Monday, October 29, 2012

Email Inbox Management

A month ago, I had thousands and thousands of emails in my gmail inbox. Some of them had been read, some of them had not. Some of them were tagged "shopping," or "events," some of them were not. Some of them were items I had meant to deal with by the next day, but then they dropped off the front page and I stopped thinking about them. Some of them were the totally useless emails that made the action items drop off the front page.

It was not a good system. It was a lot of work to deal with my inbox since I had to weed through multiple pages just to see a couple days' worth of mail. And frankly, even when I did this work, things were slipping through the cracks - important things like handbag sales and invitations to parties. This could not stand. Gmail has a lot of optional organizational features, such as tags and filters. I used tags, but not comprehensively. I also used a starring system, but again, not comprehensively, and I never archived. My inbox went back to the day I opened the gmail account.

Now, things are better. I currently have 16 items in my inbox, and a much more robust system in place for tagging, archiving and acting on incoming messages. I know that for many people, INBOX ZERO is the holy grail of email management, but that is not the case for me. I recently read the post "27 Ways to get More Sh!t Done" on Greatist. I agree with nigh unto everything in that post, but only nigh unto, because their twelfth Way to Get More Sh!t Done is, "12. Hit inbox zero. Sort every email once that inbox is open. Respond, file, draft, or delete. Keeping the inbox clean is key to staying organized and on point."

I like emails associated with the pending tasks or experiments on my horizon to stay handy in my inbox. Right now, I've got an email from the airline about my Thanksgiving travel, the purchase confirmation for an order that has not yet arrived, an emailed query to which the answer must be carefully crafted, etc. in my inbox. Some of these are things that I know will require me to act; some are merely things that might require me to act if things go wrong, but they all need to stay in the forefront of my thoughts. As soon as I take those flights, I'll archive the email from the airline.

Here's what I did to get there: 
I slogged. Over the course of several evenings, I skimmed through years' worth of inbox, replying with chagrin where appropriate, and setting many many filters that would tag things for me as much as possible. I used broad categories when possible (SHOPPING, EVENTS, SOCIAL MEDIA) and narrow categories when necessary (SPRING 2013 CONFERENCE PREP).

Then I archived by filter. A lot. And then I slogged through the unfiltered stuff some more. And filtered it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here's what I do now: 
When I check my email now, I'm presented with a few unread emails and 10-20 emails that have been sitting in my inbox for a while. I read, tag, and/or archive the new stuff immediately. And then - this part is key - I also scan the old stuff - if it has become actionable, I act on it; if it has become archive-able I archive it. As long as I keep the inbox to one display page (30 or fewer) this is totally do-able and makes for much quicker and more efficient email use.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Often Carry (but not everyday)

As a follow-up to my everyday carry post of two weeks ago, here's the stuff I often have with me, but that I do not consider essential to leaving the home:

My items are not organized neatly enough for Things Organized Neatly
Starting at the top and moving clockwise, they are:

  • A ballpoint pen. 
  • A travel container of two spice mixes in case of culinary disappointment - Penzeys Lemon Pepper (so good) and Penzeys Galena Street Rub (also so good).
  • Travel tissues. 
  • In-ear headphones, held tidy with a binder clip. 
  • A case that used to hold contact lenses and now holds a sewing kit, earplugs, bobby pins, etc. 
  • A small vial of assorted painkillers. 
  • Pencil.

... served on a bed of notebook. The notebook used to contain merely my two-column to-do lists for two days and a lot of other paper, but since I started my new tracking systems, now contains a week's worth of to do lists, an ephemera page and my spending for the month.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spice Rack

I alphabetize the spices on my spice rack. This will probably surprise no one. I do, however, alphabetize them in a half-assed way, which probably also surprises no one.

Here's how I do it:

I 've got the basics - sweeteners, salts and peppers - up there on the top shelf, then mixes (zatar, steak rub, etc) and then All the As, All the Bs, All the Cs, etc down through Tarragon. The bottom shelf is full of outsize things and Baking Needs.

The rack itself was made by my dad and you can see the nice carving he did along the edges. What you can't see is that the rack has pegs on either side of it for the hanging of things. That's where my candy thermometer lives, for instance.

Okay, all y'all - put me to shame: how do YOU organize YOUR spice rack?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Everyday Carry

Last week I chatted with a friend who has moved to the city recently. (Full disclosure: we were chatting about LISTS.) We discussed how her handbag is the size and general weight of Rhode Island because she is adjusting to no longer having a car full of everything she might need.

I realized that my everyday carry (phone, wallet, keys and lipgloss) has been honed over the years, such that it now can fit in the front pockets of slacks, or in a sleek fish-shaped evening bag or whatever.

Clockwise from top: wallet, lipgloss, phone, keys. 
To conserve space further, I use a cardcase as my wallet and just fold the bills in half. I use a hairtie as a keychain for compressibility and wristwrapping when appropriate. I use an incase slider case for my phone.

While this is a short list and my everyday carry is pretty tiny, I pack a ton of stuff into these items.

What's in the phone: books, maps, music, internet, games, drawing apps, reference materials, etc.

What's in the wallet: cards, cash, A BANDAID, good luck charm, receipts I need to save, train tickets.

What's on the key chain: keys (duh), membership cards, library card, good luck charm, teeny dongle.

What's in the lip gloss tube: It's just lip gloss.

This is the baseline of what I carry, and often it's really all I go out with.

However, I also carry additional things based on where I'm going and what I'm doing there. I have headphones, a sewing kit and earplugs and a pillbox full of painkillers and a hairbrush now that I am growing my hair out, and small containers of spice mixes for use in case of boring food, each of which might get added to my bag on any given day. I've also got my to do list that goes with me whenever I am attending a work event or traveling, and of course I have various work documents and tools (full disclosure part two: those tools are chalk) in my work bag.

All the extras tend to live in the zippered part of my work bag while the four items pictured above go with me wherever I go.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dog Systems

Cody is the best dog in the world, but he is not inherently well-organized. Left to his own devices, he would strew toy innards throughout the home, sleep till noon and eat all his food at once. My boyfriend Chris and I need to do all of Cody's organizing tasks for him, and this is how we do it:

Hello? Yes, this is Dog. 
Weekday Walks: Chris walks Cody in the morning because his commute requires less exact timing than mine does. We pay a dog walker to walk him in the afternoon, and I walk him right before bed, which is nice for me because it requires a certain amount of consistency in getting ready for bed at a decent hour.

Weekend Walks: Chris still generally walks Cody in the morning and I still generally walk him at bedtime on weekends, and we split the afternoons depending on weekend schedules.

Food: Cody has two meals a day. Chris feeds him breakfast after the morning walk, and on weekdays I feed him dinner as soon as I get home from work. On the weekends, he gets dinner after his afternoon walk by whoever has just walked him.

Toys: Because Cody does not clean up after himself, I try to limit his toys to three in circulation at a given time. There is generally one hard gnaw-y toy, one totally eviscerated soft toy, one still recognizable stuffed toy looking like road kill around the apartment. The recognizable toy evolves into the eviscerated one and the cycle of toy decay continues.

Vet scheduling, monthly heartworm and flea and tick prevention: Cody has his own Google calendar that Chris and I both write into. This helps us keep track of when he has had vet check-ups, who has paid the dogwalker this week, when Cody last had a bath, etc.

Nickname: Cody is also known as Sir Dogface Von Excellence.