On Chasing the Right “Zero”

As usual Merlin Mann is spot on. Rather than trying to attain the arbitrary goals espoused by productivity “gurus” (bit of irony here, as many would consider Mann to be one, but I am referring to folks like Ferris and Allen), we should focus on actions that enable us to do the work that we love. Productivity should focus on being productive in the generative sense—creating. Too often productivity turns into being good at being busy, doing many necessary but meaningless tasks and never producing, generating, creating. I’ve found that the key to gaining anything useful from time management tools or philosophies or systems like Inbox Zero is to keep in mind two important things. First, they are tools and thus should be used towards creating or repairing. In this case, their purpose is to assist me in managing all of the competing interests making demands on my time and energy thus opening up more time and resources for doing work that matters. They are not an end but a means to an end. I say this because it is all too easy to get caught up in the pleasures of accomplishing tasks and (if you’re a geek like me) playing with the toys ehrr, uhm tools of productivity and GTD. This brings me to my second point: don’t let productivity become a substitute for being unproductive. In other words, sometimes engaging in the work you truly love and care about is terrifying and when you finally break down the barriers between yourself and that work, giving you unfettered access, the freedom turns to fear. It’s easy to obsess over perfecting your productivity techniques or getting every single thing done to the extent that you avoid actually doing the work that you love. Sure it sounds counterintuitive, but love makes us do the whacky. And, as it turns out, that bit of Buffy philosophy holds true for platonic as well as romantic love. So, there you have it. I have a pretty intense digital workflow these days and I’m definitely using some fancy toy/tools but at least these days I’m pretty sure I’m chasing the right zero.


Not to be all “Merlin Mann” or anything, but, maybe somebody will find this useful.

I was recently asked to talk about how I think about the infamous Inbox Zero these days, and here’s what I said:

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