Declaring Digital Bankruptcy

I’ve spent the last five days declaring digital bankruptcy. Here was the situation:

  • 65 draft emails
  • 120 unread emails
  • Desktops buried in icons on three separate machines
  • Ten unfinished blog posts
  • Over a dozen projects “in process”

I had a problem. As a true believer in Kanban, I realized my work in progress (WIP) was out of control. I had no WIP limit. And since I wasn’t visualizing my work in progress, I didn’t clearly see my problem until today. I was allowing whatever caught my attention that day to distract me away from my #1 priority (not that I was totally clear what my priority was anyway!).

If you don’t have any goals, what are you doing with your time?
Jeff Blankenburg – You Have Too Much Time

Crawling Out of Bankruptcy

My first step in declaring digital bankruptcy was to showcase the problem by visualizing my work in progress. I reached for Trello. I created a board containing all my current side projects. Then I began dragging all the tasks around so that they were in order of priority. This visualized the simple problem: My work in progress was out of control.

Trello Board
Just a portion of my out of control WIP – Visualized via Trello

At work I understand the benefits of limiting work in progress, and we use a Kanban board to visualize our flow. But I’d never used this technique in my personal life. A feeling of overwhelm and a lack of focus were the result. Now I could see the mountain I’d created for myself. After prioritizing, I could start ignoring the length of the list and instead, start focusing diligently on the current project in progress.

Brain Dumps in Gmail Drafts

Next it was time to address my email. For years I’ve used Gmail drafts as a quick initial dumping ground for all thoughts. Others prefer physical notebooks, OneNote, or Evernote for quick brain dumps. These tools are useful, but I prefer simply starting a draft in Gmail to get ideas quickly out of my head on the go. Why Gmail drafts? Well, it works offline, requires two quick clicks to access on both my phone and PCs, and most importantly, it doesn’t require the overhead of considering a proper title and tags like Evernote, OneNote, or alternative notebook and filing schemes. Plus, since drafts are centralized and (intended to be) fleeting, I know I’ll get back to the list of drafts and move it to the proper location later when I’m batch processing my thoughts with an organization mindset. My drafts ultimately end up in one or more notes in Evernote, my calendar, my list of quotes, my document of conference session summaries, or are added to some existing PowerPoint presentation. The point is:

You need an ultra-low friction place to dump ideas and notes immediately. Consider where the note belongs at a later time.

A few brain dumps sitting in Gmail drafts, awaiting triage.
A few brain dumps sitting in Gmail drafts, awaiting triage.

This approach is generally working great for me because good ideas aren’t getting lost. However, I was letting dozens of drafts pile up. As part of my digital bankruptcy, I fought my way back to not just Inbox zero, but Draft zero as well. I’m still a firm believer in using drafts for this (admittedly odd) purpose, but I’ve found it’s important to triage the drafts and move the thoughts to their proper place on a more regular basis. I’ve found weekly works well for me. Do you have another way you quickly log ideas, notes, quotes, etc? I’d love to hear what you use! Please chime in via the comments.

Buried Under Subscriptions

I was reading over half a dozen emails on any given day from various reading lists for which I’d subscribed. This was a problem I didn’t even recognize existed until I started working toward the goal of inbox zero. I was drowning in links to great content. And that was a huge problem. If you spend all your time consuming greatness, you’ll never find the time to produce your own. Tweet this Tweet this

I had to accept that I’d never have the time to keep up with all the great resources I respect. It really was an epic list:

  1. Seth Godin
  2. Farnam Street
  3. Pat Flynn
  4. Uncle Bob’s Clean Code
  5. Encosia
  6. Jeff Atwood
  7. Derick Bailey
  8. Mike Swanson
  9. Noah Kagan
  10. Justin Jackson
  11. Fidelity investments
  12. The Ladders
  13. Jonathan Fields
  14. Aweber
  15. Salary.com Career advice
  16. List goes on…

And this isn’t considering Twitter and the long list of items I’d saved for reading later via Pocket as well! I had way too much inflow, and it was absolutely killing my outflow.

The problem isn’t lack of content. The problem is lack of focus. To increase your production, you must reduce your consumption. Tweet this Tweet this

Based on my subscriptions, I was striving to become a thoughtful marketer, an expert Web Developer and clean coder, a brainiac, a master investor, a mailing list manager, job hunter, career optimizer, life hacker, and entrepreneur. All at the same time?! I was drowning. It was time to find my focus.

Only free time, imagination, creativity, and an ability to disappear will help you deliver value that nobody ever delivered before in the history of mankind.
James Altucher

So I’ve unsubscribed from some of these lists. Not all, but some. I suggest you do some hard thinking as well. And yes, I recognize I may be suggesting that you unsubscribe from outlierdeveloper.com! If you’re not getting enough value to justify your time than I absolutely suggest that you do! Life is short. Cut the noise and focus so you can make your own impact. My goal with this blog is to help you do just that, but if it’s not resonating with you, then no hard feelings!

Demand Life-Changing Media

Is there a term for someone with 24 tabs open browsing Twitter for something to read? Yep. Ineffective. (And I’ve been guilty of this behavior many times).

In “Becoming an Outlier” I suggest searching for life-changing media. And indeed all the lists above are potentially life changing. But in very different ways. Consider the potential impact of each type of media on your life. Here’s my take in order of positive life impact for me:

  1. Book
  2. Video based training
  3. Audiobook
  4. Article/blog/newsletter
  5. Podcast
  6. Broadcast Radio
  7. Cable TV

What’s interesting is the lower impact media is what we typically consume by default. If you want to radically change your life, default to grabbing a book instead of the remote.

Finally, regardless of what media you choose, the amount of media we’re consuming is out of control. According to Neilsen, the average American adult spends 11 hours per day with electronic media. How are we supposed to find time to ship anything? You have the power to radically cut this number. And if you want to be an Outlier, you must.

2 thoughts on “Declaring Digital Bankruptcy

  1. What a great post! I identified very much with it. I do like your drafts approach, and when am I going to realize that I will not have time “later” to read this and that! Thanks!

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