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.
Welcome to world of 2099
The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.
Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.
This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.
Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.
As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.
“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”
The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.
“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”
Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
Street art goes electric
Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.
The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.
The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.
D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.
D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.
“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”
As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.
Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”
Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”