When you are hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits. — T. Boone Pickens
For years I’ve been a big inbox zero guy. I rigorously maintained all of my inboxes and other web services (pocket, feedly, evernote, etc.)
At the time to me, if you didn’t manage your online services, they were useless. They became toys — fun to play with, but don’t provide any real utility.
At the time, I was getting a fair amount of emails, and I was able to manage fine. Since I started at Coupa, it shot up at least 3 fold and I started drowning in a deluge of emails. I couldn’t keep up; I needed a new system.
I was listening to the PandoMonthly with Chris Sacca. An awesome talk all around — but the point that that stood out to me was the notion of offense vs. defense.
Take an email inbox. An inbox is really just a public todo list that anybody can put things on. You can easily spend all day ticking off your emails and it’s easy to feel accomplished and like you’re getting a lot done.
But it’s a false sense of accomplishment. By spending your efforts checking off tasks that anyone can give you, there’s no coherence around your tasks. You keep working aimlessly and doing everyone’s else’s bidding but your own. It’s the ultimate exercise in feeling busy, but not actually doing anything.
Prior, I was always impeccable at getting my emails done. I always emailed back. I always followed up at least 3 times. The more useless emails that I responded to, the more useless work came into my life. I didn’t realize any of this at the time — I felt like I was getting shit done.
As it fell apart with the addition of Coupa emails, I started trying to figure out a new way to manage all my emails.
That’s when I watched the video below and it opened my eyes to what I was actually doing. I felt accomplished, but I was really just keeping busy doing work for other people. I was only making marginal — if any — progress on my own goals. That’s why every time I turned off my email and worked in a dark corner, I felt extremely productive. Otherwise I always felt like I was getting stuff done, but I didn’t feel like I was doing anything or making any progress.
So I realized that in order to make real progress, I had to give up on the ridiculous notion of inbox zero. I took a step back, planned out some goals, milestones, and got to work. The endless slew of inbound emails were ignored unless they fit in with my set goals.
And it’s been incredibly cathartic. Yes, my inbox is exploding, but I’m making real, tangible progress on the different goals I’ve set. I’ve been able to make more progress than before, find more free time, and everything else in my inbox is still going on perfectly fine without my response. Amazing.
This thought expands further than simply managing email. It’s a principle to remember in any situation — make sure you’re always playing offense. There are endless amounts of noise in the world trying to distract you. It can feel productive to work on clearing the noise, but it’s a waste of effort — and a futile one. The only way to truly advance on what’s important is to ignore the noise, buckle down, and push your goals to completion.