Inbox Zero – a week later

I love Inbox Zero.  Elation is the only work that I think I can use that comes close to describing the feeling of seeing my inbox totally empty.   Two weekends ago, I posted “my own personal failblog” from a fog of feeling overwhelmed and tired.  Last weekend, I took the bull by the horns and spend two days ruthlessly clearing my inbox.  I started Saturday morning around 7:30 and Sunday afternoon around 4:30, I hit inbox zero.   Disclaimer – I slept, ate, did laundry, and located a roll of masking tape my husband needed.

So, a week later, it’s Sunday again.  Guess what!  The inbox is still empty.  It has been empty each night for a week.  It can be done.   And, in case you are wondering, I received 396 emails this week.

So, how did I manage that?   Back to David Allen’s Getting Things Done and a few simple rules.

  1. Do it now.  Different people use different numbers for how long a “do it now” task is – usually 1-3 mintues.  I don’t really put a number on it, just “a few.”
  2. Stop procrastinating.  I had gotten particularly bad at putting off tasks for all manner of reasons.  I didn’t have enough time on had to do it right.  I was stuggling with how to handle that email response.   I needed to write but was having a low-creativity day.  I needed information I didn’t have.  I was waiting for someone to be back from vacation.   Now – do it, delegate it or schedule it.
  3. No “To Do’s” in the inbox.  If it is in the inbox, you have to think about it every time you open the inbox.  If it is a to do, either do it or get it into the tasks list and scheduled do be done.

So, I’ve managed a week with these rules helping me to keep an empty inbox.  Its a really nice feeling.  I’ve actually gotten to the end of my emails and my tasks a couple of times this week and found myself looking forward on my list to see if there’s anything I can do in advance.   I’m pretty sure that wasn’t possible two weeks ago.  Let’s see how long I can keep this thing going.



My Own Personal FailBlog

I’m a fan of failblog and the rest of the cheezburger network.  Sometimes funny pictures of cats really can make your day better.  However, I’m not referring to this failblog, but to this post as being my confession of failing at my blog.

If you read the previous post, you may notice that I last posted on 6/10/10, just four days short of a FULL YEAR AGO.   Really?   I haven’t had anything to say for a FULL YEAR?   For any of you who know me, you know that this is not remotely possible.   Not at all.

What happened a year ago?  I went on a few trips and I got a promotion that added a new department to my area of responsibility.  And I fell off the blog wagon.  About three months after that, I fell off the balance wagon.  I stopped working out consistently.  I stopped being careful about what I ate.  I stopped cooking.  I stopped spreading housework through the week and ended up doing it on weekends.  I stopped stopping at a reasonable time at night, checking email and working into the evening and night.  I stopped staying connected to my personal learning network on Twitter.   You can’t write a “tech life balance” blog if you’re really lacking in tech life balance, now can you? (Note: this post came from a previous blog entitled “tech life balance.)

So, here’s my failblog confession.   I failed to blog and I failed at the purpose of the blog.  I forgive me.

In the words of Thomas Edison,  “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”   Maybe I haven’t found 10,000 ways that don’t work, but I have found a number of things that don’t make me feel like I’m as happy and balanced as I want to be.

Now, I’ve come back to this blog and to taking time to consider the questions that I designed this blog.

I just hope I can stay on the wagon this time.

Hang up and…

Once, in college, I was given a tiara.  I was given the title “Queen of Multitasking.”  It was a very small ceremony and the tiara was made of carbon atoms from my Organic Chem molecule building kit.  So, know before you read the rest of this that I have been known to multitask.  Often.  I once gave a full AP Computer Science tutorial while working out at the school gym on an elliptical machine.  I kid you not.

That said, I really want people to hang up.  You do not need to be using a cell phone at all times.

I saw a guy biking down a fairly busy street the other day.  He was texting.  With both hands.  He clearly has better balance than I do, but this just seems unwise.

A few weeks ago, I waited several minutes to get cheddar slices at Target.  Why? Because the woman standing in front of the cheese was on the phone oblivious to the polite attempts of others to reach the cheese. This trend continued in the cleaning products and in produce.  If you want to shop with a friend, bring her with you.  Or better yet, go have coffee and leave the grocery store to those of us who can fill our carts and be out in less than 20 minutes.

Other places that your shouldn’t be on the phone:

Fitting Rooms:  Being trapped in a cubicle with fluorescent lighting and then having to listen to you talk about your hernia is adding insult to injury.

The bathroom: Seriously.  No one wants to talk to you while you do your business.  No one.

In Line:  Any line at all.  I do not want to listen to the details of your argument with your friend, husband, wife, neighbor, co-worker, boss, cat, dog or potted plant.

Stores:  While shopping, phone calls should be limited to one of the three following calls:

  1. “Honey, was I supposed to get apple juice and oranges or orange juice and apples?”  “Okay. Thanks. Bye”
  2. “Can I call you back in 15 minutes?”  “Okay. Thanks. Bye.”
  3. “You have a wrong number.” “Okay. Thanks. Bye.”

Restaurants: Just eat.  You talk with your mouth full when you’re on the phone.  You think you don’t, but you do.

Bonus rudeness points to anyone talking on a speaker phone in public.

And to quote my husband, “If I have to think, ‘hang up and walk,’ you’re doing something wrong.”

So, what does my rant have to do with tech/life balance?  Tech isn’t life.  Needing to be connected all the time isn’t balance.  Simple daily tasks can just happen.  Save your multitasking for when you’re not disturbing others.

Hang up and…

Note: This post was originally part of my previous blog entitle “Tech Life Balance.”

Fall Back, Spring Forward

Tomorrow night marks this year’s entry into Daylight Saving’s Time.   This post is about falling back and springing forward, but the relationship to daylight savings ends there.

This fall, I gave new meaning to “Fall Back.”  I set the clock back an hour, but you might also notice that my last post was at the beginning of my school’s Fall Break.  In realizing that I “fell back,” I’m thinking about my five month hiatus from this blog, twitter, nings,
and most other sources of professional interaction and growth.  I fell of the balance train and right back in to my long established bad habits surrounding work/life balance.

Now, it’s time to spring forward.  As I write this, I am five hours into my school’s Spring Break, but that’s not the cause of this return to the blogosphere.

This week, I spent two days at the NCAIS Innovate conference.  I feel refreshed.  I feel thoughtful.  I feel pretty, oh so… oh wait, that’s West Side Story.

For two days, I attended workshops, shared ideas, tweeted constantly, met people I’d only known online, and generally had time to think outside the to do list.   It was amazing and it reminded me that by allowing myself to disengage in the name of “being soooo busy,” I hadn’t really gained anything.  I had lost out on growth.

My to do list is longer today than it was yesterday, both because things happened while I was away that must be handled and because I have so many new ideas, new blogs to read, and new connections to nurture.  But a few more to do’s are okay.  I’m committing to springing forward into engagement.  I will stay connected.  I will remember the importance of being present in the community of educators.  I will remember that if the small things fill the days, weeks and months, that the big things will never fit.

In the last five months, I have discovered new tools and techniques for my classes.  I’ve made my first youtube videos and given an lab assessment for a semester exam rather than a traditional pencil and paper test, just to name two.  I’ll be back soon to share these with you.  I’ll also share some further thoughts on some of the great ideas and presentations that I saw at NCAIS innovate.  But for now, it’s time to sign off, unplug, and get spring break started with a movie.

Goodbye, August. Hello, October.

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!