When Life Happens

I must apologize for my absence over the last week.  I know many of you have been looking forward to your daily information on living more organized.

Where have I been?  I’ve been having the type of week that challenges even the most organized among us.  I’ve had two sick kids and caught their nasty germs myself.  Croup, vomiting, ear infections, sore throats, whining, crying, watching too much TV… and the kids were in pretty rough shape too J.

The truth is, a week like this will put the brakes on everything except survival mode.  I still managed to shower every day.  And the laundry got clean (at least the important pieces) and the dishes were washed.  But not much else happened.  If you were to walk into my home today you’d be appalled that I profess to live a delightfully organized life.  My home is certainly not delightful and nowhere near organized.  There are toys all over the family room floor, the sheets haven’t been changed in far too long to mention, our laundry – while clean – is still sitting in the baskets waiting to be put away, and the kitchen floor has far too many cheerios and smashed grapes on it.  And, oh yes, my inbox is out of control with unread and un-responded-to messages.

But I make no excuses.  I was caring for my babies and myself and that was more important than any cleaning. 

Sometimes LIFE gets in the way of our best laid plans.  And that’s okay.  This is actually a great example of what I mean by living organized rather than simply getting organized.  When we “get” organized we then can easily get discouraged when things run amok for a little while.  But when we “live” organized, we know that there will be bumps on the road and that is just fine.  No one will judge us for not having a magazine-worthy home on the heels of illness. We’ll just brush ourselves off and get back to it tomorrow.

And speaking of tomorrow…. Look for some catch up posts in the series to debut tomorrow.  I think we are all on our way back to healthy now.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 17 – Check & Adjust

28 Days to Living Organized

Check & Adjust
 
 
It’s time to come back to your original organization project from earlier this month and figure out how it is going.  It’s time to make any necessary adjustments.
 
So… you’ve been living with the new solution/space/routine for 10 days now.  How does it feel?  Is it working?  Are there glitches that you didn’t forsee.  To do a quick assessment, ask yourself (and your family members) these questions:
 
1. Is {INSERT PROBLEM} still a problem in our home?  If you answer No to this then hats off to you!  If you answer yes then let’s keep going.
2. Have any positive changes been made?  If yes, what are they?
3. What areas are still a problem?
4. Did my original plan not work (or only partly work) because it was not a good plan or because I didn’t execute it?
4a. If it wasn’t a good plan, it’s time to think of a different solution
4b. If it wasn’t executed you need to ask yourself why and address that.  It could be that you didn’t carry it out because it was too hard or time consuming – if so, you probably need a new plan.  Or it could be that you just got busy doing other things.  If this is the case, you might just need to make it a priority.
 
I’ll give you my assessment.  My problem was with clutter on the island in our kitchen.  Our solution was to create folders for the mail that tends to accumulate and put those folders into a nearby drawer.
 
The current result is that there is a folder for medical receipts (something I need to track separately from the regular bills) but the folders for the other bills has just not been created.  Why?  Because I just didn’t do it.  It wasn’t too hard or costly.  I just.didn’t.do.it.  It was that simple.  So I don’t really need a new plan, I just need to implement the one I’ve got.  And now that the health status in our home is back on the upswing I’ll be working on that tonight.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 16 – De-Clutter Day

28 days to Living Organized

De-Clutter Day

On our last de-clutter day we cleared a space.  Today we’re going to stop the bleeding.

I mean let’s keep the clutter from coming in the door – both your physical door and your electronic door.

Follow these simple steps:
1. Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers.  This is the official site.  Yes, you do have to put in your social security number.  This is legitimate.  This will eliminate most “You’re Pre-approved!” offers from your mailbox.  The exception is that your current creditors can still send you things.

2. Stop the phone calls.  This doesn’t make physical clutter in your life but it sure is annoying and can suck your time.  The National Do Not Call Registry will block those annoying telemarketers.  Know that some groups, like charitable organizations, are excempt.

3. Cancel your catalogs.  You ordered something from “Cute-Stuff-That-You-Probably-Don’t-Need-Anyway Corporation” three years ago and you still get their catalogs.  Next time one arrives, call and ask to be removed from their mailing list.  They should be accomodating since they don’t want to spend money on postage to someone who isn’t going buy anything.

4. Eliminate the “fluff” mail.  I’m talking about e-mail here.  Specifically e-mail that you have no use for.  Not real junk mail – there are spam filters for that.  I mean newsletters you subscribed to but never read, sale “flyers” from companies you ordered from years ago.  All of them should have an “opt-out” or “unsubscribe” option at the bottom of the email.  Use it
A word of warning… don’t select “unsubscribe” on an e-mail from an unfamiliar source.  Those can lead you to unsavory websites.  And if you are not sure if the link is okay, you can find out what it really is.  Just because it says http://www.cnn.com/ doesn’t mean it isn’t sending you to horrible-site-that-will-give-you-a-virus.come
To check, hover over the link with your mouse.  It will very likely give you a pop-up with the actual link.  If it says www.amazooon.com instead of www.amazon.com then it’s probably a scam.

It’s a lot easier to manage what’s really important when you don’t have to sort through the things you don’t need.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 15 – Email: Clear The Backlog

28 days to Living Organized

Email: Clear The Backlog

You’ve set out on a good course of tackling new messages as they come in and not letting them sit as a to-do list in your Inbox. 

Now it’s time to deal with those many months (or years) of email you have to catch up on.  There are several ways to do this and anyway that gets your Inbox to Zero is appropriate.

One option (not my favorite) is to move all the old stuff to a “Old Stuff” file that you will defer until you have time to go through it.  This is not my favorite because I know that personally I would just leave that file there forever and never go through it.

A better option (in my opinion) is to simply tackle it with a few easy steps.

1. Sort by the “FROM” column.  This will make it easy to see ones that be quickly deleted.
2. Follow the 6 rules – Delete/Archive, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do
3. Delete/Archive – this should be the easiest category.  If you’ve had them this long do you really need them anymore?  Probably not.  I expect most things will fall into this category
4. Delegate & Respond – Unless these emails are only a few days or weeks old it is probably well past the time to make any kind of response.  But there may be a few in there that still require you do respond or ask someone else to respond.
5. Defer – Um…. haven’t you already done this long enough?  Forget this category and do one of the others
6. Do – A favorite here, right after Delete

It may take you awhile depending on how much backlog you have.  I suggest setting a timer or putting a few songs on a playlist and challenging yourself to get through as much as possible (all?) in 15-30 minutes.  If you don’t get through all of it you can set aside another time later in the week.

Happy deleting!

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