Saturday, March 29, 2008

8 Excuses That Prevent You From Reaching an Empty Inbox

Who doesn't like the concept of a completely clear inbox? All tasks efficiently dealt with. No outstanding 'urgent' requests remaining. Nothing hanging over your head to 'come back to later when you have more time'. Well this post isn't about that sort of inbox. Its a lighthearted post about its evil twin the messy inbox. An inbox clogged up with irrelevant emails. And the excuses we use to justify bad email habit behaviour. You know who you are!

In a future post I will examine some good email habits. The first step to overcoming bad email habits however, is to identify our own mental blocks standing in the way between us and a potential email utopia.

Okay, so lets paint the picture. I am opening my inbox right now with a bold determination to sort this mess out! I have set aside some time this week (an hour perhaps) to do nothing else but clear out that inbox. Nothing is going to stand in my way. So lets take a look at that first email there. Oh dear. Perhaps this wasn't a good example to start off with. Perhaps, we should move onto the next one and it will be much easier ...

If this sounds familiar to you then you are not alone. Some emails are easier to tidy than others. Over the course of a week I tried to record my reactions whenever I came up with a difficult email to sort/classify/delete. I invite you to do the same before we move on to some healthy email habits next week. For the sake of clarity I would like to reiterate I am in no way condoning this sort of behaviour, but quite the opposite. Here is my list of internal responses to various difficult emails:

Wow! Fascinating! Let me research more on this or phone someone about it...
Not a good way to start off our allocated time to clear out those emails is it? We got a bit distracted and well the rest is history..

I'd like some to respond in detail but now now...
So the email stays in the inbox marked read...

I don't have time to do this
Well why not leave it in the inbox, to 'come back to later' when you spontaneously have too much time on your hands? Along with all the other emails still waiting...

I don't want to do this
But equally I can't delete it because it was allocated by my boss. Perhaps I can just wait and see if everyone forgets about it?

Wow the next email sure looks more interesting than this one
How about I read that one first and 'come back later'. (Don't hold your breath).

My phone rings with some new random urgent request of the day and the time allocated to clearing the inbox is gone.

Easy Access
I have written the essence of this in my @todo list, but I want to keep the email easy to find in my inbox so its 'easy to reply to'. Or worse, it has file attachments I want to keep and refer to in the upcoming week.

Too many inboxes!
I like to organize the content I am receiving so I make sure that work emails don't arrive in my personal inbox and vice versa.
A few others were created for other reasons (e.g. catching spam). However now I'm finding that there are just too many to manage effectively and some don't get read.

Thats all for now. I did enjoy compiling the list. Let me know if you have any others!

Friday, March 21, 2008

How to Find Inner Stillness

I would like to write today on the topic of inner stillness of the mind. Most of us are familiar with its opposites all too well:

Hectic life - too much going on leading to feelings of not coping
Rushing - anxiety of being late
Frenzy - a burning desire to do something
Distraction - being interrupted - not keeping focus

It is interesting to see that being mentally still does not mean necessary stillness of the body. In face we could be doing something but doing it in a mindful manner. In today's society we may often feel encouraged to juggled ten tasks at a time. But the feeling one gets from focusing on a single activity without interruption, with stillness of mind, and having had sufficient sleep is truly a fantastic feeling indeed. It can sometimes feel like one has gained an extra dimension of perspective, and perhaps even feeling more awake than usual. You will notice that your decisions are of a higher quality as you are better able to take in and process what is going on around you, and your reaction time will be quicker.

Before one can feel relaxed and channel the mind, the first step is to achieve stillness of the mind.

To describe it is hard, as it does come in many levels of stillness, and in different situations. I am often feeling still during meditation (a topic for another time), but the time that I can recall I experienced it at its highest intensity in the last year was when getting onto a plane to Japan at the start of a three week holiday. It was a feeling of calmness, feeling all tension leave the body, timelessness, and lack of worry. I knew I had no real deadlines or deliverables for the next three weeks!

This is interesting as it shows how my usual everyday life is a cause of tension. I also experience stillness at the start of a day that is a weekend, or from starting a work day with some meditation. I think the feeling is from getting up and doing everything calmly in an un-rushed manner knowing that I don't need to do anything for now unless I voluntarily choose to do it.

There are some other ways to gain stillness in everyday life, which I would like to share with you:

1) Make some personal time for stillness and reflection if you haven't already done so. For me this is the first 30 minutes to 3 hours after waking up. Stillness won't come to you unless you make time for it. Give yourself permission to not worry and stress for this time - while this is hard you will find your life will not fall apart as a result, and you will thank yourself for it later.

2) Do one thing at a time and be mindful of it.

3) If you sense worry in yourself, the first step is to think deep what are the roots of the worry. Then use your worry minimizing tools from your experience to remove the worry. Look at each one in turn, and then look away. Often merely the conscious act of observing yourself worrying is sufficient to eliminate it. This is a topic that deserves at least a full post in itself.

4) If you sense anxiety related to time, perhaps you are choosing the wrong time to be still. First thing in the morning is often the best for me, before other people are awake. This is also the time used by Zen Monks to practice zazen (meditation). Be calmer and try to reduce your impatience using your calmness tools from your experience. Move slowly.

5) Contemplate some things in your life that give you happiness and comfort.

6) Observe nature, animals and natural beauty where you can find them. Engage all the senses and listen, smell and look. Don't look with the eyes, but with the mind. Do not judge what you see, just take it in.

7) Remember a time when things were worse and be thankful for what we have today.

8) Don't think too much.

All of these are big topics to explore, but I have tried to keep it brief. Hopefully we can find time to explore these topics in the future.

Thanks for reading, and I would be interested to hear comments on what readers do to find stillness.