S&P #001

[7 min read]

My life has been crazy hectic in 2007, and I’m very excited for a break when it all ends. In the beginning, I recognized I was taking on a lot of responsibilities and activities, but felt that all would be possible. Let me tell you, though…sometimes you’re asked to be stretched, and sometimes you push yourself further than you should. And although I consider myself a pretty ‘organized’ person, it was very difficult in prioritizing everything that I had to do, with being on the leadership committee with my church’s youth fellowship (and all the many meetings/activities that come along with that), starting a corporate job, creating the photography business, working with Up All Night, strengthening a relationship with the greatest girlfriend ever, as well as make personal time for entertaining, working out, etc. When I took it all, I looked at it as something that was possible, but just needs to be focused and organized. And I still see it as that, but noticed I hadn’t really organized much of anything correctly.
I fell under a thought process that being busy and never having time was a good thing- it meant I was productive…obviously. I’m learning, though, that it’s the exact opposite of what I want. I want to clear up as much time as possible (while still doing what I need), in order to free up my life for more important things: making myself available for family and friends, picking up entertaining hobbies, progressing in knowledge instead of continuing to do the same mindless tasks over and over for much of my day.
So in recent months, I’ve resolved to make some changes in my lifestyle, ultimately striving to Simplify it and make it Purposeful. (Hence the S&P). Much of these tips/tricks/etc. I learned from other people via blogs, books, and the like, and figured I should pass some of the stuff I’m doing along to others. Some things might not be applicable to you, but I’m sure someone will find this useful. Let me know what you think…

#001 – Under10 Inbox

There have been numerous changes that I have made with my email communication. I was primarily influenced/sparked by InboxZero, and adjusted it a bit to what I felt was best for me. Ultimately, my goal is to have less than 10 e-mails in my inbox at all times. This can seem like a very daunting (and unlikely) task, but I have gotten this to work so far, and it’s really increased my productivity and has stopped me from being ‘attached’ to my inbox (with Gmail, obviously). Here are some things that I’ve done:

One of the many things filling up my inbox was junk mail. If I ever purchased a product online or needed to register for a site, I would be added to their mailing lists, and would not give the time of day to those e-mails. I spent much time just deleting unwanted e-mail. At the bottom of every e-mail, however, there is an unsubscribe link…one click, and I no longer get these useless mailers from Crate&Barrel.

I created a list of about 20 categories or so for which my e-mails could be automatically grouped in: family, finances, photography, church, facebook, etc. Whenever I get an e-mail, before I even open it, I select it and give it a label. The best thing of this is it helps when I need to reference back to an old e-mail for information, as I have a more direct plan of attack. And with Gmail, you can archive your e-mails so they are no longer shown in your inbox, but you still have easy reference. (This can be very time consuming intially for people who have 10,000 messages in their inbox with no labels- spend like an hour a day cleaning it up and you won’t regret it!)

Now that I have these labels, I have set some auto-filters, where e-mails will automatically bypass my inbox and be archived. These are for e-mails that I still want to receive, but don’t really need to read it immediately as they come in (ie. Facebook notices, forum alerts, etc.). Now, I know there are new messages because the sidebar shows it, but it’s not cluttering my inbox. I recommend doing this for as many consistent e-mails you receive (from organizations, mailing lists, etc.).

[3line Reply and] Archive
I used to hold on to so many e-mails in my inbox because I didn’t have ‘time’ to write out an e-mail. I then realized that I don’t need to share my life testimony and all the happenings in my day in the e-mail. For many e-mails, if you need to reply, you can really just say what needs to be said in about 3 lines, which doesn’t take that long. Once you get in the habit of quick responses, you won’t have these e-mails nagging your mind and your to-do list. Then, as soon as you hit send, don’t worry about it- archive it. If a response is given back, you’ll get the message in your inbox later. If no response is needed, then it’s the end of the conversation and you don’t need it in your inbox.
There are some e-mails which you don’t need to respond to. Then, archive it immediately. If there is important information in the e-mail (ie. meeting times, places, etc.), I’ll immediately add it to my schedule or notes on my iPod Touch, then archive it. Again, it’s just clutter. If I need to refer to it again, it’s got its proper label, and Gmail also has a quality search tool.

Star the Long Term
There are a handful of e-mails that do require time (which I might not have doing a quick check). For these, I simply star them and keep it in my inbox. I then discipline myself to to spend some time every night (or every other) to respond to at least one of these. This way, I make sure I respond to every necessary e-mail, and don’t keep ‘putting it off’ (and watching my inbox grow with stars). After I send it, I remove the star, and archive. Done and done.

I’m not that popular of a guy that I have more than 9 e-mails that require as much attention to “star” them, and therefore have been able to cut the burden and stranglehold of e-mail. Woo hoo!

There are other factors/disciplines/mentalities that coincide and connect with this, but this tip is primarily for working within the inbox setting.

Do you guys have any efficiency tips (in regards to e-mail or other aspects of your life)? I’d love to hear what everyone does to simplify their life and make time for purpose.