28 Days To Living Organized – Day 14 – Email: Do

28 days to Living Organized

Email: Do
 
“Do” email?  How is that different from Respond?
 
It’s different in that you get off your rear-end and DO something.  Maybe you walk to a coworker’s desk and have a conversation.  Maybe you fill out some paperwork and file/fax/mail it.  Maybe you make a phone call.
 
There are times (hard to believe, I know!) that our email requires us to do something other than sit at our computer.  If you receive an email that requires some action on your part and you can do it quickly and easily then simply get it done.
 
At this point, if you’ve taken one of the 6 actions on each item in your inbox that was newly received your inbox should be EMPTY!  But…. you still have the backlog to deal with.  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 13 – Email: Defer

28 Days to Living Organized

Email: Defer
Sometimes you get an email that you just can’t respond to right now.  Maybe you don’t know the answer.  Maybe it requires some kind of research or collaboration with others.  Maybe it’s a non-urgent request that you need to get to sometime in the next 14 days.
It does happen sometimes.  Although it’s usually better to respond right away there are times it’s just not possible.  When that is the case, you can defer things. 
How do you defer?
* Make sure you make a tickler for yourself that you do need to do it!
     – put a task on your to-do list for the follow up steps you need to take or phone calls to make
     – move the email to a “Defer” folder that you check at the end of each day (or each week).  Set aside time each day (or week) to spend an hour working through the things in your “Defer” folder.
I firmly believe that this step is the that makes most of our inboxes so large.  We leave things there that we need to do something about but don’t want to do it right now.
STOP THAT!
Two simple steps:
1. Defer as little as possible. 
2. What you must defer, set aside time to come back to. This is critical if you don’t want to have a “defer” folder that is just as large as your inbox used to be.  You can’t defer forever.  And if you are going to defer forever then go back up to step one and DELETE!

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 12 – Email: Respond

28 Days to Living Organized

Email: Respond

Scenario: You receive the following email on Sunday night.

To: You@Yourmail.com
From: Friendwithaquestion@theirmail.com
Re: Friday night

Hey You! I hope you are getting over that cold you had last week. How do you feel about getting together this Friday for drinks after work and then a movie?  It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other.

~ Friend.

Multiple choice:
After reading this email you immediately:
a) respond with “Yes, that sounds great.” or “Sorry, I’m busy Friday but can you do Saturday afternoon?”
b) Think “That sounds great but I need to check my calendar” and then proceed to check your calendar and respond on Monday
c) Think “That sounds great but I’m not sure if my spouse wants to go out to dinner on Friday so I need to check with them.” Then ask your spouse, wait for a response until Wednesday and get back to your friend then
d) Think “Sounds good but I need to get to bed.  I’ll respond tomorrow.” and then send a response on Thursday apologizing for your late response and hoping your friend is still free.
e) Go to the next email in your inbox with plans to come back but don’t respond until Saturday with a blushing “Sorry!”

If you do anything but a) or b) you need to rethink your habits.  I’m guilty of it.  Sometimes I “check” my email when I have no intention of actually “working” my email.  I’ll read a note like this, plan to respond tomorrow and then get back to the person too late.  There are a few problems with this.
1. It is rude.  If this person is your friend, and even if they are not, they still deserve a response.
2. You might miss out on some great opportunities by procrastinating.
3. It’s rude.  That was worth saying twice.

Even a quick response of “I need to check my calendar and I’ll get back to you by Tuesday” is a good one.  And then… get back to them by Tuesday!  Wouldn’t you be annoyed if you put a question out there and got no response? 

Emails like this fall into the easy Do It Now category.  Just respond.  Simple as that.  If you have to do more research or fact finding, that’s fine.  But then put it on your to-do list and let the person know you got their message and are not ignoring them.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 11 – Email: Delegate

28 Days to Living Organized

Email: Delegate

I love the idea of delegating.  Doesn’t everyone?  Giving something to someone else to take care of and taking work off of my own shoulders sounds wonderful.

But how many of us love the reality of it?  How many of us can really let go and entrust this sacred responsibility (or menial task) to another person over whom we have no control.

We worry: will they do it right?  will it get done on time?  maybe I should just walk them through how to do it first?

In some cases these concerns may be reasonable.  And if you really have reason to question if something will be done right or on time by someone else and it’s important it be done right and on time then hesitate to delegate. 

But delegating can be a wonderful tool in the arsenal of all of us – whether in the workplace or at home.  In both situations allowing someone else to help us carry our burden will do two things – 1. it will free up some of our time and energy for things that are a better use of those resources and 2. it will allow the other person some experience in the process.

What should I delegate?
Routine activities that anyone can do.  In the home environment, maybe your children can take over some tasks, like having your teenager research vacation destination options or asking your elementary school aged children to respond to party invitations for themselves by calling their friend.

Anything that someone else is better at.  You love balancing the budget and filling out the tax forms (wierd, yes but some people are good at it).  Then don’t delegate it.  But you are not so good at lawn maintenance.  Ask your spouse to make the follow-up arrangements with the lawn-care service.

Don’t Delegate….
* Anything you can delete.  If something doesn’t need to be done by you, it probably doesn’t need to be done by anyone else.
* Anything for which you are critically invested in the outcome.  You are planning your daughter’s 1st birthday party and want everything “just so.”  This is not a good time to ask your spouse to pick out invitations or party favors.

How do I delegate?
We’re talking about email here so the first and most obvious step is to forward the item to the appropriate person.  But don’t just hit forward and send.  You need to lay the ground work:

* Ask the person to take care of this for you.  It sounds simple, but asking can go at lot farther in getting things done than instructing – unless you are that person’s boss.
* Be very clear what you are asking.  Instead of “Bob, can you take care of this for me” say “Bob, Maryann needs a response on this by Thursday.  Can you review our timeline and get back to her with whether or not we’ll be able to meet her needs?  Please copy me on your response.”
* Delegate the task, not the method.  By giving something away you letting go of the idea that it will be done exactly as you would have done it.  Everyone has their own way.  Let the process go.
* If it’s highly important or time sensitive, make yourself a tickler to follow-up.  This may be as simple as moving the email into a “waiting” folder or putting a reminder on your calendar to follow up with the person you delegated to.
* Delegate necessary decision-making power along with the task.  If you want your husband to be the person to take care of the lawn, let him be the one to decide how often things get done.
* Say Thank You!  Another simple thing that makes all the difference in the world.

Don’t be afraid to delegate.  It can be very freeing.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 10 – Email: Delete & Archive

28 Days to Living Organized

 
Email: Delete & Archive

 

Have you wrapped your mind around INBOX ZERO yet? It might take awhile to get used to the idea.

 

But the first action suggested is one everyone can do, even if you don’t intend to have an empty inbox… Delete and Archive.

 

Delete
What should you be deleting? Junk mail and spam, obviously.  But what else?

  • Email forwards, jokes, and urban myths that you have no intention of passing on.  And I recommend not passing these on.  I love humor.  But unless you know the recipient will appreciate that email with 42 pictures of cats doing yoga poses then please, please don’t pass it on.  Delete it.  Save your space for things that you really want to keep.
  • Sale “flyers” for items you don’t plan to buy.  Yes, you love all of the items at your favorite store but your budget is tight right now and extra shopping isn’t in the cards.  Just delete it.  Don’t open it and tempt yourself with that too-good-to-pass-up 25% off coupon code.
  • “message received” emails.  Someone asks you for a document.  You send it.  They respond with the two word “thank you” email.  Get rid of it. 
  • Anything that is past its expiration – library hold notices, sales that ended, reminders for an event that happened yesterday, etc
  • Emails that have resolved themselves.  You were copied on an email to a group.  You haven’t checked email in *gasp* 4 hours and in that time the other 3 ccs managed to come up with the answer and solve the issue. 

Archive
What should you archive?

This is trickier to answer because it will depend on each person and the purpose of your email account.  Keep things that you will need to reference in the future.  Sounds easy right?  Not so much.  It might include things like…

  • recipes – but once you’ve tried them either decide to delete because you didn’t like it or put it in your real recipe file/book
  • feel-good emails – anything that makes you smile when you read it.  A sweet note from your hubby, a picture of your grandchild.  These are things you can refer back to when you are having a bad day.  But be choosy what you put in this category.  Make sure it’s really special.
  • anything related to taxes – of course it’s best to keep this information in some kind of backed-up electronic file and/or hard copy.  But keeping an email archive of it isn’t a bad idea.  This includes receipts for electronic charitable donations
  • “CYA” emails.  You know the ones.  You’re working on a big project and Jim Bob in another department decides to throw a wrench into the plans.  And you’re lucky enough that he put it in writing in an email.  Keep this so that when things go wrong you have information that supports your theory on what happened.
  • Kudos emails.  These are the ones you want to pull out and review before your next performance review so you have proof you are doing a great job.
  • Backup documentation – anything relevant to a project you are working on that you wouldn’t want to lose.

Of course, the categories of things you might want to archive is highly variable depending on your needs.

The real question is… How should I archive?

Do you like folders or just one big archive folder?  As Merlin Mann would tell you, keep it simple.  Don’t make this complicated.  If you are using Microsoft Outlook you can assign a category to your emails.  You can then pull up all emails assigned to that category even if they are in the same “Archive” folder. 
Even easier, most email tools include a comprehensive search function.  It will search for your keyword(s) in all folders.  You’re looking for the email about John’s retirement party you can search on “retirement” and find it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

If you insist on making folders, I again ask you to keep it simple!  And please, don’t file by date.  You know you sent Suzy an email about how to retrieve voicemail but was that last week, last month or last year?  You probably can’t remember.  Date files rarely work for most people.  Instead come up with a few broad categories. You can always use that search feature I mentioned above.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 9 – Tackle E-Waste

28 days to Living Organized

Tackle E-Waste

We’ve worked through a space in your home.  We’re living with that change.
We’ve de-cluttered a small area.
It’s now time to move to the one area of everyone’s life in which it’s easy to overlook the cobwebs…. Our computers and on-line life.

What do I mean by E-Waste?  Electronic Waste.

You have it.  Emails in your inbox that are older than your children.  Facebook friends that you’ve met one time in real life and never bother to read a status update on.  Documents tucked neatly into folders that will never again see the light of your glowing computer monitor.

It’s time to tackle these areas of our life.

I’m going to introduce you to a radical concept…

INBOX ZERO.

I cannot take credit for this idea.  It is the brainchild of Merlin Mann and has been around a few years.  But it is brilliant.  I can tell you from experience that it is a great way to live.

If you want complete information from Mr. Mann, check out this video of a presentation he gave back in 2007.

But here is the general idea…

Your inbox is not meant to be a catch-all.  Your in-box is not meant to be a to-do list. Your inbox is a temporary holding place for things coming in that need to be acted upon.  The equilibrium state of your inbox is empty.

Have you gasped in horror yet?  I did when I first heard it.  “But… but… but… I leave things in my inbox so I remember to work on them” I stammered.  And yet I will challenge you to do things differently.

When something comes into your inbox take one of the following actions:

It sounds so easy.  And once you start doing it it really is.

The goal is to “process to zero” every time you check your email.

Delete – be ruthless. Get rid of the junk as soon as you see it.  If you are copied on something that doesn’t pertain to you, delete. If it’s junk mail or spam or a newsletter you will never read, delete
Archive – there are some things you need to keep.  Maybe they are informational things that you will need to reference in the future.  Or maybe it’s something you need to keep for cover-your-bases future needs.
Delegate – Are you the right person for this?  I believe you know within the first 10 seconds of reading an email if it really needs someone else to take action.  If it does, forward to the right person
Respond – Don’t delay.  Just answer the question.  I can hear your objection already… I can’t respond right now, I’m in the middle of something else.  I have a simple answer. If you are in the middle of something don’t check your email!  Set aside a time for email.  Maybe it’s the beginning and end of the day.  Maybe it’s once every hour.  Don’t stop in the middle of a project just because you got a pop-up about an email from your Great Aunt Millie.
Defer – If the response requires more than you can do in the time you have allotted for your email, or needs to be added to your priority list then defer it.  Create a DEFER folder and put things there.  Set aside a time on a regular basis (daily, weekly) to work through those items.
Do – These are things that are non-email actions.  They require you to get off your duff (or get out of your inbox) and DO something.  Do it.  If you can’t do it right now (because it requires research or resources you don’t have) then schedule it.

Over the next five days we’ll work through each of these in more detail.

For now, just give it a start.  If you have 800 emails in your inbox today, don’t worry about tackling all of those.  Just start from this moment and go forward.  Start with what came in today.  In a few days we’ll work on getting back through those old ones.

I want using your email to be a delightful experience.

Read the rest of the email topics in this series!
Delete & Archive
Delegate
Respond
Defer
Do
Clear the Backlog
Declutter

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 8 – De-Clutter Day

28 days to Living Organized

De-Clutter Day
To keep you on your toes we are switching gears a bit from the task of fixing a problem area to de-cluttering. This will be the first of 3 De-clutter Days we have this month.
What is clutter?
Whenever I’m unsure what a word means I turn to trusty old Merriam-Webster. M-W got me through many a term paper and essay in my school days and has yet to fail me in learning about the true meaning of words.
Here is their definition of clutter: to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.
Why De-clutter?
So clutter is stuff that has no sort of order to it that makes your life HARDER! Clutter might be junk that you just don’t need any more. Or it might be things you really do need which you are unable to get full value from because you just don’t have it sorted in a way that makes it work.
If you have no general interest in de-cluttering, allow yourself to be selfish. Reducing clutter will make your life easier. It’s true. It really, really is.
How do I do it?
1. Pick your space. For our purposes today, please do not choose the messiest room or closet in your house. I want you to get the feeling of success and tackling a small project first will increase your chances of making a big difference that you will feel.
If you aren’t sure where to start I suggest…
  • kitchen gadget/utensil drawer
  • “junk” drawer in the kitchen
  • linen closet
  • medicine cabinet
  • makeup bag
  • sock drawer
2. Empty the contents of the area onto a work surface if it’s a small amount of stuff. If you are doing something bigger, like a linen closet, follow these steps one at time for each shelf.
3. Purge! Get rid of anything that is clearly trash. Socks with holes, linens for a bed size you don’t have, The wooden spoon with a broken handle, makeup that is well past its prime (yes, makeup has expiration dates)
4. If in your purge you find things you want to donate (linens you don’t use, the lobster crackers you won’t use since you are allergic to shellfish) grab a box or bag and make a DONATION spot.
5. Look at what is left and purge again. The first time was easy, we got the low-hanging fruit. Now I’m asking you to actually look at what you think you “need” and ask yourself the following questions…
• Have I used it within the last year?
• Do I have a real foreseeable use for it within the next 3 months?
• Did I know this was in here before I started this de-cluttering process?
• Does looking at it make me smile?
  
If you answered NO to all of these then you probably need to get rid of it.
If you answered NO to all of these and you still don’t want to get rid of it, ask this…
• Do I know someone who could get immediate use from this item?
(your nephew who just moved into his first apartment and needs all the hand-me-down house wares he can get, the niece who is just learning to use makeup and would love some never used lipsticks, the neighbors with three preschoolers who could really use those extra C and D batteries in their kids toys, the kitchen at your church or office that could really use a replacement to that old coffee pot that’s seen better days)
• If I got rid of this today and found I have a need for it in 6 months would the cost of replacing it fit in our budget? (for example, getting rid of ladle you could replace for $5 might not break the budget)
• Do I have something else in the house that could stand in for this if I did find that I needed it?
If you answered YES to all of these questions, get rid of it!
If you answered NO to any of these questions, then keep it… for now. You will want to revisit this later. In fact after you see your newly cleaned out space, you may just find that dusty old item just doesn’t seem important any more
6. Put everything back. Now’s a good time to “organize” by finding cool ways to store things. But don’t worry if you don’t have the time or energy for that right now. Just getting rid of the extras will make the space feel much better
7. Move that DONATION box or bag to your car right now. Stop by your local donation center on your next trip out of the house and bless someone else out of your abundance.
How was that? Hard? Surprisingly easy? Hopefully you feel like a tiny weight has been lifted. And tomorrow, when you open the door or drawer you might just find yourself feeling a little more delighted. 

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 7 – Breathe and Reassess

28 days to Living Organized

Breathe & Reassess

Your changes are underway.  You’ve made it through 24 hours (or more) of the new way of doing things.  How does it feel?

Do you feel like the change you made was a breath of fresh air?  Was it just the thing you had needed to do for so long, even though you may have not realized it before?

Are you having growing pains getting used to the new way?  This may be likely.  We’ve all heard that it can take 3-4 weeks to make a new habit.  If your solution was a habit change rather than environmental it may take a while of reminding yourself each day to do things the new way.  If you made an environmental change you may find yourself bumping into that table that you moved into the space that used to be wide open.

Is every fiber of your being willing you to reject the change?  Sometimes this happens.  We think something is going to work and it just doesn’t.  Our minds and bodies just can’t jump on board with the change. 

Regardless of which of these three categories you fall into, I’m going to ask you to stick with it for at least a week.  You will find that as you go about your day-to-day that you will make natural tweaks to the solution.  This is what I mean by LIVING organized.  As an organizer, it is impossible to come into a space, develop a plan, implement it and leave then  expect to come back in 6 months and find it exactly as you left it.  People LIVE in their homes.  Our spaces may not be alive with breath but they are alive with movement and adjustment as the needs of the occupants change.  Be open to that. 

Live with your changes for awhile.  We’ll revisit them later on this month.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 6 – Solution Implementation

28 days to Living Organized

Solution Implementation

Today’s the day!  It’s time to put that great idea you came up with into action.  If your solution is a simple one (like mine) this is a “just do it” kind of activity.  Don’t put it off… just throw out the old and put in the new. 

It may be that your solution requires a bit more work.  Maybe you need to buy a new piece of furniture or organizing tool.  Maybe you need to rearrange things and need to find a time to actually do this.

I’m going to encourage you to do everything possible to make this happen TODAY!  Every day you put it off is another day you have to live in your old crazy life.  If you can’t do it today, please, please, please put it on your calendar for sometime in the next 30 days.  If time or money will not allow you to do it within that time frame then go back to Day 5 and re-evaluate your options.  Come up with a plan that will meet your needs in a more timely fashion.  Putting off changes to improve your life for a month, or a year or indefinitely is not going to  bring you any closer to living organized.  It will likely make you actually more frustrated because you know there’s a better way but you can’t achieve it.

So, today is a day of action.  DO something to live more organized today. 

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 5 – Solution Evaluation

28 days to Living Organized

Solution Evaluation

It’s now time to pick a solution!

Here are the results of our brainstorming session yesterday:

Possible Environment Changes
•Move my filing cabinet from upstairs to the kitchen
•Create a new filing cabinet/space in the kitchen
•Teach my kids how to file
•Get rid of the kids so I have more time/energy to file daily

Possible Habit Changes
•Make going upstairs to file the first thing I do after opening mail
•File paperwork every night before bed
•File every other day at bedtime 
•Move things upstairs every night without filing and put in a temporary “to be filed” basket and then schedule a once a week “filing time”
•Stop keeping paperwork/filing – trash/recycle everything – go paperless

Before I evaluate these I’m going to be upfront and tell you that my preference is to change your environment to fit your habits rather than trying to change your habits to fit your environment.  We are creatures of habit.  We like our routines.  Even if we don’t like them, we continue to do them day in and day out because they are, well, habits.  And we’ve all heard the adage that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  I don’t know about you but I am inpatient.  I want change NOW.  I don’t want to wait 21 days to see a difference.  And I certainly don’t want to work so hard for 3 weeks.  So, while not always possible, my preference is to change the space.

With that said, here is my evaluation of the options:
•Move my filing cabinet from upstairs to the kitchen
Not going to happen.  Logistically, we just don’t have space for it.  And the kids would have a field day with a cabnet full of paperwork.

•Create a new filing cabinet/space in the kitchen
THE WINNER!  Instead of filing everything by company/topic we will create one folder for each month.  After throwing away all the junk mail and putting the bills to be paid in my “BILLS” folder on the fridge (I’ll show you that later) I’ll put anything that needs filing in that folder.  At the end of the month, the folder will be brought upstairs to the filing cabinet and replaced with a new one for the next month.
The one possible downfall is that if I need something from Company X but don’t know when it was sent it will be much harder to find.  The reality is that the frequency with which I actually need to retrieve something is about 2 times a year.  Not a big issue.

•Teach my kids how to file
While I love this idea and might do it if they were older, the fact that they can’t read makes it not practical.

•Get rid of the kids so I have more time/energy to file daily
Haha! 

•Make going upstairs to file the first thing I do after opening mail
Honestly, I would never do this.  After I open the mail the first thing I do is start dinner.  I’m not going to delay dinner so I can file – priorities, people!

•File paperwork every night before bed
This sounds like a good idea.  And this was my husband’s original first choice.  But I know us.  Usually by the time bedtime rolls around we’re both so exhausted it’s all we can do to get our teeth brushed and fall into bed.  It just wouldn’t happen.

•File every other day at bedtime
See previous.

•Stop keeping paperwork/filing – trash/recycle everything – go paperless
This isn’t a bad idea for some items.  But there are somethings you just need to keep.  Like tax documents and mortgage paperwork and medical records.  So it’s a good add-on it’s not a full solution.

•Move things upstairs every night without filing and put in a temporary “to be filed” basket and then schedule a once a week “filing time”
2nd Choice.  This was my husband’s final vote.  Our conversation went something like this…
Me: Who will bring the stuff upstairs every night?
Darling Hubby: I will take on that responsibility
Me: Really, because usually you fall asleep before we even make it upstairs.
Darling Hubby: Yes.  I’ll do it.
Me: Who will file it away each week?
Darling Hubby: Me.
Me: Will you schedule a time to do it every week?
Darling Hubby: Yes.  I’ll do it when the kids go to bed.
Me: Really, because our lovely daughter would wake up when you go to do it?
Darling Hubby: Then I’ll do it at naptime.
Me: Um…. there’s the same issue as at bedtime.

Me: Given how often you need to look for stuff in the file cabinet (never) do you really care if things are done by month or by company?
Darling Hubby: No….. okay… we can try the monthly file
Me: And if we don’t like it, we can always change it.

As you can see, this idea initially seemed like a really good one.  But when we looked closer at the actual logistics of it, it wasn’t as easy to execute as I would like.  And it involves changing our routine and as I said before, I kind of like my routines.

The lessons for the day:

1. Don’t throw out an idea or decide on an idea on face value.  Try to think through some possible pitfalls of the idea.

2. Whenever possible, change your environment to match your habits.