Processing to Zero
September 5, 2011 3 Comments
One of the most important concepts of GTD is processing and when you are processing it is critical you process to zero. What do I mean by processing to zero? It simply means you completely clean out the input queue. There are huge psychological benefits to getting to zero that are not realized if you leave even a few things in your input queue.
What are input queues? The most obvious examples are your email inbox and an inbox that sits on your desk. They are collection areas for inputs that you do not control. People email you and you have little control over how much email you get, how often people email you or what they email you about. I will have a future post dedicated to email and how to most effectively deal with this modern day time sync but for now it is just one of many input queues that you need to process to zero.
Some examples of other input queues are RSS feeds, Twitter Feeds, SMS texts, phone calls or possibly some kind of online system like Helpdesk Tickets or ERP approvals that you are responsible for dealing with or approving. It really does not matter what kind of input queue it is if you are responsible for it then you need to process it to zero.
There is a good body of science that shows multitasking is very inefficient. The reason for this is depending on what type of job you are doing once you context switch from one context to another it can take anywhere from a few minutes up to 15 minutes for the brain to fully context switch back to the original activity. This is one of the worst effects of the always on, always connected world we live in.
The worst offender of this time suck is the pop-up “toast” or audible chime alerting you to a new email. We can’t help ourselves and we feel compelled to check the email just to see if it is important – after all it will only take a second.
Immediately turn off “email toast” to stop sucking away your productivity!
The best practice for dealing with input queues is to schedule uninterrupted time several times a day to process your queues. I schedule four half hour blocks of time on my calendar to process the three main queues in my life – inbox on my desk, my email inbox and the phone calls I need to make. I put “process email/inbox/calls” on my calendar early in the morning, in the late morning before lunch, immediately after lunch, and then again in the late afternoon before I leave for the day.
I use RSS feeds in order to keep up on all the things I need to know and I use the combination of Google Reader and Feedler Pro on my iPad at the gym to process my RSS feeds to zero. When doing cardio, I listen to up tempo music on my iPhone to motivate me to keep my heart rate up in the fat burning zone and process all my feeds to zero. It is a wonderful way to keep up with all the changes in the world and workout at the same time.
This will be difficult thing for you to do if you are not accustomed to processing your input queues in uninterrupted batches of time. I have heard all the objections to this approach but trust me there is real science to this as the optimal way to be productive and you will have higher quality outputs in less time. Pretty hard to argue with if you’re really objective.