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.