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How to worry about everything (and nothing)

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 05:26:42 GMT

Worry - To feel uneasy or concerned about something.

In my last post I wrote about managing your e-mail inbox (in the narrow sense) and, more broadly, managing your work and commitments. I ended that last post with this quote: "If you worry about everything, then you don't have to worry about anything." At least one reader suggested that I owed them an explanation and so here it is.

You'll recall that I challenged you (and me) to get our e-mail inboxes empty at least once per week in a systematic way, as follows:
Go through you inbox one message at a time and ask yourself "Is there an action required?"

If the answer is "No", then either delete as trash, file it elsewhere for later reference or file it in your "great things I'd like to do someday but don't know when" folder. Be ruthless.

 If the answer is "Yes" then answer the question "what's the very next action required?" and one of the following four things happens to it

·         If you can take the needed action in 2 minutes, do it now and either delete the e-mail or file it in another folder for later reference.

·         If somebody else needs to do what's needed, forward it and delegate

·         If you need to act on it on a specific day or day and time (e.g., a meeting) put it on your calendar

·         If you need to act on it but it's not time or day specific, put it on your task list. By the way, if it's really a project (i.e., has multiple steps) put it on your task list as a project and just note the very next step.

You're done! Everything that was in your inbox is now in the trash, filed for later reference, delegated to someone else, on your calendar or on your task list.

What you just did was, at least for the contents of your inbox, to “worry” about each item for a short amount of time in a systematic way. You made a conscious decision about each item and put it where it belongs – in the trash, in a folder for later retrieval, on your calendar or on your task list. In fact, you just did something even cleverer – you took things out of your head and put them into a trusted system. For many of us, this simple act frees the mind to focus on the “bird” (task) in hand rather than the dozen or more “in the bush” (still to be done).

The thoughtful skeptics among you might be forgiven if you are thinking “How does taking something out of my inbox and putting on a task list really free up my mind?” The answer lies in what you do with the contents of your task list and the other things that are on our minds but not in the e-mail inbox. I’ll talk about that next time when I define the “everything” in “worry about everything”.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due Department: Many of the concepts and ideas mentioned here are things I’ve learned from years of trying to perfect my implementation of a methodology invented by David Allen called “Getting Things Done” or GTD. You can learn more at

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