One of the things Discovery’s Kathy Schrock talked about in her recent presentation Score! Winning Strategies to Conquer Information Overload at the CECA /CASL 09 Conference was the concept of of gaining control and organizing your electronic life. In a cross between Schrock inspiration and a “this is just ridculous” moment last weekend I started implementing her first strategy, a two week assessment of what is hitting the inbox.
Truth be told this is not entirely new ground for me. A couple of summers ago I ran across several blog posts for educational leadership where practitioners were talking about ways to sift and sort and manage the flow of information that seems to hit us like water from a fire hose at times. Effective leaders it seemed had uncanny skill or developed systems to manage information that came to them, take an action, and move that information onto the next step in the chain. Now if that makes our jobs as teachers (and really aren’t we just middle management knowledge workers in an information economy?) sound too cold and Code Monkey-ish, consider the opposite. Have you ever had an idea or problem or information that you pushed along the chain (either up or down) and seen it pass into the great void of the waters of oblivion because of the crush of information overload? Makes you feel special doesn’t it?
My summer reading led me to the work of David Allen and Getting Things Done (GTD) which I listened to as an audio book. I found that the GTD stuff really resonated with me and seemed to speak to where I was in my personal and professional life. The two concepts that stuck were, you will fall off the wagon and return back to the material to rethink your information strategies and the difference between the mental energy needed to keep all the balls in the air when things are chaotic and the tranquility of what Allen calls “a mind like water” when you feel you have a handle on things. I come back to these ideas because I tend to fall off the wagon quickly and I enjoy tranquility. I think that is why Kathy Schrock’s message hit home in her presentation. She presented her journey to electronic sanity which followed many of the GTD principles. It was time for me to get back on the wagon.
An hour or two of hacking and chopping a way at the home email box (thankfully the Patriots were on a bye week) and I found that what Kathy said was correct. I could see patterns in my email life and it was easy to use filters and rules to chunk things together and move things around. I still have a bunch of things I need to sort out (Will 2010 be the year that I go completely Google? Jott versus Remember the Milk?) but getting to Inbox Zero everyday is now no more that a five minute task, and I am doing very well in phase one.
One of the things that I ran across in cleaning was a link to Merlin Mann and his 43 Folders website. What Merlin said about email helped me in rethinking my email. 43 Folders is a GTD concept that I will let you discover on your own. Merlin is devotee but has gone above and beyond in his own wonderful way. His web site tag line says – “43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about ?nding the time and attention to do your best creative work”. Below is an embedded video that is Merlin’s initial presentation about Inbox Zero in July of 2007 (as a Tech Talk at Google no less). The video can be found several places on the Internet but I found this version on Vcasmo – which looks like it allows a video in one frame and your slides on the other. Merlin’s techniques for becoming an Inbox Ninja are great!
Steve Sokoloski (follow me on Twitter – stevesoko)