Like many people, I struggle with managing the massive amount of information we are expected to process daily. And, also like many people, one of the places where this is most obvious is my email inbox.
I am pretty good at reading my email but I am not very good at answering it. I could give you a long list of reasons… I’m waiting until I can send a more thoughtful response than I could manage right now… I’m waiting for some additional information so I can give a full and accurate response. I’m waiting until I am back at my desk so I don’t have to respond using the tiny keyboard on my smart phone… The list goes on. Meanwhile, the unanswered mail scrolls off the page and, as they say, out of sight, out of mind.
I wish it wasn’t this way. Just over a year ago, during the allegedly slower time of summer, I took some time to rearrange how I filtered my email in hopes of some improvement. It got worse. Last month, I switched back to the old way – mostly. I have done lots of thinking about the challenges. People have made helpful suggestions. However, as with so many things, different solutions fit different people. I’m still searching for mine.
Meanwhile, this morning, seeing a couple of big chunks of time on either side of the interfaith lunch I was attending, I decided to try to power my way through some of the backlog. In the back of my mind, I was a little curious to see how many days of backlog I could work through in a concentrated period if I could just stay focused.
If I could just stay focused. This, I knew, was the key. I read an email. To dispense with it, I switch to my calendar to schedule the event. Seeing my calendar reminds me of a report that’s due so I open that document thinking that the report was almost done and can just be sent off. But, no! I was waiting on information which I realize I should have asked for at last night’s meeting. This, in turn, reminds me that I promised to send some info to the folks after the meeting. I’ll just look up the info before I send the email asking my question. That will be efficient because I’ll do two things with one email. Looking up the information involves opening an internet browser, and well, you can take it from there.
Today, I was determined to do better. I would stay focused.
I don’t know why today was different but it was. I think I got the inbox cleared for the last 22 hours, which is still, I realize, a net loss. What was different was that it wasn’t as painful as usual. This was, in part, because I was so amused.
For whatever reason, I was very aware of what I was doing as I was doing it. Somewhat like one part of my brain was watching another part of my brain. (This, by the way, happens when I am preaching. There is a little voice giving a running commentary… you mispronounced that word… look at the clock, you’re running over… stop talking so fast… you really should have included the story about the polar bear, it’s much better than the one you are telling right now… all of which can be very annoying at times. But, I digress.)
Today, while slogging my way through the inbox, I watched myself start down one twisted path after another. The good part of this was that I caught myself sooner than usual. The better part was that by mid-afternoon it was causing me to laugh – right out loud – all alone in my office. It was just amazing how, despite my very best intentions, my mind had a mind of its own.
I will give my meditation practice, ragged as it is, some credit for this ability to watch the workings of my mind. When we intentionally practice being aware of our breath, of our body, of our thoughts, we take that awareness with us into the rest of life. Today, that was very handy.
Lots of times, I am frustrated by the wanderings of my mind and the consequences of that wandering. Today, however, I was amused. It was like watching a comedy routine all afternoon. Connecting what I was experiencing with what I know about the mind from meditation practice made me more compassionate – about my mind and about my own humanity. This made the whole day more pleasant and even kept me at the task longer – even if there is more to do.
The result is that I find I am not dreading getting back to the task tomorrow. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. It makes me chuckle just to think about it.
I hope this new perspective will ultimately yield more results than just amusing me. In the meantime, if you are waiting on an email reply from me, I suppose you could just keep waiting, but I’ll give you another option. If you resend your email and just add a smiley face 😉 to the front of it, I’ll know you are waiting on me. This will spare you having to delicately word an “I know you’re busy and I hope I’m not pestering” kind of message. In return, I’ll do my best to stay focused while I reply!