Habit forming

Somehow, without trying at all, I have achieved Inbox Zero for both my work and personal email. I’ve had my personal email under control for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed at any job to have clear work email. I know why–at my previous jobs I’ve always been a student as well, so it’s been used for personal items as well. But wait, it gets better! My apartment has also been ending each day being tidy (or at least tidy enough for my personal standards). This parallel existence of neatness on several planes has a marvelously calming effect, though it doesn’t seem to have any effect on my motivation other than a general sense of “You Can Do It!”

Here’s how I did it: I stopped trusting myself. When I first started my job, I didn’t trust myself, and set up as many folders as I thought I would need ahead of time. That made it easy to keep filing messages. I even put “Process email” as a once weekly recurring event in my to-do list. But then, in a moment of self-trust, I deleted that. “Oh, I’ll remember to do it.” No, I won’t. The reminder to process my email now occurs every work-day in my to-do list.

Same thing happened with my apartment. For a long time, I had set myself the task of making sure a room was de-cluttered once a week. I trusted myself to keep things reasonably picked up throughout the rest of the week. As time went by, I moved the tasks closer and closer together, until I was supposed to be de-cluttering every three days. So the other day I stopped trusting myself, and I started reminding myself to tidy the apartment for 10-20 minutes every single day. It usually only takes 10 minutes, and has forced me to not let things pile up.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve seen “No new mail! Want to read updates from your favorite sites? Try Google Reader” in your email, you might want to give this a try as well.