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.

Flushed with embarrassment

I feel I need to apologise to people who were (admittedly until now) unaware of my scorn.

I need to apologise to North American users of portaloos. Porta pottys. Shitboxes. Cabinets of doom. Portable toilets. Plastic shitters.

You see, I would read on Reddit and Facebook and other forms of expression the abject horror people would feel when they were faced with using a portaloo. I thought: “Yeah, they can get a bit stinky, particularly at race startlines with all the nervous shitters, but jesus! It’s just for a few minutes!”

I just didn’t understand the general revulsion until the other week when we were cycling round Stanley Park in Vancouver and stopped at a small park playspace. The park authorities were renovating the public washrooms there, and had put in a bank of hired portaloos. Until then, I didn’t know that North American portaloos aren’t like Australian portaloos. They aren’t the same design.

My Australian friends, North American portaloos DON’T HAVE A BOWL.

Seriously. It’s just a wide mouthed toilet seat and lid, atop a large plastic box with a big hole, filled with blue liquid. (And floating used toilet paper, bobbing like jellyfish). At least with the classic Australian long drop bush toilets there’s a good metre or so between your arse and the pile of poo, but here, there’s not even that. Maybe 15 centimetres, max, between you and a small lake of blue liquid.

That this was not a one off was semi-confirmed last week when we were in Seattle (maybe it’s a Pacific Northwest thing, but still, two different countries). We were heading into an exhibit, and they had a bank of portaloos set up outside. I needed to go, and was a bit curious as to whether my horrific discovery was an aberration, but no – a big old hole again.

The portaloos back home have a seat, a bowl and a flap at the bottom of the bowl connected to a foot operated pump that allows you to blue water flush your waste away into the plastic box, leaving the bowl, if not semi-pristine, at least not completely loaded up with the aftermath of the human digestive system. There is also a small sink with running water (attached to a smaller, foot operated pump) and usually some spray soap in a dispenser so you can wash your hands.

It wasn’t until this trip that I realised that Australian portaloos are relatively civilised.

Australian portaloos give you the ability to pretend that if you were to accidentally drop something into the bowl – a mobile phone, or an energy gel packet – that it would be salvageable. I mean we all know that if anyone actually dropped their iPhone X into a portaloo toilet bowl that they’d immediately be calculating how they feel about disposing of A$1000, but you still get that choice! In North America you don’t get that choice: one poorly angled pocket emptying moment and it’s goodbye device.

So please consider this an apology to my North American brethren; your revulsion is completely understandable.