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email Magic

At my work, we had a productivity expert do a training session with us, and she asked how many emails we each had in our inbox. The answers – in a team of 15 people – ranged from 4 to 800. Everyone on the team works in a similar job, with a similar volume of messages coming in each day… which inbox would you like to have? And yes, I was the person with 4.

Simplicity

Don’t spend time on a complicated system – like any kind of organizing, it’s not about the system, it’s about having less stuff. With email, you want to limit what’s coming in and move stuff out quickly.

Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.

If you’re one of the lucky ones living here in Canada, then all newsletters and commercial emails must have a one-click unsubscribe option at the bottom. CLICK IT. Be honest with yourself about which newsletters you actually do ever open and read – for the couple of ones that are of use, we’ll look at how to handle those below. For sales/promotions emails, unsubscribe from all of them. All. Of. Them. You and your wallet will thank me. You’re not getting deals, you’re buying things you don’t need – there’s a whole post I could write about that! For now, Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.

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Move things out

Now, open the first message in your inbox. No – don’t scan through them choosing one to open, you’re cluttering up your brain with those words and ideas and worries. Open the first one. The possibilities are, it’s a request for information, for action, or information the sender wants you to have. Here are common scenarios, and how to deal with them:

  1. It’s a request for a meeting. If the sender has access to a shared calendar, ask them to use it. “My calendar’s up-to-date, please send me an appointment for anytime that’s open.” Then delete the message. If the sender can’t see your calendar, send them a couple of possible times, delete the message. Or if it’s a meeting with a bunch of people, ask them to set up a doodle (doodle.com) to book it. Delete the message.
    1. You’re saying, “Wait! There’s information I might need in that message – about what the meeting’s about.” You don’t need that information. You’re not going to remember to look at the message before the meeting anyway. When you have the meeting, ask the person to remind you what the meeting’s about.
    2. But wait! “There’s a document they want me to review before the meeting! I can’t delete that.” Okay. This message isn’t a meeting request, it’s a request to review a document. Open the document, review it. Add your comments/edits and send it back, ideally saying – I think it’s good to go, no need to meet! Delete the message.
    3. “I don’t have time to review the whole document.” Yes, you do. You’re going to review it at some point, right? If you save it to review later, it’s going to take you longer than if you do it right now when you’ve just read the message about it and your brain is focused on it. So, filing it away for later and then refreshing your memory about it later – those are the things you don’t have time for. Review it now. If you read it and have to think about something in it, or get information from someone else, then see the relevant examples below.
  2. The email is a question for you: Same as the document review above. Answer the question, delete the message.
  3. It’s a request for you to approve or authorize something. Authorize it, or don’t. Send it on or reply to it as needed and delete it. If you need to keep a copy of things you approve, move your reply from the Sent mailbox to a Reference folder.
  4. It’s a message or request you need to think about, your brain needs time to process it. For these, you’re going to tag them in some way (in GroupWise, you can “Personalize” the subject line) to label it with exactly what you need to decide about. E.g., “Decide about committing to do a workshop next month.” or “Choose flyer design.”
  5. It’s a request for information or action, but you need more information to respond. Get the info. If this requires searching online or in paper files, then do those things now. Again, putting it off until later will just take more time. Find the info, reply, delete the message. If another person has the information, call them, or forward the message to them and ask for what you need. Then move the message to a Pending folder – there’s nothing more for you to do about it right now. I sometimes label these messages too with what I’m waiting for, e.g., “Waiting for Carol to send data” Depending on the situation, you might reply to the original message saying, “I’m working on this, gathering information – I’ll get back to you when I have it.”
  6. A newsletter. Click Unsubscribe. Or, if it is one you actually read, then make a rule (or filter, whatever your software calls it). When a message from that sender comes in, have it bypass your inbox and go straight to a Newsletters folder.
  7. An fyi – something you’re cc’d on or a link / info someone thought you’d find interesting. Read it. Will you need to refer to this again? Put it in a Reference folder. Do you need to share it with others? Forward it to the chair of a committee if you want to add it to an agenda (then delete it), or add it to a Committee prep folder if you’re the chair. Is it a mailing list message trying to sell you something? Unsubscribe. Delete it.
  8. Information for an ongoing project. Move these to a Tasklist, or Current Projects folder.

Your messages are all some version of a request for information, action, or reference information. Answer the requests, take the actions, or file the information. Delete lots.

Do you have other kinds of emails you get? A specific email challenge? Tell me about it in the comments 🙂

Organizing

You don’t need a fancy file system – computers are wonderfully searchable. I do have a couple of folders within my Reference one: Travel, where I keep my boarding passes and itineraries so they’re easily found at the airport or train station, and Receipts, so those are handy for doing taxes. When I had a work twitter account, I had a Social Media folder there as well – I generally opt out of all notifications, but I needed them for that account because I rarely checked it. (Eventually I came to my senses and deleted the whole account… and the email folder)

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No matter what, move the message out of your inbox. The only messages in your inbox are those you haven’t opened yet. Deal with them one at a time, and move each one out.

email Habits

Set an amount of time you’re going to work through emails. When the time is up, close (or at least minimize) your inbox so it won’t distract you. If you have to end your email time while you’re in the process of working on one of them, save a draft reply, with a note at the top to yourself about what you would do next, e.g., “finish reviewing document” or “add info about next steps”.

Also set time each week to read your Newsletter folder and to check through your Pending folder. I go through my Reference folder once a month as well, deleting all the stuff I thought I needed to save forever but I was wrong. I delete from my Sent mailbox too, saving a few of those into Reference.

Take it to the next level

When there’s information in a message that I need for a meeting, such as a teleconference phone number and access code, I change the email from a message to make it an appointment in my calendar – it’s out of my inbox, and the info I need is right there when I need it.

Some software makes it easy to have rules that notify you about specific messages – so if you’re waiting to hear from a person, you can have the email program text you (or otherwise alert you) when you receive an email from them. I find this worthwhile when I’m not working on email, but I find myself compulsively checking messages, waiting for that special one, only to get distracted by the other messages that come in… cluttering up my mind when I’m trying to focus on something else.

How about you? Any great email hacks? How many messages are in your inbox now?!

 

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My Passion Planner

passion planner

I love planners. I love them so much that I used to start at least three or four every year – shopping for them was too much fun! I made my own too. I don’t remember how I first learned about Passion Planners, but it was over 3 years ago, and I haven’t bought another kind of planner since. It just works so well for me! [and no, they’re not paying me to say any of this]

I can’t figure out a way to show my regular months and weeks without sharing all my personal stuff, so here are some far-in-the-future ones that are mostly empty. The pages get much messier as I use them!

In previous years, I spent a lot of time on lettering and doodling and colouring. I use a more minimal style now, doing my creative work elsewhere… most of the time… I still love planning trips on the blank pages at the back.

The grid pages are well-used too – I have layouts that work great for me. Some are fancy, others plain – but year after year, I add them to my new planner. I have a few others I like, e.g., for tracking how many vacation days I have left, long-term planning, and also a weekly spending money chart (that goes in the weekly spread). I get inspiration from #planner and #bujo (stands for bullet journal) hashtags on Instagram, mostly the minimalist ones (#minimalistbujo is awesome) – there are very talented people sharing their beautiful, functional ideas!

I buy the undated planners because I start my year in April (it’s a work thing) and a fun little bonus with that is where I’m supposed to write in the dates for the week, I choose to use the “Week Of” box to name my week instead 🙂 I love having a ‘Focus’ for the week too, and of course, a list of great things that happened.

Passion Planner collage

They changed the size of planner this year, and I’m not sure how I’m going to cope with that – I bought two extras of the current (PERFECT) size so I don’t have to figure it out for awhile, and I’m hopeful they’ll bring back my (REALLY PERFECT) size before I run out.

I’ve realized that for me, having a written planner isn’t about effectiveness or efficiency. It’s because I like having it. I like writing things down (pens!) – it helps me think through what’s coming up, what to prepare for or recover from. It helps me visualize my time better than anything electronic, and some things – my meditation for the week, lists of what to kijiji or packages I’m expecting – are simply easier to jot down (with a lovely pen).

So that’s my treasured planner – I find writing in it to be a joy, its focus on self-reflection so powerful, and the fact that it helps me stay organized is a bonus!

How do you want to live your life?

“What do you want to achieve in your life?” It was a question that made me uncomfortable when I was first asked as a teenager. I thought it was because I was young. Now I’m in my 50’s and I still don’t know what I want do with my life, though I have some solid ideas about how I want to live.

Goals aren’t really my thing. Or at least not goals about achieving a certain outcome – I do have goals about the process to get there, again, the how.

When I first joined a gym, the trainer asked my friend and I about our goals. We said we wanted to exercise. He asked what we were hoping to get out of doing the exercise… and we said, exercise. It was a painful conversation as he insisted we must want to get stronger, or lose weight, or have better endurance. We agreed those all sounded like lovely things, and if they happened that would be great. But if we exercised – moved our bodies in ways we enjoyed – regularly and none of those things happened, that would be fine too. He never understood.

How do you want to spend your time?

A few years ago, I made a list with my kids about our “intentions” (not sure that was the best word, but it was fun to draw it with pretty pens). Our list:

  • loving people
  • caring for our bodies
  • being outdoors
  • caring for our home
  • caring for our minds
  • exploring ALL THE PLACES
  • making beautiful things
  • changing the world

When someone says they’re bored… we go to the list. When I’m wondering if I’m spending my time in the best ways, I check in with the list. Your list will be different of course, or mean different things to you.

What isn’t on the list?

Deciding what you’re going to stop doing, or do less of, is just as important as knowing what you are going to prioritize.

For me, when I switched from thinking about “long distance running” to “caring for my body” I had the aha moment that I wasn’t really enjoying the running much anymore, and it wasn’t really great for my body. Cutting back on the time I spent running has been so incredibly freeing! I do much more walking, yoga, and weight training, not to mention all the other things I do with the extra time I have.

Pick ONE focus for the day!

Even with a short list, you can’t do it all every day. I pick one thing each day – relationships or exploring or whatever from the list. I still go to my job and make meals and chat with people of course, but I do it through the lens of my one focus. If it’s “being outdoors”, then I do walking meetings with people at work where we get out in the sunshine, and maybe the kids and I eat dinner on the porch – have a picnic – and I might cut the grass instead of sweeping the kitchen floor. I trust that my body, heart, and mind will tell me when the time is right to focus on each of the things on my list. 

Enjoy your dreams for the future, and live what you can of them today

I have dreams – ooooh owning a pen and stationery store, or living by the ocean, or being a grandma – and vague plans for the future. I’m really really awful at predicting the future though (aren’t we all?) and I do love surprises, so I’m always excited about all the unexpected twists and turns life takes.

The dreams are fun ideas to play with and they give me clues to what I’m valuing in life. If one of my kids has children and lives near an oceanside stationery store that’s up for sale, well then great! But if none of those things happen, my life is no less rich. My kids are sick with colds right now, so I get to baby them. I’m travelling soon, so I’ll visit a new pen shop and maybe find a treasure or two. And I always find ways to be near ponds, rivers, lakes, and yes, the ocean. I live my dreams every day. 

ALL THE PENS!

Our home is full of space and openness – every room has clear surfaces, with only houseplants and truly treasured items out on display. It’s not a stark minimalist look – it’s a colourful and cozy 100+ year old house, just with not much stuff. It’s me and my two teenagers (and often their friends), so there can be noise and clutter for sure, but in general: Serene and tidy.

Here’s my nightstand.

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And our linen closet. daxEMtpOQS60+He0OSGwtg

Kinda empty right? Then… then there are the pens… ALL THE PENS!!! I never go anywhere without my 3 Coletos, 2 fountain pens, and Muji 0.38. I use them all, so joyfully, every day, so they get prime real estate in our office.

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My daughter uses them too, and has pencil crayons and markers to add to the mix. fullsizeoutput_1a58

I can talk forever about which pens I use for which tasks and why – that will be a blog post or two in the future! For now, I’m going to go put some ink on paper 🙂

Powerful Books

A side effect of writing down my random thoughts is that I know the exact date when everything changed, when one of those thoughts was an epiphany. 

On April 4, 2015, I was sitting in Bryant Park in NYC (I already knew it was a magic place, this day’s events cemented it.) I was tired and a bit chilly; I’d realized that running a 10K race the first morning of a weekend of walking, walking, walking was not the smartest thing I’d done which led into a spiral of remembering all the other maybe-not-smart decisions I’d made. I couldn’t find the pen shop google told me was nearby, so basically I was failing at life.  

I did what I always do when I’m out of sorts, I started writing. Describing the setting made me appreciate it even more and the breeze made my notebook pages flutter against my hand, celebrating with me, comforting me. My angst blew away on the wind, and I wrote with happiness: I loved my decisions. Recently I’d started to “reset” my whole life and doing things – intentionally choosing to do things – that landed me writing in a midtown park on a spring day were definitely the right decisions.

Magic being what it is, when I looked up, the pen shop was right in front of me, hidden earlier by scaffolding. It was a book shop, and though their pen collection was my target, I browsed on my way in. There was a sweet little book featured – I’d heard of it, a japanese author telling us to organize our homes by sparking joy (https://konmari.com). Little woowoo, but I flipped through it, curious. And I saw the chapter called, “Reset Your Life.” The echo of my own writing minutes earlier made me smile. Woowoo indeed.

Its title truthfully claims it is Life-Changing Magic, and it sparks much joy in my life. I bought books on buddhism at my now favourite bookstore as well, and my life was officially reset.

I gobbled up – and began to practice – more buddhist teachings and minimalism. I didn’t just tidy up my house and office and computer (though radically decluttering them was, yes, life-changing), I decluttered my mind. HeatherAsh Amara’s Warrior Goddess books and workbook (https://heatherashamara.com) gave structure to my emotional work and gave me oh so much insight. Sarah Knight’s Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (http://sarahknightbooks.com) might be less spiritual, but she nails it, what it means to choose how you want to spend your time, your life.

In 2016, off on another adventure in another magical place, I created my own ritual of release – where I let go of things tangled up in my heart and mind. Ocean waves washed away what I didn’t need, and soaked me (okay, maybe it was the sudden rainstorm that soaked me, but still) in serenity, freedom, and love.

I started writing about Radical Decluttering recently so the magnet that draws me to bookshops around the world (this one was found wandering while on a full-day layover between flights in Calgary) drew me to Tara Brach’s book on Radical Acceptance (https://www.amazon.ca/Radical-Acceptance-Tara-Brach). At the perfect time, of course. My journey continues, as I embrace this magical life. 

 

 

Treasured Tools

Have I mentioned my love of ink on paper? For me, writing things down is a meditative, sensory experience. The physical act of handwriting calms me and gives me joy. I also find that using a paper schedule helps my brain plan better – I rely on my computer schedule, and also write things into my Passion Planner (passionplanner.com) My planner is also where I put everything, work – kids – social – exercise – home. It’s highly personal and the place where I decide when I need a sanity day because it’s too cluttered, or notice the balance of time with friends and time alone is skewed. (More details in this blog post)

Work schedule & email: Novell GroupWise. I wouldn’t actually say I treasure this, so much as I appreciate the functions. It’s like Outlook or Google-Suite and makes sharing storing and finding information so easy. Booking appointments and meetings is easy, and I’ve got it set up to make managing my work load and work flow a breeze.

All computers – I do love tech! My favourite by far is my MacBook. I use Windows at work, and an iPhone, an iPad, and will gladly play with any other device you hand me.

Cloud services. I’m a certified Privacy Professional (CIPP/C) so I get the worry about putting personal information into online services. I decluttered my digital life radically too and have specific uses for iCloud and Google Drive. I have the privilege (?) of having to know the privacy settings intimately for my day job.

Pretty things! I don’t have many hardcopy files, but the ones I do have are in stunningly gorgeous folders. My MacBook has a colourful vinyl skin (from decalgirl.com) that makes me smile all day. My pen case and notebooks are lovely. I don’t keep notebooks when I’m done with them, but I have been known to take a photo of a few of them because they are so joyful to look at.