Zen & The Art of Universal Inbox

“Millennials”. Either your ears perked up & I’ve got your attention, or you felt a tingle in the hairs on the back of your neck; an involuntary bristle. Defined by conflicting demographics from both credible & questionable sources, just the term millennial is enough to conjure cartoonish dollar sign-shaped eyeballs of profit & steam-puffing ears of frustration. If you could embody the sentiment millennials engender, describing this group would be akin to Steve Buscemi’s recanting of El Mariachi walking into a bar “Nobody knew quite what to make of him, or quite what to think. There he was and in he walked.”
One particular point of confusion is about the mixing of work & life. When the author of this article (by most definitions a millennial himself) started out, people preached the virtues of work/life balance. Then came mobile phones. Email. Text. Email on mobile phones. Slack. IM. The list continues… Being part of a global team meant being always-on. Working at the forefront of digital, social & increasingly-mobile commerce meant operating in real-time. Work/life balance seemed like a cruel joke; a lie told to marketing students, convincing them that the 9-5 still existed. Success was out there, but only for those willing to give themselves over to the idea that balance – that separation – couldn’t be had.
It’s the position of this author that what we (there’s that bristle, again) millennials crave isn’t work/life balance. It’s work/life integration. Our brains don’t stop thinking about our work, after we’ve left the office. Neither do they stop thinking about the last episode of Westworld, when we’re waiting on a presenter to get started with their webinar. For yours truly, this realization was born from one thing: embracing the universal inbox. No more checking “work email” and checking “personal email”. No more rifling through “school email” or “Yahoo email” (aka the account signed up with every online shopping site, so that Gmail doesn’t get spammed). Now there was just “email”. A single stream of messages, the only common thread being relevance to this author’s life. Weekly status call agenda? Sure. Doodle poll about a guys’ getaway next month? Yup. Reminder from The Bouqs to send tulips on mom’s birthday? Absolutely. Rather than fighting to fend off the waves of messages coming in from all fronts, this new embrace focused on riding the current, responding to change as it occurs. Sure, that means co-workers getting accustomed to 2 a.m. moments of clarity (a.k.a. group emails) about a client. But it also means responding to that Doodle & making sure mom knows you care. It means that what you’re passionate about doesn’t begin or end when the bell rings. It’s a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff – packed tight with every experience, action & consequence that precedes your present moment. Embracing the universal inbox won’t solve the challenge of work/life integration, but it’s absolutely what helped this author to start. The first step is admitting that you have a problem. The next is finding the path forward.
Hi, I’m Ed and I’m a millennial.