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Confession time in the quest for Inbox Zero

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It’s like drug abuse, with similar implications for effectiveness, but the battle to triumph over email chaos can be won, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

I have a confession. I’ve been clean for eight weeks. Rid of a monkey on my back that threatened to engulf me and destroy my concentration, focus and productivity.

Yes, I was suffering from abuse of my email inbox. Dramatic steps were needed when I reached the unmagic mark of 2000 emails during March. They were all waiting to be answered, stored, or deleted. But they had to be read before I could make that decision.

I knew that if the number went much beyond 2000, there could well be no coming back. I was fortunate, though, that I faced that moment as a string of public holidays appeared on the calendar. That meant days of no interruption, and limited new email inflow.

With the help of a supportive family, I spent four days solidly working through the pile, and came out the other end clean. I am still clean as I start writing this confession.

Why is it such a big deal? Two years ago, in this column, I wrote:

“It’s the new holy grail of personal effectiveness and business productivity: an empty inbox in your e-mail.

“I know it sounds like a fantasy, and perhaps even smacks of the supernatural. But it exists. I’ve seen it twice in the past decade. The first time, around 2004, it brought such a sense of freedom that I neglected my e-mail for a few days, and never caught up again. Until last week.”

That also lasted only a few days, which is why the current achievement feels like a breakthrough. And why I feel somewhat more confident in offering the advice orignally proferred:

“A colleague gave me a simple piece of advice: take the office phone off the hook, put the cellphone on silent, shut the door, close all browsers and extraneous documents, and start. It doesn’t matter if you start with the oldest or the newest, as long as you begin to work through the pile in a systematic way.”

While I find that approach impossible on working days, the holidays simulated those conditions perfectly.

Merlin Mann, who is credited with coining the term Inbox Zero in a series of articles and a talk of the same name (you can watch it on YouTube), recommends you work methodically through your e-mail mound, not moving on until you’ve made one of five choices for each item: Delete or Archive, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do.

Those who can and those who can’t, teach

In my seventh week of greater productivity brought about by inbox zero, I gave a talk at the annual convention of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. Several dozen of the most sought-after speakers in South Africa, ranging from firewalkers to organisational psychologists, all in one place.

These are people who face an endless barrage of email almost every time they give a talk. It was a golden opportunity: during the convention, I ran a snap survey to see the extent to which self-described professionals cope with email floods.

The results were fascinating.

No less than 60 per cent of respondents said they were overwhelmed by email most of the time or some of the time. The exact same percentage receive more than 50 emails a day, and 60% had more than 50 emails still waiting to be dealt with in their inboxes. An even larger 65% said their email load was a barrier to productivity, while a massive 75% said they wished they could manage their email better.

Bear in mind, these are people who make a living from giving advice to others.

Only 30% had between zero and 20 mails waiting to be handled, and only a third of these – 10 per cent of the total – had cleared their email the last time they had checked it. At the other end of the scale, 35% had more than one thousands emails waiting to be bludgeoned in their inboxes.

The most fascinating aspect of this survey – small as the sample might be – as that it didn’t show a gradual curve of email overload. People tended to have it under control – or it was completely out of control. This shows that, once you let it go, it becomes a monster. And that monster will eat up your focus and your productivity.

Like drug abuse and alcohol abuse, the inability to reach inbox zero is a self-limiting condition. It can be as difficult to fight, but the rewards can be as great.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entires via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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