Inbox Zero, Dead Oxen, and Focusing on WIAT.

I’ve been reading and learning a lot lately about productivity in an effort to improve several personal and professional habits. I’ve learned a lot of useful things, including one concept called “inbox zero”– getting to the point where you have no emails in your inbox because everything’s been addressed or filed. For cubicle cowboys like me, this is a daily gauntlet to be thrown down and taken up.

However, as I’ve recently kicked my daily work output up several notches, I’ve discovered that there’s a dangerous temptation in my daily pursuit of “inbox zero”–the dead-oxen dilemma.
Here’s what I mean. In Proverbs 14:4, Solomon writes this:
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
In other words, it’s easy to keep a clean barn when you have dead oxen–but you won’t get anything done. So if you want to bring in a harvest, you’ll have to shovel some mess.  To translate this into my current work context: the price of productivity is that more emails come in, more projects are given to you, and more people call you. And that’s where the temptation comes in. If I don’t take on new projects or look for ways to innovate or to improve my processes, there’s a chance I won’t get the new slew of emails and requests and assignments that go along with taking initiative. I have a better chance of catching the elusive “inbox zero” if I don’t take on these responsibilities. In the twisted logic of a procrastinator, the endgame isn’t completing more work, it’s avoiding being handed more work in the first place.
For too long, I think my subconscious goal at work was to become invisible, so that people would leave me alone. I would bumble along at my own pace, do enough to get by, and try to avoid extra stress and hassle. And guess what? It didn’t work. Even if I didn’t take on new projects as quickly or frequently as I should have, I still had all the stress and frustration I was working so hard to avoid by not working very hard.

So as my perspective on work has been shifting lately to a more proactive and aggressive (in the proper sense) stance, my goal has shifted. I’ve stopped seeking to be left alone. I’ve even stopped chasing Inbox Zero. Now, my focus at work every day is on WIAT (in my head, it sounds like “Wyatt”).

Every day, I create a draft email with the subject line reading “WIAT” and the date. And in that email, throughout the day, I make a note of everything I’ve gotten done. Projects finished, projects started, emails sent. Anything that’s actual work in my job goes into the email marked “WIAT”: What I Accomplished Today. At the end of the day, I send the email to myself and store it in a folder on my computer. No one else may ever see the emails. But I see them. And like tracking calories or living by a budget, I am now a bit more accountable to myself. I see when my work ethic lags, and it keeps me motivated to stay on task.

My goal at work isn’t to have a clean-but-empty barn. My goal is to work hard and produce a harvest. An empty barn only serves my own interests. But if I’m looking to the interests of others, I’ll volunteer for more, take on new responsibilities, and seek to pour myself and be a blessing to the people around me and those who depend on the service I provide.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to pick up my shovel and get to it.

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