Becoming better organised and more productive is about collecting all the stuff that comes your way that means something to you and processing that stuff somewhere that will be easy to find when you need it.
Now the keyword there is processing. It is great that you have started to collect stuff into a digital to-do list, a notebook or even on a piece of paper, the question is what are you going to do with the stuff you have collected?
All that stuff you have collected needs to go somewhere. It needs to show up when you need it and be out of the way when you don’t need it. This is where having a few apps become incredibly valuable. If you don’t want to use apps, a simple notebook would work — and many incredibly productive people swear by their notebooks. That’s the beauty of creating your own system, you get to choose what to use.
Once you have a ‘system’ in place using your system consistently becomes the next step. And part of using your system is processing all your collected items into their rightful place and making the right decisions about what something you collected means to you and what you need to do next with it.
And that is where I see quite a lot of people having difficulties.
Process don’t do
To me, processing what I collected is very different from doing the work. Let us imagine it is 9:30 am on a Thursday morning and you work for an international trading company. When you open your email you discover you have 120 new emails in your inbox. Now for most people, those 120 emails represent hours of work. Yet it should not. Those 120 emails just need processing and processing that number of emails should only take fifteen to twenty minutes.
Processing is about making a decision about what something means to you, whether you want to, or need to, do something with it and if you do need to do something with it, what do you need to do and when? Processing is not about doing. It is when you start replying to those emails while you are processing when things take much much longer.
Let’s be honest here. Most of those emails in your inbox will not need an immediate reply. Even in the most urgent of cases, a reply could wait for an hour or two. The problem with ‘doing’ while you are processing is all that doing is putting a drag on your processing. It means that rather than taking fifteen to twenty minutes to clear an inbox of 120 emails, you are going to take at least an hour, and most likely have to stop processing before you finish to attend a Thursday morning meeting. Now you have eighty unprocessed emails plus all the new emails on top. So, you cleared forty emails, went to a meeting, came back and you now have over a hundred emails again in your inbox.
No wonder people feel overwhelmed!
Ah! But what about the two-minute rule?
Good question. The problem here is if you apply the two-minute rule to twenty of those 120 emails, that’s going to take up forty minutes and still leave you with one hundred unprocessed emails. Those unprocessed emails are going to be playing on your mind until you do something about them.
It is far better to go through the 120 emails first. Deciding what they are, deleting, delegating and moving to their rightful place and then if you have time, start going through your actionable emails applying the two-minute rule if necessary then.
This workflow trick also works with your other inboxes. I often see people with fifty to seventy items in their to-do list manager’s inbox. When items build-up to this number it is very easy to ignore the problem and stop adding things in there because of the overwhelm that list creates. Instead, decide to give yourself twenty minutes to clear the inbox and only process, not do. You will not only clear your inbox, but you will also clear your mind. Now you have made decisions about what an item means to you, deleted what you no longer want, organised tasks you need to take action on and delegated anything that could be delegated.
Now you have a clear mind and a clear inbox and you can start doing the work you identified needs your attention today.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein
This method of processing first and then doing is akin to what Albert Einstein meant when he said he would spend most of his time thinking about a problem before solving it. When we mix up processing and doing, things get messy. Your processing will not be complete and in the end, you will still be back where you were when you started — a lot of unprocessed items and an overwhelming feeling that you have far too much to do.
So, today, try processing first and then doing. Do not mix these two processes. You will find you gain a lot more control over your work and your time and feel a lot less stressed and overwhelmed about unidentified work sitting in your inboxes demanding you look at them.
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