Back in the winter of 1976, a low-budget boxing movie came out of nowhere to take the world by storm and win the Academy Award for best picture. You’ll have guessed by now that it was ‘Rocky’, and for this 13 year-old boy it was huge. Epic. Transformational.
I pretty much immediately raided my meagre savings and bought a speed bag, some boxing gloves, and a skipping rope. For the better part of two years, my poor parents put up with an incessant thumping from the basement.
I got fit, I got fast, I got good. I think I even managed a one-armed pushup. Then, I got hit squarely in the head in sparring – and decided there was definitely something less concussive that the Great Canadian Hope should direct his talents at.
Still, between starting to train and moving on to something less dangerous for a young brain, I learned about the difference between a KO and a TKO.
Basically, the difference is that in a KO – or knock out – you (or preferably your opponent) are knocked to the canvas, and don’t make it back up inside of a 10 count; in a TKO (or technical knock out), the referee makes the call that – despite you (or – again – better if it’s the other guy/gal) still being upright – you are in danger of sustaining (even more) substantial damage if you continue, and he declares the fight over, by TKO.
Strange but true, I’m finding this distinction to be a helpful one in my inbox these days. As my responsibilities have increased, so has my volume, and it is ever less likely that I actually totally clear it out down to zero on a daily basis. I’ve found that pursuing that goal in the middle of the week can actually be counter-productive, as new things keep dropping in and I keep trying to clear them out again rather than getting on to more important things that are not simply the last thing in my inbox. Winning by KO every day is less and less likely. It is also not actually what we are proposing you do, though it is a very seductive distraction.
Fortunately, though a totally clear inbox might often be out of reach, I can still win by TKO. How does that work? Well, I just pick a time – 10am is as good as 2pm or 6pm – and make that my cut off. Before that time, I’m clearing everything out. After that time, I’m leaving myself 24 hours to process it and get it to where it is going in the system.
This allows me to do what we are actually proposing that people do in their inboxes (clearing them every 24-48 hours), while freeing me up to say – at some point – ‘that is enough processing of new things for today, I’m going to work on my lists for a while’.
Practically speaking, it is not that I’m not looking at e-mails after that time, but I’m doing what we’d call ‘emergency scanning’ (checking that nothing is blowing up) rather than actually thinking things through and putting the results of my thinking where they belong.
This has at least two benefits:
1. I give myself permission to process when I’m fresh again, rather than trying to push through with a brain that is punch drunk at the end of the day. My experience of processing while punch drunk is that I often am just pushing ‘stuff’ around in my system, rather than really thinking things through
2. Sometimes, if things are left to their own devices, they sort of punch themselves out and the issue has taken care of itself by the next day.
About once a week I like to lay my inbox out flat on its back, just to show myself that I can, but the rest of the time I’m perfectly happy to just land a few good shots and get it staggering around the ring so I can move on to other things.
KO or TKO, I’ll take my wins where I can. And I still love a good sprint to the top of the steps for a celebratory arm-waving Rocky dance when I do. Metaphorically speaking, of course.