Superhuman Email Management

Knowledge jobs of all types require quick communication. Despite the prevalence of chats, channels, and text, email remains the key way to share detailed information. This makes mastery of email an essential modern skill. The catch is that most people never received training on how to handle it effectively. Thankfully, there are easy to learn principles that make email processing effective and fun.

Tiago Forte first learned email management through GTD. From there he expanded on the practice to create a seamless system to completely process his inbox with ease and turn it into an enlightening high value experience. In a recent article on the Superhuman blog, Tiago spoke to Rahul Vohra at Superhuman for an article that highlights four steps to email mastery.

It starts with changing your perspective on email.

“The key to having a more positive outlook toward email is to nail the management,” says Tiago. “Anytime you don’t have a place for information to flow to, it will pile up, multiply, and become a problem.”

“The solution to having too many emails — and not knowing what to do with them — is not found in your inbox,” says Tiago. “You have to solve that problem elsewhere.”

Later on in the article, Tiago shares a key approach to reframing email, slowing down your reactivity.

“When someone sends you a message — especially a colleague, or someone senior to you — there’s a built-in feeling of urgency,” says Tiago. “But is that urgency real? What is the real expectation of this person?”

“Low reactivity is a spiritual discipline,” reveals Tiago. “Go slightly beyond your normal response time. If you normally respond within an hour, try to respond within a day.”

Discover the whole systematic approach to handling email at the Superhuman blog.

GTD Wisdom

David Allen’s insights into the nature of work and how we approach it can be career changing. That was certainly true for me. Below are a few classic David Allen quotes. I invite you to take time to ponder them. They may seem obvious at first, but on deeper reflection there is wisdom that may challenge the way your approach your daily tasks and long term goals. Enjoy!

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

“The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.”

“Anything that causes you to overreact or under-react can control you, and often does.”

“You must use your mind to get things off your mind.”

“You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.” The list of projects is the compilation of finish lines we put before us, to keep our next actions moving on all tracks appropriately”

“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.”

“There are no problems, only projects.”

Konmari Approach to Gift Giving

It’s the holiday season and between thoughts of mistletoe and colored lights, most of us are shopping for gifts. However, gift giving can be very stressful. Will it fit them? Will it work in their home? Will they even like it? How do we make better choices when it comes to selecting gifts?

Marie Kondo has ideas on how to choose gifts that will spark joy. For starters, she suggests thinking about the recipient’s lifestyle.

Now, before I search for a gift, I imagine what would spark joy based on the recipient’s lifestyle. I recall specific details about their daily routines, living quarters, and interests: How much space do they have? What activities do they like to do? What objects do they treasure?

Once I’ve considered the details of their day-to-day lives, I can search in earnest.

She also provides an important perspective on not getting attached to the ultimate fate of the gift.

The true purpose of a gift is to be received – whether or not it’s used and loved for years to come is besides the point.

Learn more about how Marie picks gifts on her web site.

Plus, if you want to learn more about Marie’s approach to receiving gifts, please reread my blog post on the topic from 2018.

Is Life Better When You’re Busy?

Are you busy right now?

I ask because our modern life seems designed to offer too many options for things to do such that it is impossible to ever do them all. Yet there is a persistent fear of missing out (FOMO) that drives people to chase one thing after another, filling up every hour of the day with stuff. All this running around raises an important question: does being busy make life more fulfilling?

That is the question Scott Young addresses in his article Is Life Better When You’re Busy? In order to answer it he first focuses on the possible reasons why people are busy, of which none have to do with the actual volume of necessary work to be done.

  • Busyness as signaling. Busy people are important. Complaints about busyness are like complaints about paying too much in taxes—something that allows you to subtly communicate your status.
  • Busyness as dodging commitment. Claiming busyness is a socially acceptable way to decline social obligations. “I wish I could, but I’m too busy,” is more polite than, “No, your nephew’s piano recital doesn’t interest me very much.”
  • Busyness as self-deception. When you work on things, your goal is always to move toward a state of having less stuff left to do. Since less outstanding tasks is better within the context of your goal, you may incorrectly extend that to assume that having no outstanding tasks in life is ideal.
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

We seem biologically driven to be busy, perhaps as an evolutionary trait to ensure we keep on the lookout for food and avoid dangers. Boredom is viewed as a problem that must be resolved. Young takes time to consider whether this is a sweet spot where business and idleness meet for maximum satisfaction.

Later in the article, he considers if being busy is really a function of having too little time to complete our tasks.

Strictly speaking, we all have the same amount of time each day. Nobody has more or less. What feels like a lack of time is, more accurately, a conflict between priorities.

One problematic form of busyness occurs when your activity has low intrinsic enjoyment. If you’re forced to work long hours at a job you hate, then you need to somehow meet your psychological needs in the little time you have left. This can be tricky.

Read the entire article on Scott Young’s web site.

Latest and Loudest

Do you ever fell like you are on a treadmill at work where things are coming in faster than they can be processed? It can be a frustrating experience to always feel like you stuck trying to catch up. This usually forces people into a situation where their focus falls to the latest and loudest item. Stuff might get done, but it feels unfulfilling.

In an email to GTD Connect members earlier this year, David Allen focused a whole column on what happens when people fall into this mode.

Driven by latest and loudest is a sub-optimal way to engage. You will likely be over- or under-reacting to the situation, subliminally knowing that there are many other things that should probably need to be considered in allocating your most precious resources (time and attention). You will complain about being the victim of unexpected interruptions created by an environment, situation, or people you can’t control.

When someone is caught in this situation the best way out is to find perspective. Taking time to step back to see the bigger picture is a great way to regain control. In GTD the primary way to do this is through the Weekly Review. Spending a couple of hours at the end of a work week to examine the current situation provides a breath of fresh air.

The basic principles of the review are to get clear, current, and creative. They are mapped out in a David Allen podcast, available for free on the GTD web site. It is a great way to learn how to do this simple yet powerful process. You can also download a free handout from GTD web site listing the steps.

Finally, while the latest and loudest may not always be the best thing to do, there are exceptions. As David wrote on his blog:

That said, whenever you did choose to handle whatever was latest and loudest, it may have been exactly the best thing to be doing, given the whole picture of your world. You may not have seen it that way.

Three Decision Making Rules

It is something that is unavoidable and necessary. It is something we must face every day even if we don’t want to do so. It is a fact of life and needed to move us forward in life.

It is the process of making decisions.

Most things are simple to decide, but we also encounter many problems that vex us because there is no easy answer. Therefore, we need guidelines on how to make decisions so that we are not stuck in perpetual pondering.

Peter Bregman, author of many books on business, wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of decision making. In his piece titled, 3 Timeless Rules for Making Tough Decisions, he listed some ways to make decisions more efficiently. He summed up the problem very clearly.

We spend an inordinate amount of time, and a tremendous amount of energy, making choices between equally attractive options in everyday situations. The problem is, that while they may be equally attractive, they are also differently attractive, with tradeoffs that require compromise.

To help cut through the challenges of decision making, one idea he shares has to do with turning your decisions into habits.

The first method is to use habits as a way to reduce routine decision fatigue. The idea is that if you build a habit —for example: always eat salad for lunch — then you avoid the decision entirely and you can save your decision-making energy for other things.

That works for predictable and routine decisions.

What about decisions that are not predictable and routine? Read the rest of his article to learn two more strategies to help with those type of decisions.

4000 Weeks

It is easy to think that with enough time we will be able to accomplish anything we want. However, the truth is that our days on this earth is limited. Some of it is restricted by commitments that others put upon us, but most comes from those we place on ourselves. With limited time, most of the items on our Someday/Maybe list will never be completed. This may seem grim, but it also serves as the inspiration to do great things.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, reporter Joe Pinsker shares an interview with author Oliver Burkeman about his new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. In the book, Burkeman states that the average life span of a person lasts around 4000 weeks, roughly to about the age of 80. With this finite perspective in place, a person can tackle the challenge of determining what is most important to them.

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short,” he writes. Given this limitation, it makes sense that the typical approach to time management is to seek ways to cram ever more into our finite number of days.

But Burkeman argues that this is the wrong way to manage time. Rather than looking outward to productivity strategies and hacks, Four Thousand Weeks encourages an inner shift in perspective. It confronts a series of comforting illusions that many of us hold onto instead of internalizing colder truths: that we will die not having done a tremendous number of things we care about; that every commitment we make to a person, place, or line of work rules out countless others that may fulfill us; that our lives are already ticking away.

Later in the article, Burkeman makes a statement that seems to sum up his philosophy.

The only way to get around to the important things is: Instead of trying to eradicate all the other stuff, [make progress] on the important stuff first. You just have to let the other chips fall where they will.

Read the full interview on The Atlantic web site.

Think Like a Scientist

The world is full of disagreement. Throughout our lives we encounter people who have different views from us on a wide range of topics. In some cases, these views may be held very intensely, leading to arguments, conflict, and at worst violence. If you have ever tried to change people’s minds, it can appear to be a futile process. Why is that so?

According to Adam Grant, part of the reason that disagreements are rarely resolved is because people don’t know how to engage in thoughtful debate. He argues in his new book, Think Again, that most people fall to one of three default modes of persuasion. In a recent article in Inc. magazine, contributor Jessica Stillman describes these modes this way:

Adam Grant

Preacher: “When we’re in preacher mode, we’re convinced we’re right,” explained Grant. From the salesman to the clergyman, this is the style you use when you’re trying to persuade others to your way of thinking.

Prosecutor: “When we’re in prosecutor mode, we’re trying to prove someone else wrong,” he continued.

Politician: It’s no shock that “when we’re in politician mode, we’re trying to win the approval of our audience.”

The problem with all three of these modes is that they rarely succeed in changing other person’s mind. In fact, they often create more resistance. Instead, Grant identifies a different approach to resolving disagreements.

Scientist: When you think like a scientist, “you favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction,” Grant explained. “You look for reasons why you might be wrong; not just reasons why you must be right.”

This mode is challenging because it requires the maturity to accept that their position could be wrong. This vulnerability can become a bridge to connect people in a way that allows for understanding. To learn more, I invite you read Stillman’s article. If you want to dive deeper, please read Grant’s book, Think Again.

Critical Thinking – The Smart Thing to Do

Have you ever known someone who was very intelligent, yet made dumb mistakes? Take the story of Jonah Lehrer. He was an up and coming New York Times journalist whose career collapsed after a plagiarism scandal. Then it was discovered he fabricated quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan then lied about the source. All around the world smart people fall for scams, conspiracies, and tricks. It seems that having a PhD, membership in Mensa, or honored credentials from prestigious organizations does not prevent foolishness.

Scientific American journalist Heather A. Butler explored the intersection of intelligence and decision making in an article titled Why Do Smart People Do Foolish Things? In it, she points out that intelligence is not about being wise.

The most widely known measure of intelligence is the intelligence quotient, more commonly known as the IQ test, which includes visuospatial puzzles, math problems, pattern recognition, vocabulary questions and visual searches.

Image from Pixabay.com

Butler contrasts it to the skill of critical thinking.

Though often confused with intelligence, critical thinking is not intelligence. Critical thinking is a collection of cognitive skills that allow us to think rationally in a goal-orientated fashion and a disposition to use those skills when appropriate. Critical thinkers are amiable skeptics. They are flexible thinkers who require evidence to support their beliefs and recognize fallacious attempts to persuade them. Critical thinking means overcoming all kinds of cognitive biases (for instance, hindsight bias or confirmation bias).

Butler goes on to share why it is important to understand the difference since it is hard to increase intelligence, but one can train to improve critical thinking skills. Read her article to learn more.