Thursday, June 18, 2020

Climbing Out of the E-mail Black Hole

Email is something that needs to be managed well otherwise it can take over and dictate our days. Like most things, sometimes I feel like I'm in control and am managing it pretty well and other times I forget common recommendations and I do get lost in the black e-mail hole! Over the last month I've watched a few webinars on e-mail management and here are some take aways.

There are several decisions you need to make to manage your e-mail effectively. Decide how many e-mails are too many to have in your in-box and decide if you are going to use folders to organize your e-mail.

Definitely explore your e-mail account's capability to use filters/rules to manage your in-box. The goal is to process all of the unnecessary e-mail out of the inbox. For example you can set a filter for all newsletters to go into a newsletter folder. Another folder idea is to set up a filter to move all advertisements to a folder to review at your convenience, only if needed.

A big time saver is process e-mail at designated times during the day. Is twice enough, or do you need to check it four times a day or more? Whatever rule you set for yourself, also determine the amount of time spent at each e-mail check. Set a timer to hold yourself accountable.

Another strategy, if you are concerned about the expectation that you need to respond to e-mail right away, is to set up an auto response to inform people when they can expect to hear back from you. Such as, "...I respond to e-mails daily between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m. If you need immediate attention, please call me."

The productivity guru, David Allan coined a method the Four Ds - Do it; Defer it; Delegate it and Delete it. He recommends using this method when reviewing and managing e-mail.

E-mail at times are other people's to dos - make sure they are truly your to dos.

If you don't want to spend the time processing old e-mail, but are too anxious to delete them, create an "old mail" folder and move all old e-mails over to it. If you find you never access it, maybe after a period of time you may feel comfortable deleting the folder.

April Merritt of recommends using the ART system - A - Action; R - Reference and T - Trash to process e-mail. She proposes that all e-mail fall into one of these three categories. She is a proponent of setting up action folders such as Take Action Now, Take Action Next Week, and Take Action Waiting. The tasks for the action can be moved into a task management app or kept in e-mail if you like to manage actions that way. She recommends Trello, Asana, Insightly and Evernote. If you leave your actions in your e-mail - either in folders or in the in-box, make sure you organize the reference into folders and delete the trash e-mails.

It is important to turn off any distracting noise, including e-mail notification sounds as it will hinder productivity. Think how much restraint it takes to not check e-mail when the notifications are on. When notifications aren't turned off it is very hard to not want to check it. Though the fear of missing out (FOMO) usually pertains to social media, I believe it also relates to e-mail.

One of my biggest takeaways is to send the kind of e-mails that you want to receive. Copy and blind-copy others, only if it is necessary. The best way to send e-mail is to have strong subject lines which helps immensely to find e-mails later. Another tip is if you receive an e-mail with a subject that doesn't make sense to you, edit the subject line to your needs so that you can find it later.

I hope you find some of these strategies helpful as you organize and manage your e-mail in-box to suit your needs.

Monday, June 8, 2020

It is hard to believe that we are at the half way point of 2020. June is a great time to take pause and revisit any New Year's goals. We shouldn't beat ourselves up if we forgot about them, but instead take a breath and determine what we want to change for the better in the next 6 months. I listened to a National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) Podcast a few weeks ago and the productivity expert recommends instead of setting annual goals, to set monthly goals because it allows for 12 opportunities to reset to a starting point to try again. Think about the hope we feel at the start of a new year and all that we want it to be. Imagine having that feeling and opportunity 12 times a year!

There is neuroscience that substantiates the importance of writing down any goal that you want to accomplish instead of just thinking about it. By turning a goal into a SMART goal - specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely - and writing it or typing it where you can review it regularly, the odds of it happening increase dramatically.

I've implemented that practice, albeit not consistently (I'm working on that) by keeping a personal and work to do list in Evernote. I've typed out my monthly goals at the top of the to do list. I find the visual of seeing the goals and then the related tasks I want to do in each list, holds me accountable and I am getting more accomplished. I've created the habit of opening up Evernote and the two lists each morning and reviewing the tasks to identify my daily priorities. At the same time it also gives me an opportunity to review my monthly goals.

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic is the gift of a little more time and the opportunity to do more. Of course we don't always want to, but if we can get into the mindset to think about the change we want and the steps needed to get there, then when things get back to normal, we will be that much closer to reaching our goals and feeling a sense of accomplishment and hope that change is possible.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

An Organized Year

The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, of which I'm a member, designates January as Get Organized Month. Getting organized is a common reoccurring resolution individuals have because we recognize to get organized allows us to do more and not be distracted by unimportant tangible and intangible things. Just about every magazine and news outlet leading up to the new year and stretching into the first few weeks of the year focuses on strategies for getting organized.

I think the solution to become organized is to weave it into your daily and weekly routines. I also believe it is important to regularly organize throughout the year so that it becomes part of life. Here are my top 10 organizing strategies:

1. Make your bed. It provides a psychological lift and a sense of accomplishment at the start of the day. It is also welcoming to see at the end of the day.

2. The most important organizing strategy is to designate spots or homes for everything. Everyone in the home needs to know where everything goes and to actively participate in putting things away.

3. Everyone in the home needs a landing spot for their stuff preferably by the door so that bulky items such as backpacks, school books, work items, keys, purses and other are kept together in each person's designated spot.

4. Spend 10 minutes at the end of the day putting everything away. It will pay dividends to your mental health to be able to relax and not be distracted by clutter.

5. Use some kind of planner - digital or paper - but consistently use it.

6. Keep a complete list of tasks you need to do and update it regularly. Identify weekly what tasks are top priorities that are urgent and must be done and schedule them in your week to get done.

7. Open your mail daily over your recycling bin and near your shredder. Manage the mail that comes into your home by calling the companies directly that you don't want to receive mail from or utilize services such as Paper Karma, stop direct mail pieces through the National Do Not Mail List, and register with the Direct Marketing Association.

8. Do quarterly big sweeps. These are larger projects such as cleaning out the pantry to weed out expired food and doing an inventory of your
freezer so that food isn't wasted. Another quarterly sweep project is managing closets. Go through your clothes as the seasons change and make sure that everything is in good shape and that you plan to wear each article of clothing - (if not donate it). If you have kids organizing toys is a quarterly sweep project. If you get your kids involved you will teach them to use their things and to let go and share their things with others if they aren't.

9. Create finite spaces to help keep spaces tidy. An example is to use a tray on a counter to corral items and create a habit to only put things on the tray, not on the counter, and process them regularly off of the tray.

10. Only have things in your home that reflect you and to channel Marie Kondo, "spark joy". Regularly edit your rooms and closets so that you can use and enjoy what you have and not let your things rule your life.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Worst Linen Closet Ever

Access to our attic requires dismantling our linen closet in order to get to out of season clothes and decorations. All of the closets in our home are small, and we don't have a garage, so unfortunately we do need to store some bins in the attic. Over the years, I have culled down the bins and have encouraged us all to move towards an all season wardrobe, with fewer clothes, so that we store less up there.

Getting my daughter ready for sleep-away camp, and not finding her plastic travel soap dish that I thought was in her travel bag in the linen closet, forced me to yet again reorganize our mess of a linen closet. I took everything out and purged old linens, towels, threw out expired over the counter medicine, and grouped everything I was keeping by category. I went from open baskets to closed plastic boxes that will keep everything contained better (if my kids use the lids), and allow for easy removal when we need to access the attic.

Though I never found her plastic travel soap dish for camp, I did end up with a much improved linen closet that still isn't optimum, but is a lot more pleasant to use.

Before -

After -

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Spring Organizing Bug is Catching

It is a cold, dark April day and it feels like February. Though it is hard to think Spring on a day like today, it will eventually feel like Spring, and hopefully we will finally be able to put away our cold weather clothes. I know many of you have probably gotten the Spring cleaning itch, which for many of us includes going through our clothes, and other household items and donating or selling things that don't speak to us anymore. I do think many of us get the Spring organizing bug because we have spent many months inside and now it is an opportunity to throw open our windows and not only bring more light in, but make our rooms feel lighter.

Spring also represents a time for a restart to not only get our homes in order, but to refocus on goals that are important to us. I contributed to an Alexandria Living article on this very topic.

Another way to make our homes feel lighter is to process paper daily, or several times a week. Better yet, keep it out by getting e-statements and utilizing services, a good one is DMAchoice, to get off of junk mail lists. Spring time is a great time to go through files and put together a few bags of documents to be shredded. Take advantage of the many free, Spring shred days in our area. A good one is sponsored by my bank on April 21st from 9:00 - noon, Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union, on Eisenhower Avenue. It is open to the community and you don't need to bank there.

Happy Spring and happy organizing!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

10-Minute Drawer Clean-out

I created a mess all over my kitchen floor when I reached for a set of measuring spoons and along with them came an assortment of monster straws, that my kids had long aged out of, taking up valuable real estate in my kitchen drawer. I decided right then this drawer was first up to try out my claim that mini organizing tasks can be done in 10 minutes or less.

I first took everything out of the drawer and sorted it into donate, keep and trash. I ended up with a decent size bag of stuff we don't use to give to the Green Drop and a few items were broken so they went in the trash and the remaining keep items, I sorted into categories. I cleaned out all of the gunk and crumbs that collect and seem to multiply in utensil drawers, and then put all of the items back in their respective categories.

I went slightly over 10 minutes, but I now have a drawer that we go in frequently that is clean, organized and not over-stuffed. One drawer at a time, it can get done!


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Creating an Important Document Road-map

The not-so-fun tax documents are starting to come in and it got me thinking about my files and papers and how I need to get them organized for 2018. Yup, I haven't done it yet! What I did do a few years ago though is some big picture organizing of all of our family's important documents and I created a road-map to explain the how, what and where to manage it.

We all know how important it is to have our critical life documents in place, so that we have them when we need them. However sometimes life gets in the way and this important task gets pushed to the back burner. Working with an organizer can help you check this important task as done. Having a professional guide the process makes it less stressful and painful. However, there are helpful checklists out there for you to do it yourself. The website Get your SH** Together has several.

It is critical to gather all important documents such as wills, insurance, marriage and birth/death certificates (follow the link above for the complete list) and to ensure that important people in your life know where to find them. Gather them all in a secure place and make sure they are updated and protected so that if you need them, you have them.

Road-map Creation - It is essential to set up files and to have a document that reminds you and informs the important people in your life where all the essential documents are kept, how to pay bills, contact information for key people, and how to find passwords so that a stressful situation doesn't become more stressful for a loved one trying to get essential information, if and when you can't. There are 6 elements to create a Road-map for yourself and loved ones.

Insurance - In order to make sure you have the right insurance and that you can get items replaced if you need to, you will need to do a home inventory. There are many home inventory software companies out there that make this process easy, and a good one is HomeZada. Though even a video and spreadsheet of items and model numbers by room would suffice. Check with your insurance company and find out their requirements.

Important Paper / Files - Only create paper and electronic files that are absolutely essential. Create an index of what is filed where to include instructions to find digital paper.

Income / Expense - Create a spreadsheet to describe all assets and all expenses, to include how all bills are paid. If paid on-line - explain if the bill is paid from a checking account or charged to a credit card.

Passwords - Do your loved ones know your essential passwords? Do you use a password manager? Share with your spouse and others as appropriate your master password, computer lock-screen password, bank accounts, credit cards, etc. I can't tell you how many couples I have worked with where they don't know each other's important passwords.

Contacts - Create a list of important people in your life that can help answer questions (accountant, financial advisor, executor, home maintenance providers, etc) and also friends, neighbors and family you want contacted in an emergency situation.

Safe Deposit Box / Fire Proof Safe - Create an index of what is stored here and make sure your loved ones are aware of it and know the code to access the safe, or have a key to a bank safe deposit box. You will want to put the Road-map document here for loved ones to access and you can also send them a copy, as you feel comfortable.

The sense of satisfaction and relief are tremendous when the road-map is complete. I know paper can be overwhelming, but there are a lot of resources out there - both good websites with checklists and professionals that are available to help at any point in the process. Good luck creating your family's road-map and let me know if I can assist.