• Jon Saft

It doesn't have to be crazy at work

A couple of years ago, I made a decision. For years, I had been a classic startup firefighter, jumping from client emergency to client emergency, squashing problems wherever I could find them.

But one day, I made a decision to stop fighting fires. Instead of jumping from crisis to crisis, I started planning my days and weeks with intention, and I quickly found that my productivity soared, my anxiety plummeted, and somehow clients still had their emergencies resolved in a timely manner.

For many of us working at startups, in sales positions, or really in any job with a demanding boss, we feel the pressure to constantly be on call. In reality though, with very few exceptions, tasks are very rarely URGENT (despite what their subject line might say).

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of Basecamp, wrote a book called It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work in which they outline many great processes, rules, and guidelines to create a productive organization with healthy levels of stress and pressure.

I subscribe to many of their suggestions, but have also come up with a couple others that can be easily applied to your daily life without any organizational shifts.

1. Stop "marking as unread"

Marking an email as "unread" is an easy way to push off a task that doesn't deserve your attention now, but should be addressed at some point.

The problem with letting your inbox fill up with these types of reminders, however, is that it can get out of hand very quickly. All of a sudden, you have hundreds of unread emails and no idea where to start.

As the unreads continue to pile up, your inbox becomes a to-do list that other people have created for you, and you feel completely powerless to control it. On the other hand, if you avoid the dreaded "mark as unread" and instead copy the subject line into your Quatro, your inbox stays at a manageable level and Quatro's prioritization formula will make sure you get back to it when the time is right.

2. Stop leaving browser tabs open

If you are reading this blog post right now and your browser window looks like this, you might have a bit of a problem

It's an easy trap to fall into. You start reading an interesting blog post, then get pulled into something else, so you leave it open so you remember to come back to it. Then you open a Jira ticket, then check a Tableau dashboard, then go check your calendar, then open the Google doc in your next meeting's calendar description...

Next thing you know, you have 20 tabs open, and 3 of them are actually the same Google doc. Where are you supposed to start?

Just like our inbox, Quatro's prioritization formula can help. For every open tab symbolizing something you need to come back to later, copy and paste the link into your Quatro and come back to it when it makes sense.

3. Definitely stop leaving your Email tab open

I used to keep my email open at all times. Every time I saw that little inbox (number) go up, my anxiety would go up with it and I would have to stop what I was doing to check. And I am not alone. According to Harvard Business Review, the average working professional checks their email 15 times per day, or once every 37 minutes, which has an incredibly powerful impact when you realize that it can take people up to 23 minutes to recover focus after an interruption like that.

To maintain that focus, create a plan. Depending on the type of job, that plan can vary, but a good starting point is 30 minutes to clear out messages, 3 times a day (once to start your day, once after lunch, and once before shutting down for the day).

4. Turn off Slack and email mobile notifications

Once you have closed the email tab from your browser, the next step is removing it from your phone's home screen. After the email notifications are gone, just keep cleansing and rid yourself of the Slack notifications. It might be scary at first, but I promise you, nothing is really that urgent.


With these simple steps, you'll be amazed at how much more you'll be able to focus, how much less anxious you'll feel, and how much more you'll get done. Above all else, the most shocking result will be how little anyone else notices the slight delay in response time. Apparently, the whole world isn't sitting by their computer waiting for me to respond.

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