Your Weekly Sanity Hour

We’ve not covered the benefits of grabbing a quick half hour power nap in the middle of your work day. But what would you say if I told you that one whole hour per week can save you endless stress and insanity?

Let me explain.

You no doubt have an incredible busy life and a to-do list a mile long. And the longer it gets, the harder it is to get anything done. As you add new tasks, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to give each the proper attention they need.

That’s why it’s so crucial to give yourself one hour each week for a sanity check-in. It gives you time to get a pulse on all your To-Dos in front of you at once, take stock of the big picture, and keep track of everything that’s on your plate. It also gives you the time to think about how you can work smarter and more efficiently through that list, instead of slaving away everyday.

It’s easy to do. You just need to incorporate a weekly sanity hour into your regular routine. Here’s how I recommend you do it:

Schedule a recurring event on your calendar every week, whether on your online calendar (I recommend Google Calendar) or a paper one, preferably an hour or two. Then dedicate that time to getting yourself organized for the week ahead and ensuring that nothing is slipping through the cracks. This could mean organizing your tasks, making lists of people you need to follow up with, arranging your priorities so you can always focus on the tasks that are most important – whatever you need to do at that time to get your head and vision back on straight.

Now don’t you dare go spend this time working on the actual tasks. This is your chance to take a break from working, take a step back from it all and see it on a macro level. Here are some examples of things I utilize this time for:

  • Clean up my workspace, put stray items away and toss excessive clutter
  • Empty out my email inbox, make sure my Gmail filters and labels are working properly, clean out any outdated or superfluous ones
  • Review and update my high-level projects & goals, and the bite-size steps I’ve laid out towards each for the coming week, or whatever next approaching deadline
  • Look at my calendar for the week, take note of any important calls or meetings that will need preparation, and schedule extra time for that preparation
  • Take stock of any projects I’ve been wanting to tackle but haven’t had time, such as redesigning my website or updating my resume
  • Think about how I can be more efficient with my time, and consider one new tool to try out this week that might improve my productivity

Now it’s your turn!

What can you do to improve your work sanity with one hour a week? Schedule yourself some time and try it out – and then let me know how it goes!

And don’t forget to subscribe to my email list!

Your Un-Resolutions List

Not To-Do list“You must give up the life you planned, in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” -Joseph Campbell

Now that we’ve talked about your New Year’s resolution lists and some stellar techniques to help us stick to them, it’s time to see the other side of the coin. Besides listing out the things you want to do this year, it’s also a healthy practice to list out what you don’t want to do – what things you’ll want to avoid, things that suck up your time and contribute to your Chaos.

So let’s make a Un-Resolutions List!

Here are some suggestions from mine:

  1. To not check all of my email all the time. This is a massive time suck, and can be avoided by setting up a good system of filters and labels to automatically organize your emails, and then checking the whole bunch of important unread emails all at once or at set times everyday. I have done this with my own Gmail setup, and I promise you it has made a huge difference in my day.
  2. To not answer emails first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Early in the AM, you still might not be awake enough to properly absorb and respond, and could potentially scramble your plans for the rest of the day. Late at night, you could likewise be too tired to focus on your email, and studies have shown that looking at your computer screen right before bed can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep at night.
  3. To not procrastinate. Don’t get yourself caught in the self-perpetuating “I’ll do it later” cycle. I’ve never met anyone who found true happiness and fulfillment from procrastination. Parkinson’s Law states that a task will essentially take the amount of time you allot to complete it. So set tight deadlines and then get it done! Schedule an event on your Google Calendar, and then force yourself to complete it in that time frame. Because the sooner you do it, the sooner you don’t have to do it.
  4. To not try to do everything. If you prioritize well, you should understand that not all tasks are created equal. And some tasks use more time and resources than they earn back. These are not worth doing! It is far smarter to focus on the most important tasks and most rewarding practices and most efficient skills, and let go of the rest. Remember, the key to having more time is doing less.
  5. To not try to do everything perfectly the first time. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, and it is perfectly natural. A fear of failure will ultimately only hold you back from attempting the truly important and worthwhile. Allow yourself the freedom to create a “draft” version first, and then take any slip-ups in stride and channel that towards improving what you’re working on.
  6. To try not to get hung up on details. I am naturally very detail-oriented, but that means that I often lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s important to balance both, and always remember the ultimate goal. That’s why I recommend keeping your high-level goals written down and easy to access. So whenever you get bogged down in the day-to-day grind, you can quickly pull back and remind yourself of your bigger objective, and then move on to tasks that better worked towards that.
  7. To not carry your cellphone 24/7. I know this sounds crazy in today’s age of technology addiction, but it is a healthy practice every once in a while to take a break from your digital leashes. Try turning your phone off or even leaving it behind entirely for a whole day, and see how much more you observe and engage with the world around you that day. Good chances are it won’t be the end of the world if you have to return someone’s call or email the next morning.
  8. To not answer calls from unrecognized numbers. This may mean occasionally missing a call you didn’t want to, but more often than not, it will mean avoiding the unnecessary and unknown callers and telemarketers. I personally never answer for a random number. That said, if I am expecting a call from someone new, and I have been given their number, I immediately save them as a contact in my phone, so that I can recognize them when they do call.
  9. To not take calls or meetings without a clear agenda or end time. I used to work in the corporate world of unnecessary and unnecessarily long meetings. And I learned that if there is a clearly stated objective or agenda laid out ahead of time, no call or meeting should take more than 30min. So learn from my experience, and email your request it in advance so you “can be best prepared to make good use of the time together.” Or ask that they share a Google Doc with the meeting’s agenda, so that all the attendees can collaborate and agree on it together before stepping into the meeting room.
  10. To not try to please everyone. It’s simply one of life’s law that you are never going to please everyone. In high school, I had a hard time grasping the fact that I wasn’t going to get everyone to like me. There will always be somebody who disagrees with you, and you’re never going to be able to control what others think. So don’t waste your time worrying about it. Focus instead on what you can control, on being someone you yourself can be pleased with and on the people who do deserve your time and attention.

There are just some suggestions of mine, but I encourage you to think of any others that might be more specific to you. Often times, our un-resolutions are simply mirror images of our resolutions. For example, not procrastinating and not trying to do everything can be seen as reflections of the resolution to better prioritize.

So look at your own list of resolutions for this year. Can you think of any potentially negative behaviors that could hinder your ability to accomplish these? Give it a solid try, and try not to stress about it too much. If it helps, it helps. If not, move on and focus on what else you can do.

Un-thank you!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Feel free to comment on this post and share!

In The Gmail Laboratory

Gmail Labs“Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.” -David Cronenberg

Let’s start by thinking about the madness in your daily routine. I want you to think of one activity you do everyday that always manages to suck up way more time than you intend? Now I’m going to take a wild guess, and say you’re probably thinking of your email inbox. Nowadays email is pretty much a necessity, and it can prove extremely useful for efficient communication with others. But how often does it prove less efficient with your own time?

In my experience, both with myself and with clients, I’ve found email to be the single most sizable daily activity both in what it gives and what it takes. By no means am I suggesting you do away with the thing entirely, but I do believe everyone can benefit from reining it in a bit to maximize productivity without the time waste. I use my inbox as my to-d0 list, so it has to be extremely streamlined. I never have more than 50 emails in my inbox at a time, and never spend more than 30min any given day to maintain that system. But how do I do it?

It’s all thanks to these magic tools called Gmail Labs.

First, let’s start with “why Gmail”. I won’t spend too long on this, but here are a few key reasons:

  • Well first it’s Google, and therefore has far superior search capabilities than any other web-based email service
  • It also makes sharing incredibly easy, especially if you’re using other Google products as well
  • It’s the most user-friendly interface, that’s both exceptionally customizable and easy to navigate
  • You can access it from any computer or device you can log into, and it all stays stored in the cloud (no more email files taking up valuable hard drive space)
  • You know that handy view of all your emails pertaining to the same subject in one nice connected thread, including the emails you’ve sent? Well only Gmail has that.
  • You can still use it “offline” when not connected to the internet – even compose & queue up emails, and Gmail will automatically send them once you reconnect.
  • And lastly, you can add labels to categorize your emails without also having to filter them out of your Inbox into a separate folder for that label (if you don’t want to)

Now let’s talk Gmail labs & features. I have fallen in love with so many of them, but here are my top few favorites that can make your life a lot easier:

  • Labels: Other email programs let you create folders outside your inbox that you can sort your emails into. Gmail also lets you create these folders, but then tags each email with that folder name and then let’s you choose whether you’d rather file that email away in the folder or keep it in front of you in your inbox – still labeled for easy reference. Your label folders will still be listed along the left-side navigation bar, so you can easily check into them, and even drag & drop emails into or out of them.

TO APPLY: (a) select/open an email & use the “Labels” drop down menu to “Create new” label for that email OR (b) go into Mail Settings –> Labels & click the button to “Create new label” to add to your list.

  • Filters: Armed with your convenient new Labels, you can specify when you’d like them automatically applied to incoming emails. And similarly, you can specify in this stage whether you’d like those emails to be automatically filed away (or ‘archived’) into the corresponding folder, or left in your inbox. Personally, I receive a lot of frequent emails that are low priority for reading (ex. online shopping deals, newsletters, etc) so now I have them all automatically ‘Skip the Inbox’ into their respective label folders. If it’s something I will want to eventually read, I just leave the ‘Mark as read’ box unchecked. I then have so few emails left over that still go directly into my inbox, that it becomes so much easier to manage. The only emails I allow to go straight to my inbox are those I know will require immediate action or response.

TO APPLY: (a) go into Mail Settings –> Filters & click the “Create a new filter” link at the bottom, OR (b) click the handy dandy “Create a filter” link located at the top of your Gmail interface, next to the Search box.

EXTRA TIP: In your Mail Settings, under Labels, you can opt to have a label folder only ‘Show if unread’, which means it will only appear in your left-side nav if it has any unread emails in it. I find this extremely useful combined with my extensive filtering, for those non-urgent emails I automatically have filtered into folders but keep unread. With this setting, I can quickly see if I have any currently unread emails, and otherwise keep my navigation bar peacefully uncluttered.

  • Superstars (now just called Stars): This used to be a Gmail Lab, but I guess they realized how indispensable it is, so it is now available in your General Mail Settings. You can choose any combination of 12 unique “stars”. Then you click on the star outline to the left of each email to apply any one of them for additional labeling. I use 6 stars to signify what action each email requires, which helps me visually organize the list of emails I do leave in my inbox. The  means “this is important, but no action required”. The  reminds me that I need to take action on it next. The  lets me know that I’m waiting for a response from someone else. The  indicates that there were actions taken, but all is now resolved. The says “hey, pay extra special attention to this one!” And finally, the  is the way I mark information I’ll need to reference later, such as an email containing an important link or attachment. These 6 stars are exactly what I need, but I urge you to find the combination that works best for you.

TO APPLY: go into Mail Settings –> General, under “Stars” and simply drag the ones you want to use into the row labeled “In use”, in any order you choose.

  • Undo Send: This is possibly the greatest gift Gmail Labs has to offer. Have you ever sent an email, and then immediately after wished you hadn’t yet? Well this nifty Lab gives you a 5 sec window (or 10, 20 or 30 sec – you can pick!) after clicking “Send” to undo your mistake. It gives you an extra chance to make sure you remembered to include that link, or sent it to the right person, and avoid a great deal of embarrassment and aggravation.

TO APPLY: go into Mail Settings –> Labs & click to “Enable” the “Undo Send” option.

  • Canned Responses: Do you find yourself doing a lot of repetitive typing? You can create a template email response to auto-populate anytime you are in that situation, saving you the trouble of writing out the whole response afresh each time. You can even specify to automatically reply with one of your Canned Responses using your Filters. I find this tool extremely useful while on vacation or when I want to send a similar but personalized email to multiple email addresses individually.

TO APPLY: go into Mail Settings –> Labs & click to “Enable” the “Canned Responses” option, then when composing an email, select to Save it from the “Canned responses” drop down menu below the Subject box.

  • Multiple InboxesEver since Gmail added this handy little Lab, your inbox has been turned into an even more customizable machine. Now you can add mini-inboxes right next to your main inbox, which let you quickly see a subset of your most important emails. Since I use the  star to help indicate my To Do’s, I use my additional inbox to show every email that “has:orange-guillemet”, which helps me visually narrow down my larger inbox to only my core To Do List.

TO APPLY: first go into Mail Settings –> Labs & click to “Enable” the “Multiple Inboxes” option, then go into Mail Settings –> Multiple inboxes, and set your parameters (as well as where in your main view you’d like your additional inboxes to appear).

These are only a few of the numerous Gmail Labs available now, which I have found most useful for my own workflow. I eagerly encourage you to go see what Gmail offers for yourself and decide what would work best for you. It will mean carving out some time for this, and some initial setup, but it will be worth it and can save you exponentially more time in the ongoing future.

This also only scratches the surface of what you can do with Gmail to manage your time and tasks. So I’ll likely be posting more on this subject soon, but for now, enjoy experimenting with Gmail Labs!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please feel free to comment on this post and share!