I’m not sure where September went this year. I just know it went quickly and the balance train ran me over. But, in the last few days, I feel that things are returning to “normal.” In other words, August is over and it is actually October now. As you read in my last post, August is a hectic time for school folks. August doesn’t end with the calendar saying September 1. August ends when the rush of back to school changes to the steady pace of the school year.
So, what have I learned from this year’s extended August? Two new email techniques have been added to my arsenal: categories and deferring.
Outlook 2007 has categories that can be used for calendar items or emails. I’ve never really used them for anything other than contacts and then it was just for tagging people to whom I send holiday cards. Next, I started using them to tag tasks. A red square (Category WF for “waiting for…” ) beside a task means that I can’t move forward on this particular task until someone gets me something that I’ve asked for. The waiting for list is another of the techniques from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Yes, I’m sure you’re spotting a theme in this blog. It’s all about the GTD. Anyway, there are several main topics of email that arrive on most days right now. One is questions from staff members about the new databases we implemented this summer. Another is items to be added to our new website or questions about its ongoing development. A third is questions from parents or students about accessing the web or the database. After those, there’s everything else. As the amount of incoming email became more than I could clear in a day, I started using categories: “Parent/Student Question,” “Database” and “Web” joined the “WF” category. By coding messages, I was able to deal with them in batches, ignoring the category that I wasn’t working with at the time and not re-touching the message over and over. This has proven to be an incredibly helpful technique and has kept important questions and requests from slipping off my radar in the sea of incoming items.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had that little stack of messages at the bottom of my email inbox that I just wasn’t ready to answer yet. Not because they were in the “WF” category, but because I needed to think about them or decide what my weekend plan was. Each time I scanned through my inbox, these messages sat at the bottom, mocking me for my inability to clear that box. Then I discovered the “Defer” button on the ClearContext toolbar. Click the bottom, set a time, and the message disappears until that time. Know that you can’t reply to that dinner invitation until after you see next week’s schedule? Defer. Not ready to decide whether you want to take advantage of the most recent offer from a vendor? Defer. Simple. Elegant. Useful.
Now, Fall Break has arrived and I’m breathing a sigh of relief. My inbox isn’t empty, but it only has a 10 items in it and I can relax for a few days. Things have been crazy and busy, and at times a little overwhelming, but I have two new techniques to manage the flow of information. This can only make it easier to find a little tech/life balance. Happy Fall Break!