There’s a great scene in Back to the Future (one of my favourite films) where you see the machine Doc Brown has constructed to feed his dog Einstein. It’s ludicrously, preposterously complicated. Such machines have a name: Rube Goldberg machines, after the American cartoonist and inventor of the same.
‘Rube Goldberg machine’ has now become a catch-all term for a system or machine that is overcomplicated or overdesigned, especially if it solves a relatively simple problem. I’ve had great fun this afternoon looking for my favourite example of a Rube Goldberg machine to share with you; there were lots that made me laugh but I think this ‘Automatic Reminder to Post Your Wife’s Letter’ is my favourite:
The machines are hilarious, but the fact that they have entered the language as an idiom suggests that systems similar to this do exist. Sometimes a simple solution is reached by the most torturously roundabout route, or a device meant to save time and energy ends up ridiculously overcomplicated.
I think the best example in my life is email. According to recent Guardian research, the average UK worker spends 41% of their time dealing with their email. When you consider the whole point of email – a system for sending messages instantaneously and storing them without taking up space – is meant to speed up and simplify our working lives, you can see that the system has become a little overcomplicated.
Perhaps you waste time checking your emails over and over again. Maybe you get distracted from important tasks by constant reminders. Maybe your inbox is so full that it’s impossible to prioritise what you should be doing. Perhaps, like me, you have virtual stacks of emails that sit in your inbox for days, never getting dealt with or sometimes even read.
The Rube Goldberg machines are amusing because they give a crazy solution for an easy problem. And the solution to dealing with email overload is also very simple.
Our Effortless Inbox workshop is designed to help people master their email. It’s based on the work of David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Merlin Mann (43 Folders.com). Those who have implemented “Zero Inbox” have demonstrated that being in control of their e-mail makes an active difference to their working lives.
The workshop is complimentary, and is designed to teach you the techniques needed to re-organise and revalue you email, and to get you using those techniques straight away. An interactive 90 minute presentation is followed by 90 minutes at-desk coaching, using your own laptop or media device.
The next Effortless Inbox session is on 30th March. Click here to sign up, and learn more about the process.