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Maintain your mental inbox

The inbox in your mind is far more important than the one on your screen.

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It’s no secret that the screen is becoming almost human-like. It increasingly feels that we are not working on a computer or on our phones – rather, it feels that we are working with our screens.  My screen is my best friend.

But remember that your phone is a tool – and that you are using it and it is not using you.

I’ve loved all the new apps and productivity strategies I’ve put on my phone. My life has been as such: Check inbox 1, check inbox 2, check inbox 3 – answer, live, report, write and repeat. We are just doing, doing, doing with very little stopping and contemplating.

But the more I keep checking my phone, the more my eyes and my mind keep being strained, and drained. Today, at this moment, I am at full mental capacity and don’t think I can handle more information. At least not effectively.

My day: Write about Nike. Write an article about Target and politics. Interview a Chicago startup entrepreneur. Go rafting on the Chicago River for a video project (yes, I am rafting with a professional grade camera). All by 4 pm – it’s go, go, go. And that’s fine with me.

But shifting mind sets is not always easy, especially when my mind is always stuck to my phone contemplating the things I have to do next and e-mailing people back – the meetings I have to set up for tomorrow, the things I promised I’d do for other people, answering job prospects. Life is good in that way, but I’m also dropping the ball because I can’t give any of these people the attention they deserve.

And speaking of attention, the clutter of my inbox has distracted me from the attention I should be paying to the people walking in and out of my life each day.

One of my classmates just approached me and as she was speaking, I could not pay a drop of attention. I was thinking of what I had to do next. It’s not that I didn’t want to listen, I did. And when I leave Medill she’s someone I know I’ll continue to respect and admire. But I was just so overwhelmed by my attachments.

My physical inbox is keeping me from living in the moment, I recognized.  So when you find yourself attached to your inbox, take a step back. Stop doing, and contemplate. Absorb the moment you’re in, and observe what is around you. Innovation is found in these moments of contemplation.

This is why I took time off from deadline to write to you – to contemplate – to step back and remember that life isn’t all about Nike, the subject of my story today, which ironically pushes you to “Just Do It” while I’m telling you to “Just Stop for a Second.”

Take a minute to listen to your friend or the person you’re interviewing a bit more deeply. You can’t do anything right if you can’t live in the moment.

If you notice your mental inbox getting close to 80 percent full, take time off to breathe, because you need that 20 percent to contemplate.

It’s equivalent idea to using 80 percent of your time to research and absorb, and 20 percent of your time to think and create and transform your findings into something new – because if you notice your inbox filling up, it’s because you’re storing too much information, and you need to let some of it go.

Sometimes it’s hard to detach from our inboxes, the ones on our phones and the ones in our minds. But remember that you’re in control of your own life – and there are times that you leave your inbox to create new things to write and communicate about – to write less, and live more.

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