The First Step To Taking Control of Your Inbox … and Your Workday

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Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m a big proponent of controlling your email inbox — instead of letting it control you.

Not only do I support limiting the times during the day at which you check your email, I also am a big proponent of getting your inbox as close to zero as possible.

Step one is getting control of all your email subscriptions. You probably subscribe to a lot more such subscriptions than you realize.

Earlier today, a Facebook friend of mine shared a service called Unroll.me. It billed itself as a way to unsubscribe yourself from all your junk email lists at once.

So I tried it, and … wow.

The app searched my inbox and found 276 email subscriptions!  Now, before you throw something at me — I must confess that I had already set up Gmail rules for many of these subscriptions (to automatically delete them or put them in pre-set folders).

Nonetheless, it’s still a lot of clutter coming into my inbox on a daily basis.

Unroll.me allowed me to quickly go through all the subscriptions and either unsubscribe, or add it to a daily “Rollup” that the service sends me either every morning, afternoon, or evening (I choose).

I highly recommend Unroll.me as a first step toward controlling your inbox — and controlling your work day.

 

Protecting Your Productive Freedom by Placing … Constraints? Yep.

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Last week, I wrote about “flow systems” and the importance of removing obstructions to allow your day, your work and your life to flow more smoothly.

Today, however, I’m going to write about something that, at first, may seem contradictory: The importance of constraints.

So, last week I said to remove obstructions … and this week I’m advising you to place constraints?  You bet.

There is a fundamental difference.

Obstructions are the “dams” that block the river. Constraints are the river banks — providing the contours of water, ensuring the water doesn’t disperse but rather is contained and flows with the current.

Allow me to share a brief story.

When I first started working for myself — working from home — I relished the thought that I could wake up without a set schedule. I didn’t have to catch a bus or a train or be in the office for a useless Monday meeting. I didn’t have to shave or put on a tie. In fact, other than a few scheduled calls, I could run the day by the seat of my pants, making up the agenda as I go.

Unconstrained freedom. What a stress reliever.

Or so I thought. 

As the months and years went by, I realized that the days with the most unconstrained freedom were the most stressful. Those are the days when the riverbanks eroded, and the water flooded into the surrounding areas, leaving me overwhelmed.

So many choices. Bouncing around from task to task. Forced to be reactive to the events of the day.

Over time, I realized this simple fact: Freedom without any constraints isn’t very liberating at all. In fact, it’s stifling. 

I was confusing constraints with obstructions. But the constraints are absolutely necessary to allow the free flow.  It’s the obstructions I have to remove.

What kind of restraints am I talking about? They are the things I blog about regularly here, including things like:

  • Batching calls to avoid conference call overload.
  • Scheduling the first several hours of my day so that it is automatic.
  • Tackling big projects in 90-minute-limited segments.
  • Only checking email at several “checkpoints” throughout the day.
  • Limiting the types and levels of clients and projects with whom I work.

Those are just a few, but you get the idea.

If the constraints aren’t there, then you’re not in control. If you’re not in control, that isn’t freedom at all. In fact, it’s bondage to the tyranny of reactive chaos.

I’m not advocating you build a robotic company with very little leeway to feel free and creative. Far from it. As Jim Collins writes in his timeless book, Good to Great, “The good-to-great companies built a consistent system with clear constraints, but they also gave people freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system.”

The constraints are simply the guide posts so you don’t run off the road. 

What constraints can you put in place to give yourself more freedom? What obstacles can you remove so that your system flows more freely?

6 Things You Should Do Before You Go to Sleep Each Night

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Mornings are highly regarded as the most productive time of the day. And it’s true. But don’t discount the time you have in the evenings. What you do before you go to sleep can impact the next day. Want to get a jumpstart on your day? Then prepare the night before. Here are 6 things you should do before you go to sleep:

Pick an outfit & pack your bag.

We can spend entirely too much time in the morning trying to find something to wear or packing up our work bag. Instead of being in a mad rush, do it the night before and take your time. Lay out an outfit so that you can just throw it on in the morning. Also, get your work bag and gym bag ready so that you don’t forget anything.

Set your schedule.

Make it a habit to quickly set your schedule the night before. Even if you think you know what you have planned, you might forget or miss something. In the event that you do, you’ll be giving yourself a little extra time to prepare for it if you need to. Remember – the more you an automate even the first few hours of the day, the less likely you’ll suffer from decision fatigue.

Read a non-fiction, non-electronic book.

As a general rule of thumb, we should try to unplug from technology an hour before bed. Use that time instead to read a book. I always prefer fiction books because it truly allows my mind to escape. Also, non-fiction books (depending on the topic) can cause your mind to spin and examine the topic, almost as it’s a work project). I always make sure not to end my day by looking at a glowing, blue screen (read this) — so I opt for actual print books.

Recap the day you’ve had.

Take a few minutes to reflect back on your day. What did you learn? What were your high points? What could you have done better? Recapping your days helps you not only grow from your experiences but also figure out where you need to go. You can get in the habit of writing in a journal to jot down your thoughts.

Catch up with family.

Everyone is busy and sometimes, we can forget to spend time with the people who are most important to us – our families. Carve out 30 minutes each night, whether watching a show or just chatting, to catch up and see how everyone’s day went.

Prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is important so make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Prepare your bed, curl up with a good book, and unwind. Make sure are well-rested and prepared to tackle the day ahead.

What is your favorite bedtime ritual to help you prepare for the next day?

The Governator’s 6 Rules of Success

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You may like or hate his politics, his personal life, or his movies.

But one thing you can’t argue with is that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey from a poor youth in Austria to a champion bodybuilder, millionaire businessman, Hollywood movie star and even Governor of California is a story of success from which we can all learn something.

I recently ran across this YouTube clip of Arnold giving a commencement speech at the University of South California, in which he shares his 6 Rules of Success. I must say that I couldn’t agree more with his rules (although I might change #5 to “Work Smarter.”).

Following is a list of his rules — along with some quotes from his speech:

1. Trust Yourself.

“You have to dig deep down and ask yourselves, ‘who do you want to be?’ Not what, but who? Not what your parents and your teachers want you to be, but you. I’m talking about figuring out for yourselves what makes you happy no matter how crazy it may sound to other people.”

2. Break Some Rules.

“It is impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules. What is the point of being on this earth if all you want to do is be liked by everyone and avoid trouble?”

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail.

“You can’t always win, but don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself. You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision and you know that it is the right thing to do.”

4. Ignore the Naysayers.

“How many times have you heard that, ‘you can’t do this, and you can’t do that, and it’s never been done before?’ I love it when someone says that no one has ever done this before, because then when I do it that means that I’m the first one that has done it. So pay no attention to the people that say it can’t be done.”

5. Work Your Butt Off.

“Mohammed Ali, one of my great heroes, had a great line in the ’70s when he was asked, ‘How many sit-ups do you do?’ He said, ‘I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting And that’s the way it is with everything.when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts.’ That’s what makes you a champion. 

“Just remember – you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”

I wholeheartedly agree that hard work is vital to success. Just be sure that you’re not adding “window dressing” work instead of working smarter.

6. Give Something Back.

“Whatever path that you take in your lives, you must always find time to give something back to your community. Reaching out and helping people will bring you more satisfaction than anything else you have ever done.”

4 Popular Productivity Myths

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If you are looking for productivity tips, they are plentiful. From unconventional hacks to proven methods, there seems to productivity tricks that will work work for any lifestyle. But don’t necessarily buy into the hype of what some productivity “gurus” say are surefire ways to make you more productive. There are plenty of tips and tricks out there that are duds. To help you save your time, here are 4 productivity myths that just don’t work:

Cram as much into your day as possible.

Many people have the misconception that being productive means getting as much done as possible. That’s simply not true. While you might feel good if you finish everything on your to-do list, you might be getting all the wrong things done first. Instead of trying to cram as much as possible into your day, focus your time and effort on the tasks that are the most important. Even if you don’t end up completing them, you’ll at least make some progress.

Multitasking saves you time.

People who can multi-task successfully always get a lot of praise. But even if you can’t, don’t feel bad. Multitasking can definitely help save you time in some situations. But it’s not always the most productive route to take. Instead, put your focus on one thing at a time so that you can produce your best results. This will prevent rework and ultimately save you time.

If you want it done right, do it yourself.

We hear this all the time: “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. That mentality isn’t going to get you very far. You have the most control over the things you do yourself. But that doesn’t mean someone else won’t do as good (or even better of) a job. Not everything has to be perfect. It’s better to outsource and delegate your tasks so that you can give yourself more time. In the end, it’ll all work out.

There’s no room for ‘me time’.

When you have a lot on your plate, your schedule can get really hectic. It hard to find even a minute to relax. But make it a priority to schedule ‘me time’. Even just a little time to yourself can really help you refocus and refresh, which does wonders for your productivity. Try to schedule at least two 30-minute breaks each day when you step away from your desk and do whatever you like.

What are some productivity tips you’ve tried that just didn’t work out?