Inbox (momentarily) zero

There’s this concept of Inbox Zero, where you keep your email inbox actively empty. (Google it).

I fail at Inbox Zero, but I regularly, actively try and keep it small enough to be manageable. Most of what is in my inbox is part of my to-do list. For advertising emails and mailing lists and media monitoring alerts I have automatic filing rules, and sorting rules, and most of the time I can just run my eye over the subject lines of the emails in my 15+ different folders, and hit delete on the entire lot in one fell swoop. However sometimes everything gets overwhelming, and it doesn’t matter how much I flag certain emails in my inbox as something I need to do, and delete emails that I’ve dealt with, it marches up to 1,000+ emails. Again.

I find this oddly stressful – my brain gets overly worried that I’ve missed something vital, despite the unlikeliness of that actually having happened. If I had missed something, it’s highly likely that the requester would have called me, emailed me again or come up to my desk and asked. Ah, irrational guilt. It’s so helpful.

But worry and stress is never logical, so when I reach that point, I do this, and I recommend you do it to:

  • Sort your Outlook inbox by received date.
  • Collapse the sorting so that the only expanded timeframe that is open is the Older category.
  • Move everything in the Older category to a new folder. Any email that you still have to ‘immediately’ action is younger than this is, because if it was truly necessary then someone would have bugged you about it again by now.

Once you have done this, then:

  • Sort the remaining emails in your inbox by sender, by size, by date received, whichever. You’ve instantly cut out a significant number of emails you need to deal with immediately. Revel in this fact.
  • If you sort by name then you can batch delete all those Australian Financial Review daily emails. All those Book Depository emails. All those emails from Reception confirming your meeting room booking that you had not only already put in your calendar, but you’d already had the meeting.
  • If you sort by size you can now delete or file in your workplace’s electronic document management system that whopping 30MB email with those images you don’t need any more because that brochure has been printed. You can deal with that 17MB scan in PDF format for the document you finished last month and had already sent to your client.

It’s all so much less overwhelming. And when your inbox is down to the things you actually need to do, you feel like you can keep it roughly in shape for a few months.

Now, what about those emails you threw in a folder? The reason why you put them in a folder is that now your problem won’t get bigger. It can’t get bigger. You can repeat what you did with your inbox, and delete or file the enormous emails, the advertising emails, the news provider emails, the “hey, it’s Friday night drinks” emails.

You don’t have to deal with all those emails immediately. Pick off 50 at a time. Say “I’ve got 20 minutes before that client comes for her meeting, I’m prepared for the meeting, so I’m going to spend 15 minutes clearing off some of those older emails.”

Because I also have a physical to-do list I have actually written down “650, 600, 550, 500…” and crossed off the numbers as I’ve taken the folder down to that number. It gives you a feeling of satisfaction; everyone loves crossing things off a to-do list.

Incremental decrease in size is still a decrease in size. Don’t let it overwhelm you.

Doing things that make you happy.

Back in January one of the pieces of advice the GP gave me was “do things that make you happy”. This was at the back of my mind when back in November I decided to withdraw from this year’s Six Inch.

I had signed up through FOMO (fear of missing out) instead of desire back in July when entries opened. While we’d been trail running for training, I hadn’t been enjoying it like I used to. For the first time ever I’d had a negative voice in my head – it had three specific chatty lines:

“Ooh, you won’t be able to keep up that pace on race day – that’s way too fast if you want to survive 47km.”

“Ooh, you want to be a bit careful here, you might wreck your ankles again on that surface. Better slow down.”

“Ooh, that pace is a bit slow, you won’t make the cut-off for the aid stations at that pace. You need to be a tiny bit faster.”

Marry those three lines together, and you have the funnest vicious circle ever!

It came to a head when we ran a training run on Yaberoo Trail near Yanchep National Park, and I had a tiny cry when I realised I needed to withdraw. We got to the National Park, and Vince, Didi and Jez ran on and did the Ghosthouse Trail, while I sat down under the trees at one of the tables and composed my email to Dave Kennedy, withdrawing from the race and offering my services as a volunteer.

I hit send, and instantly felt simultaneously relieved and stupendously excited – if I wasn’t doing Six Inch, then I’d be on fine form in February to do the Busselton Half Marathon, and then the new Runningworks Thornlie Half Marathon. After the last time I did Six Inch it took me until past April to do anything over 10 kilometres.

A couple of weeks later we did a loop of the Munday Brook trail in Karragullen and I loved every minute of it, and happily ran along without that chatty negative voice in my head. I’d done 29km on the Six Inch course with Marnie a couple of weeks before the Yaberoo run and in amongst that were some amazing downhills that I sped down and thoroughly enjoyed, but this time that joy was throughout my run. It was inspiring.

Dave gave me a few options for volunteering, and I accepted the finish line assistance role, which it turned out was being the presenter of finishers medals to everyone who had raced. This was just what I needed – I got to see everyone finish, and for the first time ever I got to see the fast guys run further than the trail dogleg at Aid 2. It was a surprisingly cold and wet December day, and Scotty Hawker and Nera Jareb both managed new course records – Scotty coming in in 3 hours 15 minutes, and Nera coming in 3 hours 42 minutes. I stood at that finish line for four hours, handing out medal after medal to the half and full marathon finishers, and enjoyed every minute.

One person crossed the line at 6 hours 53 minutes which was my finish time in 2014. I remember thinking while watching him barrel down the finish chute “That’s a really bloody long time to be out on course. It is definitely time to work on speed.”

So that’s my goal now – I need to be faster, probably over all distances, but definitely on trail. The negative voice in my head might have technically been correct, but now I have more of a concrete plan which has definitely quieted the negative spin. Jeremy is fully supportive of this plan – I have lots of road race plans this year, including my personal Kimetto Challenge, which is to get a half marathon time of 2h02m57s (or less!) because that’s the World Record time for the marathon and would make me half as fast as Dennis Kimetto. I also need to get out on trail and use Bickley and Munday Brook trails to give me 12 months of trail running practice, not the inevitable “four months before Six Inch” push. (Assuming I enter in 2018).

Interval sessions are also on the horizon – with one fun bonus that I had been previously vaguely conscious of, but unaware of official confirmation. Every time I’ve ever done intervals in the early morning I have felt wildly cheery afterwards. I thought it was just the inevitable early morning smug “I’ve totally exercised already, bitches! I don’t have to do anything more today!” feeling that you can sometimes feel, but no! It’s actually brain-derived neurotrophic factor!

We were at the launch of Yokine parkrun and our friend Sarah came along. We were talking afterwards and she mentioned that interval sessions are like DIY antidepressants (Sarah’s a psychologist). She later found me this Journal of Applied Physiology article: High-intensity interval training evokes larger serum BDNF levels compared with intense continuous exercise which explains it all, but how cool is that?

So I have a bit of a plan, inspiration, and a pretty positive outlook. And I intend to keep following my GP’s advice “do what makes you happy”, because if it doesn’t make you happy, why try and force something?