Inbox Zero: My Secret Weapon For Making Other People Happy

May 6, 2014
"Inbox Zero" merit badge from Nerd Merit Badges

“Inbox Zero” merit badge from Nerd Merit Badges

The internship candidate on the other side of the Skype conversation came armed with a pile of thoughtful and unique questions, which I love. When I’m judging the employment potential of an entry-level candidate with little or no professional experience, his or her ability to carry an intelligent, stimulating conversation is one of my key criteria.

Unsolicited advice from this expert panel of one: Just as with your cover letter or your “video résumé” or your writing test, if you don’t show some personality and some spark, don’t bother.

She caught my attention with a question that referred to something in my long-forgotten bio page. “You said something about finding ways to make people happy. I’d love you hear a little about how you do that or what you meant by that.”

Step One: Remember the little things.

Ask people how their weekend was and, yes, actually listen to the answer. Remember their kids’ names. Liberally dispense high-fives and other appropriate accolades for even the littlest of victories. When the office organizer sends an all-staff email asking for ideas for an upcoming get-together, take a second and respond with ideas. No, you are not too busy.

That’s really it. Just one step. Oh, there are plenty of other ways to make people happy. Buying gifts. Handing out year-end bonuses. Proposing marriage. Et cetera. But I’m pretty sure what I had in mind when I wrote the bio line in question was Step One, the little things.

This isn’t rocket surgery, people.

I lied a little bit, though: Step One has a crucial prerequisite. You can’t do it if you don’t have your own act together. If you’re stressed out or disorganized or generally unpleasant, it ain’t gonna be easy to spread the joy.

In comes my own little crusade to banish busyness. (Maybe I’ll go with Banish Busyness™.) Achieve and maintain “inbox zero.” Make a to-do list that’s useful rather than a guilt-slinging burden. Say “yes” to friends and family and coffee meetings and networking lunches and volunteering. Learn when to say “no” to things that take away from what’s important. Know what’s important. This all helps preserve your precious time and energy for what really matters.

No, you are not too busy.

Far too many people wear the “I’m too busy” burden as a badge of honor. Sure, some people really are incredibly busy – in good ways and bad. But more often than not, “I’m too busy” is a cop-out disguised as a humblebrag with a hint of cry for help.

Don’t forget the little things. Spread some joy.


[photo courtesy of fixedgear on Flickr]