Career

My Simple System for Organized Email.

August 9, 2017

My Simple system for Organized Email Title

My Simple system for Organized Email

I have dealt with a lot of email over the past decade. In graduate school, we lived and died by email, both as students and TAs. Entire semesters of coursework would sit in my inbox for weeks at a time.

When I worked in a Congressional office, the staff would literally process and respond to thousands of emails every day collectively. My inbox would see hundreds of new emails a day, easily, most of which required a response. 

I get fewer emails today than in years past, but I still get far more emails a day than I care to read. As someone who works from home, I rely heavily on my email. Email is my primary method of contact with co-workers throughout the day. If my email is disorganized and too many messages sit in my inbox, I start to miss tasks and information and then a domino effect follows. 

No matter what you do – small business owner, stay-at-home parent, consultant, freelancer – you probably rely heavily on your email too. Or at least have insurance and the city utility company sending you notices that you shouldn’t miss.

I was in line the other day when the woman at the cash register next to me showed the cashier her inbox … I think she had something like 11,000 emails in there. None of us should be receiving (or staring at) this sheer amount of correspondence. 

A system is totally necessary for my peace of mind and effective work-flow, which overflows into my ability to be fully present with my kids and husband when I’ve checked out of work. I bet a system would help you be a little less stressed and a little more effective too.

So let’s talk about email for a second.

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(I’ll credit my husband in part for this post. He’s been at Inbox Zero since…forever. Since he was in middle school, probably. He’s ridiculously organized when it comes to email. And even though none of the rest of us can actually achieve that, it’s hard to live with someone as organized as him without a few habits rubbing off. His system convinced me to get some control over my inbox several years ago, which in turn inspired this post.)

Whether you have 1000 emails in your inbox or 11k, it’s TOO MANY. Picture your inbox as a physical box. In your house. It should have – a few pieces of mail in it. Not thousands. 

Think of it this way: email is a system that provides you with information that you act upon. It’s not some elaborate lazy filing system (guilty! Haven’t we all treated our inboxes that way?)

First, I’ll give you my quick system for *keeping* my inbox under control. Then I’ll give you a few more quick pointers for getting yours in line.

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  1. If my inbox has more than one page of emails, there are too many. Once there are too many, I block out time to process, delete, file, etc., until I’m back down to one page. Is zero emails realistic? Maybe not. But one page should be. My gmail has 50 emails on a page. There’s no reason I need more than 50 emails in a “current” state at any one time. If there are more than that, it just means I’m way behind and need to spend some time knocking out tasks.
  2. Someone (maybe Michael Hyatt?) once write that you should only touch an email one time. Although I don’t *always* abide by this rule (I’ll note the exception below), I try to do this for most of my emails. First of all, most of your email is junk. Do you really want to give your time and energy to junk email? I don’t.  Touching each (most) email once helps me save A TON of time. When an email comes in, I open it (or read the subject line).  If it takes less than 3 minutes to process, I do one of three things (exception below):
    • Delete immediately.
    • FILE (more details on this below).
    • Add to an active to-do list AND THEN DELETE. Just following those simple steps should help you immediately take back some control over your inbox.
  3. About that exception above. I’ve organized my email settings so that my work emails and personal all come to one inbox. Some people function better with several inboxes but I can only manage one with any sanity. Some of my work emails require more than one touch. Sometimes I’m waiting on a response or a status update or need another team member to respond before I can execute a step. Regardless, these, personal actual correspondence, and emails that take more than a few minutes to process are basically the only emails that are allowed to sit in my inbox (and really, if I followed step #4, that shouldn’t be happening much either) until a scheduled regular daily (or several times a week) time when I sit down and tackle them. NOTHING should sit in your inbox indefinitely.
  4. Remember Step #2 above, where I talked about filing? Make files for your archives. Some of mine are things like “Photos of the Kids that I need to print” or “Trip to Cancun.” I have individual files for various clients whose emails I need to still access. I also have a file where I dump all of my “read this when I get time or while I watch Netflix” (I highly highly recommend this kind of file – a “non-crucial but I’ll get to it eventually” pile. Then you can actually get to it eventually without constantly weeding through it.). Even for those random emails that you kind of want to read but don’t have time, but might later – HAVE A FILE.
  5. Remember Step #3 above? Never ever go through your email without your to-do list and your calendar. As you delete, write down tasks and appointments. Need to follow up on something, produce something, schedule something?  Most of us use our inbox as a sort of loose “to-get-to” list. Folks, this won’t work. If it doesn’t go onto the calendar or turn into an actual task to execute with a deadline, it’s not going to happen. If it’s not one of these and it doesn’t go into your “read later” file, then delete it. 

That’s it! That’s how I keep my email under control.

Ok. But what about those 11k emails in your inbox right now? How do you even start? 

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  1. First, start with the new emails. Don’t tackle the old.
  2. Create 4 or 5 basic folders to begin – “Work,” “Friends,” etc. Once an email is on your to-do list or calendar, archive it in the correct folder or delete it. 
  3. Touch every email that comes in today ONCE. Get it on your to-do list and delete. When in doubt, unsubscribe. 
  4. Did I mention unsubscribe? All of those lists, ads, promotionals – unless you literally wake up excited to see that email in your inbox, unsubscribe.
  5. Do this with every NEW email that comes to your inbox this week. Then slowly start working your way backwards. 

Do you feel less overwhelmed yet? You should! If you are still experiencing email paralysis, there’s hope. I’m working on a list of 100 ways to escape email paralysis. As soon as it’s completed, I’ll send it your way – just provide your email here

Inspired and ready to simplify other areas in your life? Start with this collection of posts.

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10 Suggestions for Simplifying.

February 24, 2017

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Simplifying is always on my mind – how can I make this less complicated? More streamlined? I want more time, less “to-do”, ya know? Minimalism is the hottest trend since pancakes, but I’ll never achieve true minimalism. And I don’t particularly want to. But I do want to continually ensure that our possessions are items that we actually need, use, and love, that we aren’t just storing stuff that we will never use. For me, it’s an issue of stewardship and of focus. 

If I have less, I have less to care for, organize, clean, and thus, more time to spend on the things that matter to me. I’m less distracted and I can simply enjoy our home and life more.

I’ve noticed though that sometimes I’m even over-complicating my pursuit of the simple. So I thought I would share a few practices in our home that I rely on consistently to keep things simple, keep us moving forward, keep us connected. Hope you enjoy! What are some practices you would add to this list?

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Regularly shed clutter. 

“One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.” – Marie Kondo

Scheduling an enormous spring-cleaning purge may be cathartic, but I’ve found that my heart and home benefit more from simple consistently shedding things. Do I keep passing up the same shirt in my closet? I toss it into the donation pile. Do my kids keep ignoring the same toy? I hide it to see if it will be missed and then donate it. The likelihood of deeply regrettingthis process is low; the reptition will improve the practice; slowly your home will become less filled with distracting piles of stuff you don’t use and never will and more filled with things that bring you joy and items you truly use.

Practice a routine. 

“We become what we think about.” – Earl Nightingale

A routine is not the same as a schedule. A routine helps eliminate the overwhelm of choice and gives your day momentum. For instance, almost every day, my morning looks like this:

Wake up. Make coffee. Drink a cup of coffee. Nurse Violet. Feed my kiddos breakfast. Get everyone (including myself) completely dressed and ready for the day. Make beds and clean up the kitchen and bathroom. Performing the same basic activities every morning helps to propel all of us into the day. Hesitation and listlessness seem to breed frustration and grumpy hearts while a sense of direction and purpose put all of us in a better mood. 

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Enjoy daily rituals. 

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” – Gretchen Rubin

A ritual can be part of a routine, but it is not the same thing. A ritual is something done regularly that fuels your heart, body, and or mind. Some of our family’s rituals include:

  • My cup of coffee in the morning
  • Snuggle time with our babies first thing in the morning.
  • Reading a short devotional together. 
  • Reading stories to my little ones before bedtime (this is a great way to introduce kiddos to Bible stories!). 
  • Summer evening walks after dinner.
  • Enjoying cups of tea together after our babies are in bed.

Rituals provide moments throughout the day for decompression, connection, and slowing down. I can be swamped with work and our schedule can be filled to the brim, but if a few of these rituals are scatted through my day, I still feel as if I have margin. Start by writing out a few of your favorite daily moments. These are probably your rituals, or some of them. Begin to prioritize them, to build your day around them, to use them as moments to connect with your loved ones. 

(A quick note on rituals and children: Kim John Payne has some wonderful suggestions for establishing rituals with children in his book, which I HIGHLY recommend!)

Reduce choices on things that don’t matter. 

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

8 different kinds of mascara, five different brands of creamer, 5 breakfast options, 18 different pairs of pants – an abundance of choices isn’t necessarily beneficial. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. I’ve slowly begun the process of elmininating the quantity of choices I need to make every day. I have certain brands of makeup and personal care for me and my children that I know we like so I just stick to buying those when we *actually run out* rather than constantly trying out new products. For instance, we’ve begun offering limited choices for meals, especially breakfast, for both ourself and our kiddos and it has reduced the morning/meal craziness immensely. Menu-planning has helped me make grocery and meal choices once a week rather than having to make 12 different decisions afternoon at 4:00 p.m. (Do I go to the store? Do we go out? What do I cook? How long do I spend cooking? How old are those zucchini?) I’m trying to carry this ove into the wardrobe department, but we’re still working on that. 

Bottom line? If you find yourself standing in the same place every week (or day!) trying to decide between the same options, start there. Commit to one small decision and elminate the back-and-forth. Then do it again. It’s refreshing! 

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Don’t fight your nature.

 “Define yourself as one radically loved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” – Brennan Manning

I will never be the world’s greatest interior designer. It’s just not in me. I’m impatient and have a pretty short attention span when it comes to perfecting a room – I also get frustrated by the (pernicious?) message of consumerism that seem to subtly hide underneath the perfect “minimalist” rooms of my dreams. Most of our furniture (all?) is used or inherited; neither one of my children had a nursery designed before they were born.

Our furniture is meant for rowdy rough-and-tumble, for messes, for littles. The pieces we’ve purchased either can endure all of the above or I plan to replace them and so am not terribly attached. These things used to stress me out (“We will never have our gallery walls designed!” “My couches look dated!”) but I’m slowly learning that quickly perfecting a house is just not something that really interests me.

I’m slowly learning that the pressure I exert on myself to make a Pinterest-perfect house just isn’t worth it because it doesn’t bring me joy and it distract me from things that do (if it brings you joy, by all means, focus there!) Slowly editing our house to fit our lifestyle and actual needs (rather than a computer image – white is in! So is Danish!) as I have time and inspiration has brought me a great deal more joy and so I try to focus there. 

This is all to say – if Instagram and Pinterest tell you that it’s important, but you don’t wake up wanting to do it, THEN DON’T. You don’t need to grow indoor plants or weave or paint all of your rooms monochrome white to succeed at the things you are meant and called to do. 

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Intentionally step away from screens.

“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

I think we’ve all lectured ourselves on this a million times and anything I could say has been said better elsewhere. I’ll just leave it at this. The peace and joy in our household is almost perfectly proportionate to the discipline I have demonstrated about my devices that morning. My temperment, the behavior and focus of my little ones, my own ability to focus – it’s all related. We don’t all need to have our devices on and available every single second. Make time to just go outside without your phone. Spend time with your kids and be unavailable to the world. Do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for at least a few minutes and you’ll begin to treasure time without your devices.  

Identify the things that are important to you. 

“You get more of what you notice and affirm.” – Michael Hyatt

On my list? Intentional time with kiddos. Reading. Reading aloud together. Reading by myself. Time together cooking and eating. Time remembering and recording our memories. Time writing. Getting to know my neighbors. Time with Mark. #notmoresocialmediafollowers If your “thing” is growing a virtual audience, go for it. But I recognized a while back that this was just not the area I was ever going to be particularly passionate about or good at. If I have blog readers, great. If some people like a picture I post, fun! But my livelihood and my children’s future is not tied to the time I spend on my screen. So I’ve tried to step away from Social Media more. I’m also never going to be a famous painter. 

“It” stuff – clothes, furniture (see above), shows. Being right on the edge of fill_in_the_blank trend just has never mattered a ton to me. So I don’t spend a lot of time on those things.

Also in this category? Activities with kids that *I don’t care about*. All of the moms in the world may be taking their kids to Wally-Wonder-Goo-Goo-Place on 5th street. If that is not your thing, let it go. My children have never been to the local Children’s Museum equivalent. Or the Trampoline Park. Or anything else remotely that cool. This is because I’m an unashamed germaphobe and we have ton of toys and I’m The Most Boring Mom on The Block. My children are under 3 and will never remember visiting these places. If my kids want to play with something different than our toys, we go outside. Or we go to a different park. This is just us.  Find your “you” and then shed the rest. 

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Spend time outside. “The earth has music for those who listen.” – William Shakespeare

Off you go now. 

Meet your actual neighbors. 

“It will be our love, not our opinions, which whill be our greatest contribution to this world.” – Bob Goff

Chances are, you live in a neighborhood. With actual other houses (not Pinterest ones!) with actual other people (not bloggers!). Make some bread or bake some cookies, and go ring a random doorbell. And then do it again. Amazing gifts start to come your way when you realize that friends are actually everywhere, not just on your phone or your moms’ group or church.  The world begins to seem so much more full and simple and beautiful all at the same time when we stop overcomplicating basic things like “do you have some butter I can borrow?” 

Maintain a basic neatness standard. 

“If you can’t find something, clean up.” – Gretchen Rubin

This is different for everyone. For me, this means that beds are made, bathrooms are presentable (sinks and toilets cleaned, trash removed), and the breakfast dishes cleaned. If you would be mortified if someone walked into your house, maybe it’s time to reassess. If you spend half of the day cleaning your house and can’t ever get anywhere before 11:00 a.m., maybe it’s also time to reassess (or see the first item in this list – maybe you just have too much stuff!). 

Hope these little tips help you on your journey towards simplifiying and creating a home life that you love! 

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Friday Links

Weekend Reading List // 21.

October 28, 2016

pieces on coffee, wine, creative children

Happy weekend, dears!

So, this will be the *last* weekend reading list for the blog, at least for a while. I’ll still be creating it, but I’ll only be sending out to this blog’s email list beginning next Friday, so if you are subscribed to that and get my notes in your inbox, don’t change a thing.:-) If you aren’t getting occasional notes from me, provide your email here.

Love your avacados? Grab a Kleenex. (via The Atlantic)

Here’s how to best pair your wine and herbs this holiday season.

I just overhauled my spice cupboard using these jars – I love the way they look and function now!

Yet another reason to drink coffee everyday. (via WebMD)

How to cultivate creativity in your children. (via The Atlantic)

Do you work part-time? Your children might be more empathic. (via Inc.com)

From Pinterest

Writing helps you to remember and pay attention.

I’m obsessed with this two-tone dresser.

From Instagram

This entire account is break-taking.

The power of menu-planning.

From another writer

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” 

-Woodrow Wilson

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