely and unproductive ways, all in order to save time.

Obviously, the inventors at Apple, Palm and RIM did not intend to invent devices that would lead to habits such as:
– dangerous distracted driving
– rude interruptions in mid-conversation
– holidays spent working instead of relaxing
– 3:00am games of email ping-pong
– people checking messages hundreds of time per day just in case something interesting has come in that they missed

– employees who believe that their management is forcing them into overtime work that intrudes on personal space

These new widespread practices are smartphone-specific.  The technology itself calls forth new and different habit patterns.  It’s clear that the technology needs to be evaluated in a unique way, especially as it’s not too hard to predict a time when all employees are either expected or mandated to carry these devices at all times.

The author of the comment, however, went further than that and made the point that a proper evaluation of one’s time management system needs to be made before technology is contemplated.  This made me think of the book “The Goal” by Eli Goldratt.

In this business fable which is about optimizing the ways in which factories operate, the main takeaway is that it’s best to find the single, greatest point of weakness and work to improve it.  Goldratt calls this his “Theory of Constraints.”

I believe that the same idea applies to individual time management systems.  As Goldratt illustrates in his book, in complex system it’s easy to improve the wrong thing, leading to no overall improvement.

In an early paper I wrote after starting this blog, I made this point.  In ”The New Time Management – Toss Away the Tips, and Focus on the Fundamentals” I argued that people were barking up the wrong tree by chasing down the latest list of “Top 10 Time Management Tips!!”  Instead, they should be focusing on practicing the fundamentals of time management with a view to making incremental improvements.

The comment on my article went further, and made me think that the 2Time system of 11 components can be used as a method to find “Herbie’s” – Goldratt’s name for bottlenecks, or weak points.  For example, if you learn that you have a Yellow Belt in 9 disciplines and a White Belt in 2, it probably makes sense to focus on improving the 2… rather than buying an iPad because ”they are just so cool!”

As cool as new devices are, they might do nothing for your fundamentals.

In fact, they might do some damage.

If the average person who upgrades to a smartphone ends up engaging in new, unproductive habits 6 months later then we are right to ask – “what’s the point?”

The fact is, smartphones are not all bad.  In a prior post, I described the process I’m undertaking to decide whether or not to upgrade from my bottom-of-the-line, monochrome cell phone.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards the upgrade, but I have developed 2 principles –
Principle #1 – Do No harm
I want to make sure that I don’t pick up any nasty habits that are obviously unproductive.  For example, I have made myself a promise to never use the device while driving (or in the bathroom, movie theater, while cycling, etc.)
I am simply barring myself from these habits.  (Wish me luck!)

Principle #2 – Real Upgrades
So far, I haven’t been successful in finding real ways that the device will add to my productivity in terms of the fundamentals.

There are other some gains to be made by having a convenient way to access mobile email, instant messages and web browsing but these still don’t impact any of the fundamentals in a profound way.

However, I am confident that new innovations, apps and add-ons are coming that will make impact the fundamentals, and I do want to take advantage of them as they arise… and perhaps make a suggestion or two.  This means that I have to get into the game at some point… but it’s hardly an urgent need on my part.

I might have to make some adjustments, however.  For example, my primary manual capture point is currently a paper pad.  Migrating to capturing on a Blackberry would be a major change, and I still haven’t found a Blackberry wallet that allows a paper pad to be carried within it.  I am quite wary of entrusting my capturing to a tool that requires a battery and a charger, but I am thinking that if I can find a paper solution, that I could always take a picture of what I have captured.

More to come on this…!

Further Benefits of Orange Belt Scheduling

In a prior post I described what it’s like to upgrade one’s skills at Scheduling.

While there’s an immediate benefit to the professional who makes the jump, there is also an important benefit that comes from having an explicit schedule on paper, versus one that’s stored in one’s memory.

Imagine that, for a moment,that your boss approaches you with a new meeting or project. As she describes the work required, you start to feel a bit queasy as you aren’t sure you can deliver the results in the necessary time-frame. A negotiation starts, and it turns out that she really wants to work done, and she starts to ask you questions about your other commitments.

It turns out that White Belts have very different conversations than Orange Belts when confronted by a boss with an urgent request.

If you are a White Belt, your schedule looks like this:

Most of your time demands are stored in your memory, and if you are working with a to-do list it’s likely that her eyes would glaze over if you try show her all the items that are on it. When she presses you on changing around your schedule you get a bit lost, as it’s hard to mentally juggle all the items that you are trying to track, and that’s especially true when you are on the hot seat.  In addition to the task portion of each time demand, you are also keeping in mind some idea of when tasks start and end, in terms of the time of day and, of course, the date.

It’s likely that if your boss is persistent that you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage. You may feel pressured as your objections to the additional work are met with some sharp questions, and on the spot coaching.

On the other hand, if you are an Orange Belt, then your schedule would look like the following… (for the very same week.)

Your major time demands have been laid out in your calendar, and when your boss surprises you and you start to feel queasy, you simply say: “Let us both look at my schedule.”

As your schedule flashes up on the screen, you show her exactly what time you currently have available, and why you feel queasy. She looks at the schedule, and a different kind of conversation ensues. It’s about what should be done when, and why, and which items can be moved from one day to another in order to accommodate the new project. As you try to solve the problem together, you aren’t defying logic, or arguing from a position that’s uninformed by the facts.

Something has to give, and your schedule clearly shows that every time demand you commit to has a consequence. If the project requires overtime, weekend and vacation work (God forbid!) you can have a clear conversation with your boss about what will happen to the precious time you spend with your family, and whether or not those airline tickets for your next vacation are refundable or not.

It’s a mature conversation based on facts, rather than an adversarial argument over your mental schedule, and your feelings.

Now, take your boss out of the picture, and imagine that instead of a time demand originating with your boss, it’s one that starts with a request made by your colleague, spouse or friend.

Then imagine that there’s no-one else in the picture… you are just making commitments of your own, to yourself. With only a White Belt Schedule you are likely to make mistakes, and commit to impossible deadlines in all spheres of your life, and to feel frustrated that you don’t have enough time.

With Orange Belt skills, you are much more likely to make rational decisions and to conduct reasonable discussions, and to have the peace of mind that when you commit to a future deliverable, you can truly deliver.

P.S.  When your Scheduling skills are at a White Belt level, it forces you to make lots of reviews of lists, to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.  Many users have trouble conducting these reviews, as they become onerous when the number of time demands gets to be too large: I outlined this phenomena in the video: “Permanently Fixing the Weekly Review.” Orange Belt Scheduling fixes the problem by replacing lots of lists with one schedule.  Click on the Videos tab at the menu on top to find the video on the page.

The Making of an Expert in Time Management

I just finished  reading a paper that echoes a great deal of what has motivated me to develop the 2Time approach:  The Making of an Expert published in the July-August 2007 edition of the Harvard Business review by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely.

I have always been struck by people who tell me that they are “bad” at time management.  They suffer from the usual ills:
– being late for appointments
– feeling burdened by all they have to do, and believing that they have too much
– falling behind on critical tasks such as emptying their Inbox
– feeling haunted by stuff they think they might have forgotten
– seeing time demands fall through the cracks, due to what they think is a faulty memory
– becoming someone who cannot be trusted by others

However, they have convinced themselves that they have as much time management skill as they can develop in this lifetime.  They see time management expertise as a talent, rather than a skill.

Here in 2Time, I disagree wholeheartedly.  My experience tells me that time management capacity is built on habits that are picked up over time, and that for most people this happens in a haphazard way.

Apart from the lack of a systematic process and decent coaching, they are taught that time management is something that you gain once, and never need to work on again.  One reason that the belt system is such an integral part of the Time Management 2.0 approach is that we all need to see that an increase in time demands brought on my most workplaces, and the evolution of technology both mean that if we stay stuck in one place for too long, we’ll quickly become stale.

I run into many people who compare their time management skills with others around them and conclude that they aren’t that bad, simply because they happen to be better.  They quickly become defensive… as if the challenge to their current skill-level is an insult of sorts that doesn’t acknowledge their current expertise.  Even those who have learned their skills from a book or class fall into the trap of thinking that they need not look any further — their current skills are all they need.

What “The Making of an Expert” makes clear is that experts are the ones who are willing to put a lot of time and hard effort in continually improving their skills … some 10,000 hours worth in fact… or ten years.  They don’t just practice the skills they already have either.  Instead, they put themselves into the zone of discomfort in order to develop new skills, and they work with teachers and coaches who help them hang out in that zone until new skills are learned.

In Time Management 2.0 terms, it means that they are able to improve their belt level by practicing the unfamiliar skills of higher belts.

Not that this is an easy path to take.  To quote the article:

“The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice-practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all, if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.”

I don’t know how long on average it takes a White Belt to become a Green Belt, but my sense is that it can be done in less than 2 years.  I know of one person who made a jump in 2 belts within 18 months, and a Green Belt shouldn’t be an impossible task to accomplish.

It’s the kind of improvement that experts apparently relish.  What’s clear is they aren’t afraid of the hard work required.  The article continues:
“(Sam) Snead, who died in 2002, held the record for winning the most PGA Tour events and was famous for having one of the most beautiful swings in the sport (of golf.) Deliberate practice was a key to his success. “Practice puts brains in your muscles,” he said.

What a brilliant way to describe what we as professionals have stopped doing in this critical area of our development.

You Think We Don’t Know

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone on the phone, and in the middle of the conversation, I felt things shift slightly.

All of a sudden, her replies got just a bit slower, and her answers became a bit shorter.

Sure enough, when I paused for breath, I could hear the quiet clunk of her keypad’s keys in the background. She was now “multi-tasking.”

As the quality of the conversation plummeted, she did what we all try to do when we think we get busted. She gave a response that was a little bit longer than necessary, trying to prove that she was indeed listening.

Which I guess she was, but I certainly didn’t have 100% of her attention. That, of course, was what I wanted.

I am thinking that it’s time for a new personal policy… no talking over other people when they are using their smartphone or keyboard, unless I am dictating information. That doesn’t seem to be a bad idea.


More on Moving From Lots of Lists to One Schedule

In an earlier post entitled Moving from a List to a Schedule, I shared some of the challenges to be overcome in upgrading one’s time management system from Yellow to Orange in Scheduling. It turned out to be a pretty popular post, but I know that there’s a school of thought that advocates that one should never go beyond Yellow Belt skills in this area.

The logic proceeds as follows:

  • keeping a schedule of all or most tasks is too hard / difficult / cumbersome
  • therefore, tasks should be kept in lists
  • schedules should only be used to track appointments with other people

As you may have noticed, I am challenging that wisdom by saying that new mobile technology makes it quite easy to change a schedule on the fly, and in fact, Orange Belt skills are a necessary upgrade when time demands grow beyond a certain point.

A few years ago, I actually did an experiment, and tried a downgrade that I don’t recommend but I’ll illustrate here.

In the following video, the college student who puts together an Orange Belt schedule builds  it up based on 4 classes that she has in the semester.



This is NOT the approach that most books, programs and websites advocate. Instead, they argue that it’s impossible / impractical to maintain a schedule such as this one, even with the advent of portable planning tools, such as smartphones, PDA’s, iPad’s and laptops.

Following their advice would produce the following schedule, and list:

This schedule requires a list looking like this one to support it:

  • read
  • write paper
  • work on paper
  • college activity
  • goto movie
  • swim practice
  • eat
  • shower
  • night out

As I mention in the prior post on this topic, using this approach means looking at this list every day, in order to construct a mental schedule of what needs to be done and when.  Some would argue that you need to construct many different types of lists, depending on priority, location, “context,” energy or other different categories, but this doesn’t prevent you from having to look at most items each day to make sure that nothing is falling through the cracks.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach, which is one that White Belts use.  It’s a useful one for handling a limited number of time demands.

However, a you can see from the video, and from the change that was made at the very end in order to accommodate a “night out,” it’s much easier to manipulate a schedule that’s laid out in front of you, than one that’s stored in one’s memory.

A few years ago, before starting this website, I tried changing my approach from using a full, Orange Belt schedule to using a White Belt schedule accompanied by lots of lists.  It didn’t work – I noticed stuff falling through the cracks, and I kept making mistakes with my mental schedule.  Checking the same lists all the time was a hassle that never went away.

When I reverted to my former habit of what I now call Orange Belt Scheduling, things became much easier, and once I determined how to convert email messages into scheduled items in my calendar, it became easy to manipulate time demands as they flowed into my Inbox. My peace of mind returned.

Luckily, the tools that we have available to us mean that even paper schedules are a thing of the past, but the video is a great one as it shows very simply, the power of working with a schedule that’s laid out in front of you, instead of in your memory.

Livescribe – the Future of Capturing

In a recent NewHabits-NewGoals class, I met a participant who shared with us a rather early version of a pen called LiveScribe.

She admitted that it didn’t work very well, but when she explained the idea I was struck that it could be transformed into the perfect manual capture point – and not because of its ink.

The idea is simple:  the pen is a very special one with some built-in storage capability.  It allows you to write on some special paper, and it records the words you have written into the pen itself, in addition to the paper you are writing on.

Once you get back to your computer, you can download all the notes to a page, and if it can understand your handwriting, it will transcribe the words into English.

Prices range from US$99 to US$149.

It’s a bit fat in size, partly because it also has a built-in sound-recorder and a speaker.
I believe that it’s pitched to students who want to have access to their notes, but I think they are missing a great opportunity…

Here’s what I would do differently.

1.  I’d sell a version of the pen that leaves out the voice recorder and speaker.  Most people who take written notes don’t have a habit of taking notes via sound.  The extra capability could be taken out, which would reduce the size of the pen, and also the price.

2.  Sell more options of the special paper, in different sizes

3.  Develop a way to make notes without the special paper (which happens to be pretty expensive)

4.  Find a way to differentiate items that contain time demands from those that don’t

I’d market this new pen as a capture point that makes the paper that’s being written on obsolete.  The paper would actually become a form of backup, if you can imagine that.  Your pen-written notes that include time demands would be downloaded to your email Inbox and processed alongside the other items.


Here’s the link to the website that describes the product.

A New Mindset for Your Email Inbox

As I mentioned in a prior post, the Zero Inbox has become a part of the new Gold Standard of productivity. Without it, for example, it’s impossible to earn the higher belts described here in 2Time.

Most of the methods described to accomplish this target focus rightly on the new habits that are needed to maintain it.

However, they are likely to bear no fruit if the mindset held around email Inboxes never changes.  What’s sometimes needed for Zero Inbox to work is a radical change in the way the Inbox is seen and understood.

In industrial engineering terms, the Inbox needs to be seen as a buffer – a place of temporary storage for incoming email.  (Buffers are important because they act as a kind of staging area for further action.)

Here are some analogies we can be used to help us imagine what this means.  They are all everyday buffers that can be compared to the modern Inbox.  These are all temporary points of storage that are never meant to become permanent:

your kitchen sink — a temporary location for dirty dishes that is meant to be small enough to store a few items, but big enough to wash them.  It’s also a point of decision, as stuff that gets put in the sink is routed to different points such as:  the garbage disposal unit, the garbage can, the dishwasher, the drain-board, the cupboard, etc.  Your Inbox is like a kitchen sink.

a loading dock at a factory or warehouse — a temporary location for incoming goods and raw materials.  After they are received, a decision is made about where to put them next.  Problems occur when items aren’t removed fast enough to allow new incoming items to be received

a mouth – a temporary place of storage for food, smoke, gum, mouthwash, etc.  When something finds its way into your mouth you have to make a decision about how to dispose of it.  There is limited space, and you certainly don’t want too many items to stay there permanently, as they can cause problems e.g. fragments of food

your desk – a temporary place to store papers.  Many people violate this rule, and turn their desk from a place of active work to a dumping ground for half-finished projects, hoping that by keeping them in their line of sight, they won’t forget to work on them

a traditional snail-mail postbox –  the post office stops delivering once the postbox becomes full, and it’s a buffer that’s clearly designed to be cleared frequently

Plus others… a garbage can, driveway, car trunk, jeans pocket, etc.

There are many other everyday examples that can be used to paint a mental picture of how the Inbox should be understood.  The point here is simply to pick a favorite a single mental image, and stick to it.

If you have been abusing your Inbox and the result is a feeling of overwhelm, then the chances are good that you got to this place innocently.  You might follow the popular practice of skimming you email, looking for emergencies.  You delete the spam, and other irrelevant messages, and leave those that you need to get back to later in your Inbox.   You continue to act immediately on the emergent time demands throughout the day, and sometimes remain in perpetual motion as email pours into your Inbox faster than you can handle it.

You are hoping that by leaving email messages in plain sight (i.e. in the Inbox,) you’ll remember to come back to them later, and that they won’t fall through the cracks.

Most people make things even worse for themselves, by setting their Inboxes on auto-download, which produces a continuous and never-ending stream of messages.  Many also have audible and visual notifications via beeps, pop-ups and flashing colored lights.

When an email Inbox is abused it places a burden on you, the user, who must remain a mental picture of the items that it contains.  This is less of a problem when the number of items is small.  This practice doesn’t scale well, unfortunately, and things start falling through the cracks once the numbers increase, bringing on feelings of overwhelm.  Research indicates that problems start happening once the number of emails stored in an Inbox gets into double digits.

It’s at this point that you started to complain about getting too much email.

The answer, however, is not to cut the number of email by changing jobs or declaring “email bankruptcy.”  The only thing that works in the long-term is to develop new habits for working with email to prevent the Inbox from becoming overloaded and abused.

Users who want to take control of their Inboxes can start by turning off the auto-download and auto-notification features.  Instead, they should download email on a schedule, and then Empty the Inbox immediately, making use of folders and filters to store emails that contain time demands.  Time needs to be set aside each day to process email Inboxes, and it needs to be carefully allocated so that it consumes neither too much or too little space in the day.

Those who maintain the Zero Inboz are the least likely to allow important stuff in emails to fall through the cracks and get buried in tons of messages.  Creating a visual image in the user’s mind is an important step to implementing the right practices.