Inbox Zero – Fad or The Future?

Image-Too Many Emails

Have you ever heard of Inbox Zero? Inbox Zero can be defined as ‘a rigorous approach to Email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty, or almost empty’.

I had seen Inbox Zero, or more specifically the hashtag #inboxzero used for several months. I even looked into it briefly, but put it to onside as an unrealistic goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always tackled my Email inbox. I use the flag system as a reminder of Emails that I need to follow-up on and even blogged about it previously. My aim has always been to keep my inbox at under 100, and I even got it down closer to 50 a few times. My inbox was purely for Emails that either I hadn’t read or responded to. I always thought this was pretty good. But I kept on seeing the #inboxzero hashtag and realised I would have to give it a go!

So I decided to really aim for Inbox Zero.

First things first. Anyone who sends and receives Emails will realise just how difficult reaching Inbox Zero is because, whether you send Emails or not, they just keep on coming.

I quickly realised that the number of Email I sent, had a direct correlation to the number of Emails I received. Sounds simple, right? Send less Emails to receive less back. But that didn’t stop the flood of Emails coming in, it just slowed them down a little. I also realised that I used my inbox as an action list, so even if I had responded to an Email, I kept it in my inbox as a reminder to chase it up if I hadn’t a response. This approach was futile when working towards Inbox Zero!

Despite really wanting to reach Inbox Zero, I am not sure I really ever thought I would be able to genuinely reach it. But I one week I recognised that I had managed to naturally reduce by Inbox Box down to 40 and that #inboxzero was within touching distance! And so it happened, on August 23rd 2019, I managed to reach Inbox Zero.



I have to say, the satisfaction was immense! But it also meant that I had dealt with some of those Emails that were always in the ‘difficult to deal with’ box. I wasn’t able to postpone dealing with them and just to deal with them. This was a great outcome in every way. I felt truly in control of my Inbox (for the first time……..ever).

I was on annual leave for a four day stint over the following few weeks, so I decided to do an impromptu test to see how many Emails came through, by not dealing with any Emails over this period at all. It showed the following:

217 new Emails over 4 working days

So I set to work on dealing with the Emails and was able to quickly reduce it:

52 deleted straight away

20 filed straight away

19 further deleted

22 further filed away

This left me with 132 Emails in my Inbox (113  of them new). Interesting results, right? Nearly half of the Emails I receive I could deal with really quickly. But not necessarily a surprising result. I quickly worked through my Inbox over the next few days and reduced it significantly.

The real litmus test next. Would I keep to Inbox Zero? Well, yes and no. I haven’t managed a regular zero inbox, but I have kept it generally very low – less than 5 most weeks. For any Inbox Zero purists, I am not sure this counts, but I am really pleased!

So, in summary, here are my top Inbox Zero tips:

  • Use the 2 D’s as a guide – Deal with it, or Delete it!
  • Use your diary for reminders instead of keeping Emails as reminders
  • Send less Emails out – the less you send, the less you receive
  • Challenge the source of some of the Emails you receive – do you really need copying in to everything?
  • Use the traditional methods of communication, like phone and face-to-face!

So that’s my Inbox Zero journey to-date. I would love to hear your Email journey – please comment below!

Business · MBA

Reflections on Completing my MBA

First of all, I have finally done it!!!!

After 3 and a half years of studying really hard, this year I successfully completed my MBA (Masters in Business Administration) through the Open University.

As I said in a previous blog post, an MBA is not often seen as a natural qualification in the field of Housing. But, along with always wanting to undertake an MBA, I thought it might be a good qualification to help me differentiate myself from other candidates in progressing my future career.

I can honestly say it has been one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done. The nights and weekends spent studying and the time spent every day thinking about the course – it was intense. The first six months of the second year in particular were really challenging, completing ‘The Dynamics of Strategy’ alongside ‘Corporate Finance’. It was also really difficult reaching the finishing line as at this stage of studying I was ready for a break! But the feeling of submitting my last assignment was only topped by receiving confirmation that I had successfully completed my MBA!

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I have previously blogged about some of my reflections from learning, including three reflections from 2 years into my MBA. These still hold true for me.

But now that I have completed my MBA, I can further reflect on how I have used some of the learning:

  1. I now have a ‘toolbox’ that I can dip into when faced with any business problem that I need to tackle – anyone who has completed an MBA will know the power of a two-by-two matrix for assessing almost any problem;
  2. I can successfully utilise my MBA skills and experience to provide added value to my role and organisation – I do this on a near-enough daily basis.

To clarify, the MBA units I undertook were:

Strategic human resource management (BB845) 2018 15 credits
Managing in the digital economy (BXM871) 2018 15 credits
Making a difference: the management initiative (B839) 2017 30 credits
Management beyond the mainstream (BB847) 2017 15 credits
Corporate finance (BB831) 2017 15 credits
The dynamics of strategy (BB835) 2016 30 credits
MBA stage 1: management: perspectives and practice (B716) 2015 60 credits

As part of the above units, I was also able to successfully pass three three hour written exams, in Corporate Finance, Dynamics of Strategy and Management: Perspectives and Practice (I never realised how much I could write by hand when under time pressure).

I can now also (proudly) sign off with:

Brett Sadler, MBA


Housing jobs, jobs and more jobs?


I tidied up my office at home recently and came across an old issue of Inside Housing, from 2006.

Apart from asking myself why I still had such an old issue, I was struck by one thing. The thickness of the magazine. It had loads more pages than the current issues. And why is this I hear you ask?

One word. Jobs.

There were 22 pages of jobs in 2006.

Yes, you read right. 22 pages. Compare this to recent Inside Housing issues which have around 4 pages of jobs. I realise this is a far from scientific analysis between the two periods, but it has got me thinking.

When I first started to work in the Housing sector in the early 2000’s, I remember the vast array of jobs advertised in the back of Housing Today (now called Inside Housing). It was a big part of the reason I felt Housing would be a good career choice, as I could see that, if I worked hard, there were real opportunities to progress.

A more detailed look back at the 2006 issue of Inside Housing shows that, apart from the sheer volume of jobs, there were lots of officer level jobs. Sure, there were some senior level roles advertised, similar to today’s issues, but the vast majority were for lower and middle manager level jobs.

Does this mean there are less Housing jobs now than in 2006?

Of course, the other thing I distinctly remember when I started my career was that it felt a really exciting sector to work in. Nineteen years into my Housing career and I still feel excited by the sector, but I do wonder….

Is this still how people joining the Housing sector feel today?

Do new Housing professionals feel the same sense of wonderment, that the world is their oyster and anything is possible?

Leave your thoughts on a postcard (or below this blog post!)…..


Blogging · Digital · Google · housing · innovation

Why all orgs should ‘Default to Open’

We’ve all heard of the term Open by Default, right? Its the principle by which governments and increasingly organisations make its data and information accessible to the public by default, unless there is a sufficient justification to explain that greater public interest may be at stake, as a result of disclosure.

For most organisations I would argue that a default to open stance is vital. It helps to build stakeholder relationships both internally and externally, instills a ‘nothing to hide here’ mantra and genuinely promotes open network building.

This is no different in the world of Housing where there has been an every increasing drive towards transparency, with the most recent example being the publishing of organisational gender pay gap information to the public. This is combined with the ever changing world of work meaning that current and future employees more than ever value open and flexible organisations, where they can feel part of a ‘high trust’ culture.

Social Media:

Consider the use of social media. Turn back the clock to before Twitter and Facebook and how many people would have considered telling anyone (and everyone) in the world almost anything. Now its commonly accepted that people and organisations use multiple social media platforms. I for one use quite a few platforms, with the vast majority of my use for professional purposes.

But the key point here is that I use Twitter in particular as my form of ‘default to open’ approach, in that I will share what I am working on at work. This inevitably runs the chance of some negative (and positive) comments, which at times can be quite difficult to accept, but I can hand on heart say that I am a better professional for having these conversations and debating the points.

Open Source:


Another example of default to open is the rise of the term ‘open source’. Open source is often used to describe projects or software where. Google’s Android is one such Open Source Project. Some would argue that one of the main reasons for its success has been the fact that Google opened up Android to developers for free and as a result, it has become one of the most used operating systems for mobiles and tablets ever. Chances are you own at least one device that runs on Android.

Closer to the world of housing, but similarly open in nature, there is an ever increasing range of open source 3D print floor plans available on the net.

Think of almost anything and you can find an open source version on the internet.

New Digital Age:


Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen cover much of this and more in their book titled ‘The New Digital Age’. The book is a fascinating and challenging read, and for anyone truly interested in digital, I would recommend reading it. At times it is downright scary, but much of what they write about is an important view into our likely digital future. If you think default to open is a challenging concept, this is the just the beginning of where digital things are heading.

What about you?:

So how about you?

  • Do you work in an open organisation?
  • What about your personal approach to work?

I would love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below!


The Perennial Pruning of Emails


I’ll start this post off with a (non) scientific fact:- We almost all dread the incessant stream of Emails coming through. 24 hours a day, non-stop.

I have always been a big fan of keeping on top of Emails. I use my Email inbox as my ‘to do’ list. If it is in my inbox, it needs dealing with in some way. As soon as it is dealt with, it gets filed away which means it is no longer something for me to worry about.

I was away from work recently for four working days (most of which were spent on an MBA residential school). I prepared my inbox as best I could by filing away anything not needed and had it down to about 85. This was a pretty good place to start from as I generally aim to keep my Email inbox at under 100.

I call this the ‘perennial pruning of my Email inbox’ and realise that this has become my new norm of working.

As the Emails kept coming while I was off, I was able to keep on top of them for the first day. By the second day I was losing control due to the volume of Emails coming in. By the third day I had given up trying to control them.

In case you are thinking there are other things I could try, let me run through just a few things I have tried:

  • I have set up loads of rules to automatically file away the not-so-important Emails so that they don’t clog up my inbox;
  • I have turned off my automatic Email notifications;
  • I even try keeping my inbox closed at different points of the working day, in a vain attempt to be more productive;
  • I only check Emails at certain points of the day.

So how come I still feel that Emails are ruling me, rather than the other way around?

I have come to realise that I have it all wrong. The process of keeping my Emails under 100 was completely beside the point. I need to tackle the source i.e. the senders of the Emails. (NB: After reviewing my inbox I realise that many of Emails were originally sent by me! Oh no!! I can hardly blame everyone else for this problem……)

So, starting from now I will be carefully considering each and every Email that I send. I will still send some Emails, but I want to make sure they have a clear purpose, that I am not asking for an unnecessary response and that I always consider whether a good old fashioned face-to-face (or telephone) conversation would work just as well.

Will I be more productive? Will I send less Emails? Will I receive less Emails? (so many questions…..)

Follow my posts for progress updates!!

Blogging · change · MBA

2018 will be THE year


2017 was a tough year for me professionally and personally, but I have decided to start the new year off positively by saying that 2018 is going to be a much better year for me.

Why I hear you say?

Well, here are three of the professional reasons:

  1. I am determined to finish my MBA – this will be the end of three years of hard graft and quite simply I am looking forward to having some spare time again…….as well as the huge sense of satisfaction of completing the masters;
  2. I have two new areas at work to get stuck into – improving customer services and tenant participation, both have lots of scope for positive change and the chance to make a real difference for our tenants;
  3. I have a new professional mentor – after five years with my previous mentor, it felt like time for a change. Hats off to the Chartered Institute of Housing for offering this free service to members.

So, nothing scientific and nothing factual, but spending some time pulling these together has shown me that I do indeed have a plan and I know I work best with a plan.

So here’s to 2018 being the most successful yet.

Here’s hoping yours is really successful to.



A Few Thoughts on Defining Innovation

I’ve been asked many times for my definition of ‘innovation’, so here’s a quick post of my thoughts.

Innovation doesn’t always mean a huge change – it doesn’t always have to be something spectacularly large or life changing. Some of the best innovations I can think of are really small, but make a real difference to peoples lives every day – everyday innovations.

Innovation is a word often overused – the definition of innovation is a new idea, method or product, but it isn’t always ground breaking (or even new). Some people are just better at promoting their (not so new) innovations. Innovation for innovations sake.

Innovation as a process – this is something I really like. Improving an idea or concept by a step process, rather than it being seen as something only the few creative individuals in the world can do, like magic. I would go as far to say that almost anyone can innovate.

Innovation can be whatever you want it to be – it’s down to the individual or organisation to define what their view of innovation really is. Is it a linear process that means you can achieve true ‘innovation’ or a continuous process, or even something in-built into your personal/organisational culture?

Whilst on the subject of innovations, here is one of my all-time favourite innovations – the ‘lucky iron fish‘.


The Lucky Iron Fish is a small iron cooking tool that infuses your meals with a healthy amount of natural iron to help prevent iron deficiency and anemia. It’s simple to use, and provides a natural source of iron that’s perfect for everyone, especially those with an increased need for iron: athletes, vegetarians, vegans and women.


Business · housing · MBA

Two years and counting…


After finishing the second year of my MBA studying through the Open University, I finally have some spare time to write a few blog posts.

So for this one, I will be again reflecting on what I have learn’t to-date from undertaking the course.

The first thing is probably obvious, but it has been a huge challenge. Not just in terms of the workload, but in terms of time management. There have been days and weeks where I feel like I have been solidly working or studying and doing nothing else. There have also been days when I would happily have thrown the towel in. But I have survived.

The second thing is that I have again broadened my knowledge. I’ve just complete the Corporate Finance module which has well and truly tested all students. I would be willing to bet that the drop out rate is pretty high during this course, culminating in the 3 hour written exam at the end. Again, I have survived (just).

The third thing is that again my horizons have been stretched. I purposely chose the course as I wanted to move outside of my comfortable ‘Housing’ bubble and build a network of colleagues beyond my usual circle. Along with this, the course content has stretched my horizons as well, to talk much more about profit, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the big wide world of corporate finance. OK, so I may never be involved in floating a company on the stock market, but I have a much better idea of how companies are valued and the many intricacies involved.

But overall, I have survived the end of the second year. Roll on the third (and final) year.



My blog posts – a success or failure?

wordpress like

OK, so I’ve been a bit slack of late with blog posts. I’ve been busy both inside and outside of work, but I thought I would write this one about my experience of writing my blog!

So firstly, I’ve got the grand total of 78 followers for my blog. Considering I started writing it some years ago, this seems pretty poor, right? Well actually, I’ve been constantly surprised by how people mention that they have read some of my blog posts.

I’ll give you a recent example.

My last blog post was titled ‘working out loud’. It has been viewed 28 times, with 1 like. Hardly massive numbers. But I’ve had more than one person share with me that they have read my blog post and more than one positive conversation about its content.

It never ceases to amaze me that I can publish a blog post and feel utterly demoralised that its had so few views, only to find that it has actually made an impact on the very few people who have viewed it. It all depends on how you measure success.

The other consideration is that, although I only have 78 blog followers, I have over 1850 Twitter followers and over 750 LinkedIn links, so actually my potential audience for blog posts is a lot more than I give myself credit for!

So, would you call this a success, failure or at best indifferent? I would love to hear you thoughts…….

Business · culture · housing

Working Out Loud

working out loud

Are you someone who likes to work out loud?

I have long been an advocate of working out loud and by this I mean being open about what I am working on and seeking advice and best practice from others.

The popularity and acceptance of social media makes this task so much easier. I can just pop a quick post on LinkedIn (or a quick tweet on Twitter) asking for some best practice advice, or even just asking a question I would like the answer to. It really has produced some views and information that I can honestly say I would not have had otherwise.

Of course, it doesn’t have to just be through social media that we can work out loud. For me, its a much wider approach that can be adopted, where whole organisations can be encouraged to work out loud through a transparent culture where customers and stakeholder views are really valued. I’m not talking about sharing trade secrets or commercially sensitive data, but just letting customer and stakeholders know what an organisation and its staff are working on and allowing them to help shape and influence this journey.

I realise that not every organisation operates a values drive culture where you are encouraged or even able to work out loud, but for me this should be the panacea for an organisation. Frederic Laloux in his book ‘Reinventing Organisations’ sums this up perfectly:

Any information that isn’t public will cause suspicion – why else would someone go through the trouble to keep it secret?

There is something really refreshing about being open, making connections and getting the best possible outcome, all of which can be achieved through working out loud. So go on, next time you are faced with a difficult issue or wicked problem, why not try and open it out to others. You might just get a useful answer.