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(Couple in front of a burning house; one comforts the other) On the other hand: inbox zero.


Hotmail published on

I’ve given up on inbox zero, that holy grail of email productivity. For that matter, I’ve given up on pretty much everything zero.

My desktop is an anthill of icons (shoveled periodically into folders because I read once that every icon on your desktop chews up processor cycles and also is an abomination unto Apple). My browsers are bursting with open tabs. I have more Finder windows open than there are windows in every house I’ve ever lived in. I have four books partly finished on my Kindle and three science fiction novels on the go on my nightstand.

And you know what? I’ve made my peace with it. With all of it. Because I think at some level, I actually want a queue in every one of my life’s inboxes. Subconsciously, maybe I’m terrified of dying alone and unloved… but by god, at least I’ll have my two hundred open Firefox tabs to keep me company.

Perhaps what’s lacking for those of us who haven’t reached inbox zero isn’t persistence, but unbelievable, superhuman courage. Inbox zero demands that you one day stare unblinking and alone into the abyss, without the comfort of knowing several thousand unread newsletters (that one from last week, “Top marketers share their branding secrets for the afterlife,” would sure come in handy right now, wouldn’t it?) are standing be your side.

So to those of you with immaculate desktops, cavernous empty inboxes and a single, perfect browser tab open, I’m in awe. And it’s only partly from your work ethic and level of organization. What really impresses me is your capacity to embrace the looming void, your Kierkegaardian ability to define meaning in your life without relying on an endless list of unsorted Evernote clips to provide that meaning for you.

Inbox zero is for superheroes.

And good for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, Clark Kent here has some email to read.

(writer on Skype call) Yes, yes, I'm aware of the irony of missing my deadline for the piece on task management software.

Wanted: a task manager manager

Wanted: a task manager manager published on No Comments on Wanted: a task manager manager

Last night, I finally watched the Mythbusters’ finale, in which they revisited one episode’s explosive destruction of a cement truck. The myth they’d been testing: that you can clean off hardened cement inside the truck’s mixing barrel by throwing in a stick of dynamite.

They concluded that you can clear out some debris, but not a big slab. (The episode ended with lots of little pieces of truck scattered across the terrain; the finale used about six times the amount of high explosive and ended with much smaller pieces of truck.)

I think of that when I think of task management software. I have a bad habit of treating it like the stick of dynamite I toss into my congealed pile of to-dos and half-dones. I always hope the detonation will somehow sort them into a cogent framework of tasks that — and this is where the software always lets me down — will then do themselves.

Thing is, you need a methodology. Many tools have one (or more) in mind: a lot of task management software is explicitly built around the Getting Things Done methodology, for instance. With others, a methodology is just assumed. But a lot of it (hello, Apple Reminders) just kind of lets you flail around, unless you impose some kind of order yourself. Even worse, if one of your guilty pleasures happens to be exploring software, you can quickly head down the rabbit hole of trying out every new task manager that comes along.

The things I’ve learned are:

  • First, no tool is likely save you from yourself.
  • Second, every tool will require you to make at least minor changes to your workflow so you can capture, track and report tasks as you go.
  • And third, the right tool for you won’t require you to bend over backward to accommodate its idiosyncrasies.

By the way, in case you’re just dying to know, my weapons of choice these days are Reminders, OmniFocus and Vitamin R. I like using OmniFocus to break big jobs into smaller ones, and Vitamin R to keep me focused on days when I have a whole lot of scattered, discrete tasks.

So today’s cartoon is dedicated to two people who’ve helped me steer clear of the rabbit hole, at least to some degree, and small-g-small-t-small-d get things done:

  • Alexandra Samuel, whose deep dives into these things put me to shame (and by the way, just assume every cartoon is at least partly dedicated to her), and
  • and Mike Vardy of Productivityist, whose podcast episodes and blog posts were the carefully-calibrated stick of dynamite I needed a few years ago (the truck survived).

And with that, I can check “publish cartoon” off my to-do list.

Evernote: We are all one with the Trunk

Evernote: We are all one with the Trunk published on 5 Comments on Evernote: We are all one with the Trunk

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

There’s always the risk when you first step into the world of productivity that you lose yourself — that you spend far more time immersed in productivity books, lectures, podcasts, videos and apps than you doactually being productive. That instead of Getting Things Done, you’ll Get Productivity Books Read.

I got into productivity kind of sideways. I read Susan RoAne’s How to Work a Room out of desperation shortly after leaving university; I offered to stand as a little-to-no-hope candidate for a political party, and I urgently needed a crash course in how to walk into a room full of strangers and actually talk to some of them. I was nervous, because the title sounded like the kind of icky insincerity I’d hate to embrace – but to my happy shock, her advice was excellent. True, that wasn’t a productivity book as such. But it was the gateway drug that led me to try out the Day-Timer system.

And then I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It achieved the absolute sweet spot for any author hoping to sell sequels, in that it completely changed my perspective on personal productivity while in no way altering my behaviour. Again, not a productivity book as such… but it teed me up to read Getting Things Done.

Like 7 Habits, GTD changed my outlook but also started me down the road to some degree of organization. Anyone who’s seen my desk since then can tell you that hasn’t been a road without detours, hairpin turns, switchbacks and at least one head-on collision with the 18-wheeler of my-god-where-did-all-this-paper-come-from. (All of which inspired this at one point.)

But I’m back on the productivity straight-and-narrow these days. I’m using OneTask to remind me that what I’m doing right now isn’t tracking down interesting hashtags on Twitter; WriteRoom to bang out text without distraction; and a few OmniGroup and 37Signals products to figure out what comes next. And – efficiency of efficiencies – I managed to marry not only the most interesting and amazing person I know, but Earth’s best early warning system for life-altering productivity tools. (She’s the one who first clued me into Evernote.)

When I first posted this on ReadWriteWeb yesterday, Tom Davey commented to point me to Org-mode, a plain-text organizer/note-taker built on the Emacs text editor. Which is kind of appealing, but it’s not going to be my thing. Here’s what I wrote back:

Wow, Org-mode looks elegant as hell: simple, completely open, and easily sync-able across devices. Thanks for pointing me to it!

The lack of a GUI appeals to my inner Neal Stephenson. Unfortunately, the lack of a GUI also falls prey to my outer Rob Cottingham. I must have my eye candy.

For some of us, there’s something to that. I listened to the second episode of a new podcast,Mikes on Mics, last night, and they were talking about GTD. If I remember it correctly, @mikevardy mentioned that he just likes the look and feel of his favourite task manager, and @mschechter suggested that liking the way a place looks – either your office surroundings or your digital environment – means you’re much more likely to actually work there.

And while I’m mentioning Mike Vardy, I should add that I’ve been finding his blog a great read on all things productive.

What productivity gems have you uncovered? Or are you one of those amazing people who keeps lists of tasks, priorities, dependencies and deadlines in some hyperdeveloped lobe of your brain?


2008-11-21-shiba published on No Comments on 2008-11-21-shiba