The World’s Most Stressful Noise

The most stressful noise in the world is not, in fact, the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, even though I cringed just typing it.  It’s the ding of your e-mail notifications.

According to psychologists, the steady stream of emails filling up your inbox is a “toxic source of stress.”  The best thing you can do to eliminate this stress is to turn off your email notifications.  


The second best thing you can do is commit to an “inbox zero” approach to e-mails.  For some of you, the last sentence was at best laughable and at worst stress-inducing.  Even if we could find a virtual backhoe to dig us out of the bottomless inbox pit, how can we avoid getting buried by tomorrow morning’s mudslide?

Achieving inbox zero can actually save hours each week and is more about the way you view your emails than stressing yourself out with having to maintain a pristine inbox.

Step #1: Repeat “My inbox is not my to-do list” 3x each morning.

Just kidding.  But ditching the habit of using your inbox as your to-do list is the only way to achieve inbox zero plus it has all sorts of cool side effects: (1) empowers you to prioritize tasks (2) ensures you never accidently delete forever that e-mail with super important information ever again (3) breaks you free from the tyranny of the urgent

Step #2: Create 3 folders in your inbox

Name one “Read”, one “Answer”, and one “Hold”.

Step #3: Start implementing the 2 minute rule

When you’re sorting through e-mails, use the 2 minute rule to determine what to do with each e-mail.  If it takes:

  • Less than 2 minutes to read and respond to the e-mail, do that immediately and then delete the e-mail
  • More than 2 minutes to respond to the e-mail, put it in the “answer” folder
  • More than 2 minutes to read the email, put it in the “read” folder
  • More than 2 minutes to retrieve information needed to deal with the e-mail, request that information or add it to your to-do list and then put the email in the “hold” folder

Step #4: Master that right-click to save move

Did you know you can save e-mail files?  If an email has information in it that you’d like to keep, right click and hit “save as” to save it into your file system.  This insures that the information is cozy and safe while leaving your inbox clear.

Step #5: Sort through all other folders using the 2-minute rule and then delete them.  Do the same to your inbox.

Don’t worry, they won’t be gone forever.  See next step.

Step #5: Set up an auto-archive system for your deleted & sent folders

Every e-mail server under “settings” should allow you to set up an archive schedule.  Personally, I prefer archiving items that are over 60 days old.

Step #6: Rinse and repeat

Set up times each day when you’ll be answering your e-mail.  Go through your inbox with the 2-minute rule in Step #3 and then once or twice a day, go through read and answer the emails in your “read”, “answer”, and “hold” folders.

If you feel lost without your inbox as your to-do list, I’d highly one of these to-do list and project management apps that will keep all of your to-dos in one place and keep them from getting buried in your inbox.

But what happens to all those deleted emails?  What if I need to go back and look at one?

Here’s the beauty of achieving inbox zero–you still can!  Remember, your deleted and sent e-mails are getting backed up automatically into your archive folder so they are never more than a few clicks away.  If you need a recently deleted email, simply search for the email in your deleted folder with the name of who sent it and a keyword.  This might sound scary,  but you’re already used to using the same search techniques in your inbox.  Your e-mails are just as safe in your deleted folder, and also wonderfully out of sight and out of mind.

Bonus Tip: It takes almost the same amount of time to unsubscribe as it does to delete an email.  If you’re never going to read those promotional emails, unsubscribe and over time, your daily email sorting will get way easier.
Give yourself grace.  I don’t always finish the day with a crystal clear inbox and neither will you. The journey to inbox zero has changed my perspective towards emails and loosened their chains on my stress levels.

A List of List-Making Tools

The first official to-do list I ever made was in January of 2006 at age 12. I broke my day

ToDo List

First Baby To-Do List

into 15 minute increments and dutifully filled each minute with a task or activity. I know this because in addition to be a neurotic list-maker, I am also a neurotic archivist of my own life.  The biographers will have plenty of material.

 

Sometime in college, I realized that scheduling out every minute of my day wasn’t healthy for me and I returned to the traditional to-do list.  Problem was, I kept it on my computer’s sticky note application which liked to spontaneously self-destruct, destroying my beautiful lists.

I’ve spent the last 3 years experimenting with various alternatives for the best to-do list tools out there, here are my top 4 for list-making bliss!

#4: Todoist

Todoist is an app that integrates across all devices, has a super clean interface, and todoistbreaks projects down with sub-tasks. It’s meant for simple to complicated to-do lists and does allow for collaboration, but I wouldn’t suggest it for a major project management.

Pros: simple user interface, unlimited lists, gamifies the to-do list by giving you a productivity score and tracking your productivity streak, creates recurring tasks

Cons: have to purchase premium to access labels and filters, no visualization of a project moving through multiple phases, clunky integration with Gmail

#3 Trello

Trello sets the golden standard for robust and fun project management.  Yes, I said fun. Trello goes way beyond your basic to-do list with Kanban boards that let you drag tasks through a pipeline of progress, which is super satisfying.

trello.PNGPros: free version is robust for all household/freelancing projects, 100s of templates from wedding planning to job searching available, great for collaboration, color-coding, and integrates with everything

Cons: bit of a learning curve, overkill for basic list needs, doesn’t integrate well with calendar apps

#2 Google Keep

googlekeep.pngI use Google Keep for temporarily tracking special expenses, planning upcoming trips, and reminding me to send invoices and reconcile my accounts.  It’s a simple and clean as Todoist and integrates wonderfully with all things Google (of course).  You can create reminders from e-mail and Google automatically adds them to Google Keep.

Pros: create recurring tasks easily, collaborate with others, color-coding and labeling for free, cross-device integration, simple to use, chrome extension to save things from the Internet, integrates well with Google Docs and Google Calendar

Cons: no desktop app, not a robust project management solution

#1 Pen and paper

img_20170111_171153While there’s a lot of great electronic to-do list options out there, I wanted to be able to check out where I was with tasks for the day without opening up my laptop and inevitably end up watching cooking videos for 4 hours on Facebook.

I used sticky note style lists for a while, which are great for daily to-do lists, but not great for longer term planning.  Luke got me a Nomatic planner + journal last year for Christmas and I’m in love.  It makes it easy to create daily repeating tasks and helps break down monthly and weekly goals into day-sized bites.

Pros: non-digital option, satisfaction of physically checking things off, handwritten goals are more likely to be accomplished

Cons: might spill coffee on it, no device compatibility, zero integrations

 

What are your favorite list-making tools?

 

3 Lessons From The Last 365 Days

Today officially marks my 1 year anniversary working in marketing for Buffini & Company and I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned during my brief stint so far as a young professional.

1. Have some humor

I am always far too serious. Luke and I learned this the hard way.  When we first started dating, he’d make an off-handed sarcastic remark and I’d assume he was dead serious.  Thoughts start racing: “How could he say that?  Am I dating a psychopath?”  Nope, turns out I just had zero sense of humor.  My roommate proceeded to put me on a strict diet of The Office reruns which helped me identify sarcasm out in the wild.

I’m not saying you need to be the office prankster, but developing a professional sense of humor has helped me not get too caught up in the smallest remarks and honestly, it just makes every day more fun.  You’re going to be spending a considerable part of your life at work, why not have some laughs at the same time?

2. Just Say No

For those of us who are new to the workforce, this might be the hardest lesson to learn.  We’re eager to please, eager to get new experiences and opportunities, and bring a lot of energy to our work.  All of these are great things with huge potential pitfalls.  In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown makes this powerful point: “Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”  Saying no to things because you’re feeling lazy or aren’t working efficiently enough is a problem.  Saying no to things because you are trying to make the most valuable contribution to your company by effectively leveraging your skills and strengths is smart.  I’d encourage you to read the entire book, but here’s the jist of how being an Essentialist makes you a more valuable employee.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

3. Set goals

Want to take the next step up the ladder or switch to a different department?  Got an awesome idea you’re itching to implement?  Those things won’t happen without clearly defining your goal and then breaking it down into actionable steps.  Give yourself a deadline and then get to it.

I’m fortunate to work at a company that encourages goal-setting and continual improvement.  As a result, I’ve experienced some positive spillover effects into my personal life as well.  I’ve always lived and breathed goals but often equated them with to-dos.  Learning how to make longer-term goals and then parcel those out in the near future has been incredibly helpful in making dreams come true.  For Christmas, my wonderful husband got me a Nomatic planner + journal that is designed perfectly to balance daily tasks, long-term goals, and everything in between. Take a look!

img_20170111_171153

Whether you’ve been working for 3 months or 30 years, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned so far?  I’d love to hear them!

 

The Day the Sun Cried

A quick glance out the window assured me that the day was bright so the cold kerplunk of a rain drop on my nose caught me by surprise when I stepped outside.  A sunny rain shower is a rare phenomenon, even here in Southern California.

I’m an either/or personality.  You can have things either this way or that way.  Buy this or that. My favorite saying in college was, “You can’t have it both ways” which led me to cancel one of campus’ most popular events when no one volunteered to help put it on.  It’s also why most progressive political policies ultimately fail (but that’s another blog post entirely).

But here comes the sunny rains and every little teardrop falling from the clouds holds the promise of a radiant rainbow as the sun doggedly perserves in shining through the showers.

How many beautiful rainbows in my life have I missed because I don’t see the both/and moments?  Joy mixed with streaks of sorrow.  Bad days with sparks of hope.  The adrennaline rush of accomplishment tempered with a lazy afternoon. Having fun and investing in the future.

Both/and makes for messy spreadsheets and uncategorizable moments. I’m too quick to classify my days, weeks, and years with one predominent emotion instead of recognizing that it’s the mixture of many feelings that gives life its beauty.

It might not fit into my color-coded, tabulated life, but the next time life gives me the chance; I’ll take a little rain with my sunshine.

 

Capsule Closet or Bust

A few weeks ago, I posted about trying to start creating a capsule closet and was surprised with the response. Evidently, a lot of my friends and family are on the journey themselves or are interested in slimming down their wardrobe.

The first thing I did was simply weed out the clothes that don’t fit great or I don’t wear often. I honestly didn’t think this would be a big pile since I got rid of a ton of clothes to move to California. However, I filled an ENTIRE garbage bag with shirts, skirts, and dresses that I simply don’t wear.

This next step was crucial: I didn’t donate them right away. Since removing those clothes from my closet narrowed me down to about 60 items (which sounds like a lot, but doesn’t feel like it), I eased my transition by keeping that garbage bag of clothes nearby for a few weeks to make sure I really didn’t need those clothes.

Here’s the crazy thing. I never opened that garbage bag. Not even once. Okay, that’s a lie. I just opened it up TO GET RID OF ANOTHER PIECE OF CLOTHING. I really didn’t miss those clothes.

The second step in my journey towards a bonafide capsule closet was picking a color scheme. If I want a core set of quality items that can be mixed and matched, then I need a few base and accent colors to ensure that each piece is versatile. Picking the colors was fairly easy. Base colors = black, white, grey. Accent colors = pink and blue. Surprise just for fun color = purple. The pink and blue go with each other and each of the base colors. The purple is because we all need a little purple in our lives.

The best part about this journey so far? Simple packing for trips. I’m filling a suitcase to head back to the Mitten & PA for a family reunion and wedding, and it took 10 minutes tops. Usually, I’m a chronic conditional over-packer. “But what if I need this outfit? Or it rains that day and I need this one? Or that one?” With a limited number of bottoms, tops, and dresses, I can pack exactly what I need and know that it will all match. Actually, I can pack less than what I would typically need since items can be worn multiple ways.

Overall, I’m super excited to be on this journey to a less chaotic closet. Because life is hard enough without 500+ options in the morning.

Next steps:
Invest in good shoes that go well with my color selections (sandals & work shoes)
Catalog what pieces I already have & which ones I need
Slowly purchase items/replace poor quality ones to fill out capsule closet

The Choice Is In Your Hands

Almost all of Luke and mine dates start or end with a bookstore. Preferably used ones, with dazed looking shopkeepers who rarely look up from their book when you enter. We started one of our first forays into San Diego with such a stop.

While Luke enjoys browsing the classics sections potentially indefinitely, I’m looking for one of three things: a business leadership book with a witty subtitle, a cookbook published in this millennium, or anything by Rand, Hayek, or Mises. The book I walked out with fell into the latter category, “The Road to Serfdom” by F. A. Hayek. What really sold me on this particular copy was the handwritten note in the front cover, “If you’re thinking about voting for Bernie Sanders, read this first.”

I wasn’t Feeling the Bern, but I’m always good for some Austrian economics. This particular quote is most powerful when applied to economic freedom, but it applies to our lives in general as well.

“That people should wish to be relieved of the bitter choice which hard facts often impose upon them is not surprising. But few want to be relieved through having the choice made for them by others. People just wish that the choice should not be necessary at all.”

One of my most annoying habits my senior year of college was constantly reminding friends, fiance and self that, “You can’t have it both ways.” For some reason, having to choose between 2 good things seems to go against everything in our DNA. We desperately fight against it.

We try to squeeze two social engagements into one night, end up hurrying out of one, being late to the other, and not enjoying either. We don’t want to limit our hobbies or extracurricular activities, so we sign-up for everything and end up more stressed than enriched. We want to have time with our loved ones but not miss any e-mails from work so we cheapen our conversations with distracting notifications and then wonder why we always feel overworked.

The reality is, not only are hard choices between more than one good thing inevitable, they are beautiful. Having the ability to choose is a precious gift that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We have the freedom* to make choices about our future, where we live, what work we do, how we worship, and what’s for dinner tonight. Even though that last one can irrationally stress me out to no end, I don’t want to take for granted the beautiful gift that is choice.

So next time I catch myself spending all my free thoughts on whether I should go to Pilates or take a walk during lunch, I’ll be thankful for choosing. Time, money, and life is scarce nowadays. Use it wisely.

*For the time being–I told you I read Hayek, right?

Beady Eyes

Every since my first encounter with Office Depot, I’ve been in love with all things organization. Now that I’m a bit older and have something of an aesthetic sense (I still wear mismatched socks, so don’t be too impressed), my passion for post-its has grown to include pretty key holders and paper stackers and things called “Catch-Alls” which is the 7258472prettiest way of saying “Junk Drawer.”

Our apartment came furnished. This meant my husband and I were able to move across the country for under $300 (including gas) and walk into a lovely little studio apartment with more lamps and bookshelves than we could ever need. And stuffed pheasants. And silky curtains. And doilies and some kind of branchy bathroom decor and fake plants and mismatched floral prints and did I mentioned the stuffed pheasants? These aren’t complaints, because this apartment is quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to us, but I’m not winning any decor awards anytime soon.

And that’s okay. Because this is where our best and worst moments live; often simultaneously.

I hear our landlords’ TV and dogs through our thin connecting wall. I can choose to hear the disruptive sounds of yet another made-for-TV movie or I can hear the hospitality of a generous couple that shares their life with us.

I see the gross sticky remains of spilled hot chocolate in my Tupperware drawer. Or I can see mercy personified in my husband as he patiently cleaned up my spill and then offered me his own warm cocoa.

I groan about dirty dishes that will always exist forever or I can remember that these are ghosts of meals prepared with laughter and dinners eaten in good company.

I see dead stuffed pheasants watching me with their beady black eyes as they perch atop my closet or I can see dead stuffed pheasants. No romanticizing my way out of that one.

So much of life is perspective. And it doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect to be beautiful.

The Power of Habit

Disclaimer: This is not a review or promotion of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg although it has made my semester reading wish list.

I believe in Habit.  I believe in having habits just for the sake of having habits.  

I like going to the gym.  Not because I really enjoy straining and sweating on grimy machines to an odd mixture of Christmas country songs and ESPN but every morning that I drag myself out of the bed, is a day when I strengthen my habit of staying healthy.


Ritual, the second-cousin of Habit, also needs a seat at our table.  In my experience, modern technology and the speed of life has stripped us of the humanizing rituals that used to mark individual existence.  Everything must be new, exciting, and efficient in order to hold onto our shrinking attention spans for a nanosecond.


I’ve been studying Ellul this semester (to a very undergraduate and unimpressive degree) and his accusation that modernity has turned efficiency from a means to the highest ends and good struck a cord.

Because I’m all about efficiency.

I’ve mastered the three minute prep routine.  I can read, grade, and sort tests while listening to a podcast.  I flashcard while I elliptical and I eat while I walk while I talk.

I want my humanity back.

Five Rituals For My Life
I will make my coffee with a french press and not a one-press machine.
I will write with a pencil that needs sharpening and a pen that needs dipping.
I will talk with those around me and not those on the other side of a screen.
I will walk whenever possible.
I will make meals from scratch, not boxes.  I will heat my food in a pan, not plastic.

What changes would you like to main to create humanizing rituals in your life?

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

When asked if working hard is very important to them, 80% of Americans said yes.  Yet when that same sample was asked if they were working hard at their jobs, the vast majority (84%) said no.

That makes no sense.  We want to work hard, but don’t.  Where’s the disconnect?

It turns out, that the corporate culture and management style makes a word of a difference. As they say at my internship, culture eats strategy for breakfast.  You can set quotas and crack the whip all day, but if your employees hate you, no good work will get done.

I’ve had the unique vantage point of working for two different companies in entirely different industries.

At one, small milestones are celebrated.  The employees are given the tools and resources they need to succeed and the company takes care to match work with skill sets so that the days are satisfying and the quality is top-notch.

The other refuses to believe that Employee Relationship Management (ERM) is just as important as the more well-known acrononym CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  They are under-staffed and refuse to break out the checkbook to ensure that there are enough employees so they can work where they are best suited. The employees leave frustrated and company loyalty is tied directly to a bi-monthly paycheck and very little else.

As I start this absurd adventure of starting my own company, these are lessons I never want to forget.

 Treating employees as well as customers.
 Celebrating small successes.
Providing work that fulfills.
Viewing people holistically instead of as cogs.

Red Tape

When I was 4 years old, too young to be left unsupervised ( I was the child who had to learn not to touch burners the hard way ), my mom would take me downstairs with her to the laundry room.  One of my favorite activities during these monotonous times of sort, wash, and folding was button sorting.

We had a delightful jar of mismatched buttons collected through the years.  I’d grab an old tin pan, dump all the buttons out and then sort to my heart’s delight.  Red, maroon, circular, star-shaped, old, new, thread-less, blue, green.  Each button had a pile to call its home.  Then, I’d throw them back into the jar and start all over again.

My dad is a handyman. I’ve never encountered a problem he couldn’t fix.  Sometimes, though, his solutions required multiple trips to the local hardware store.  I loved accompanying him on these voyages.  While he searched for the perfect gauge of wire, I was magically drawn to the screw and nail aisle.  Beautiful blue bins with nice, clean labels on the front, telling the astute observer what contents were within.  Yet, more often then not, a quick glance inside  revealed that the screws and nails were all mixed up!  I made it my personal responsibility to right this great wrong.

I created my first spreadsheet at age 10.   I used it to schedule out my day, broken into 15 minute increments.  Each time slot had an activity or category.  If just a category was listed, an additional spreadsheet was utilized that listed out possible options under said category.  I haven’t the slightest idea what first possessed me to budget my time so meticulously but if you know me now, it was the beginning of a life-long love affair with Excel.

Sometimes, however, I wonder if I’m stuck in a toxic relationship with my plethora of time-management tools.  I make sticky notes to create to-do lists to draft a spreadsheet with a Master Task List.  Every step and breath I take is color-coded and duly recorded.  It is a wonderfully predictable existence, but a dangerous one.  What if Outlook malfunctions? Or I accidentally delete a sticky note?  Am I left wandering aimlessly, incapable of eating or sleeping without being told to do so through a preprogrammed project management system?

Not yet.  But one day, I’m afraid I will wake up to find myself thoroughly entangled in red tape of my own design.