Can we ever finish every little task, and should we even try
I like, in a very adolescent way, riding the light rail. I love trains (I know, these are technically not trains, but rather “light rail vehicles,” but they make Casio keyboard-style whistle and bell noises so SHUT UP). I like looking out the window and watching the buildings, cars, and trees go by. I like listening to bits of conversation drift in and out of earshot.
The light rail line that’s in place now hasn’t changed much since it opened in 2007. I have. Between then and now, I went and got a smartphone. So now, instead of watching, listening, and enjoying, I peck away at my phone while listening to music through my earbuds. It’s no longer a time to enjoy. It’s a time to get caught up. Send texts. Listen to podcasts. Check e-mails.
Which brings me to a term I’d like for you to try on for size: Life Zero. Perhaps you’ve heard of Inbox Zero. It’s when you finally read or delete all of the e-mail in your inbox. It just means somehow, for a brief moment, you’ve accomplished everything you need to accomplish, e-mail-wise—until a few minutes later when the next one arrives. It’s a state of office Zen. Or, at least, a way to keep a flood of messages from overwhelming you.
I work at a place where 100 e-mails arriving in a day qualifies as a slow day, so I don’t think I’ve ever truly achieved Inbox Zero. And neither, for that matter, have I been able to truly hit Life Zero, where I have cleaned every project, errand, or chore off my plate. I approached it once this year. There was a period of about 20 minutes or so one morning when I was sitting on my couch before work. I hit ‘send’ on a bunch of stories. At that moment, I had no upcoming deadlines. My projects were all complete. There were no groceries to pick up. The house was clean. This is nice, I thought. I took a deep breath. I finished my coffee. Then I got in my car and drove to my wife’s doctor appointment, at which time they said that she was going to give birth within the next 24 hours.
So yes, you can achieve Inbox Zero. But Life Zero? The ability just to clear out all of the stuff that piles up and live in the now? Is that possible?
It’s not, and I don’t want it to be. By definition, achieving Inbox Zero or Life Zero means chipping away at things without really looking at the larger picture. Inbox Zero might work for you, but living life bit-by-bit is nearsighted. Something always comes up. Achieving Life Zero is fleeting. You have a whole life to live. Might as well try to live it all.
Funny thing about the light rail: A lot of the people who didn’t want it to be built saw it as merely a series of stations connected by rails and wires. But over time, the thing the planners said would happen has come to pass. Today, there are apartments, shops, and people all along the track—you can see it all now if you take a minute, look up from your phone, and just stare out the window.