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  • How to Manage All That Email, aka Getting to Zero Inbox

    Zero Inbox | ChiefFamilyOfficer.com

    I first encountered the concept of having a totally empty inbox through Michael Hyatt. At first, it seemed incredible. A totally empty inbox?!

    But then I realized he was really on to something, because I had hundreds of emails in my various inboxes and it was quite stressful. So I took the plunge and developed my own system for getting to Zero Inbox. And I learned that there’s something satisfying and soothing about having no unread emails.

    Want to give it a try yourself? Here’s how I do it:

    Create folders to organize emails. Michael says that he just archives everything into a processed mail folder, and that’s certainly one way of doing it because email services come with fairly robust search engines. Personally, I prefer to archive my email a little more categorically, so I have folders that important emails go into, and then a generic “all mail” folder for everything else.

    Process all of your email when it comes in. When you’re just starting out, you may have thousands of emails you need to process, and that’s okay. Just set a timer and go through as many as you can in fifteen minute increments until you get through all of them. Once you’ve processed all of your old email, make a habit of processing email as it comes in, and act immediately on every email that takes less than two minutes to respond to (which is probably 99% of your email). Remember, the delete button is your friend, as is the catch-all archive folder. You can leave the few that require additional time in your inbox for a while, but try to act on them as soon as possible.

    Limit email that comes into your inbox. The best way to maintain an empty inbox is to prevent email from reaching it in the first place. So be picky about the email lists you sign up for, and don’t hesitate to use the unsubscribe link at the bottom of most commercial emails. If there are lists you need to be on but you rarely read or use the emails, see if there’s a way to restrict the number and/or types of email they send out in your account profile settings – many times you can select to receive email as infrequently as monthly, or choose to receive only one type of email.

    There is no one way or right way of getting to Zero Inbox. This is just how I do it. Use it as a starting point and develop your own system that works for you!

    Managing Perfectionism

    In the last couple of years, I’ve begun to truly understand what it means to be a perfectionist, and why that’s bad:

    Perfectionism = Fear of Failure = No Progress/Success

    I realized that there are a lot of things I wasn’t doing because I couldn’t or wouldn’t do them perfectly:

    I wouldn’t vacuum because I didn’t have time or the desire to vacuum the whole house.

    I didn’t exercise because I couldn’t run due to plantar fasciitis (though I could walk), and I didn’t do yoga because I’d eaten recently and you’re “supposed to” do yoga on a relatively empty stomach.

    I wouldn’t journal because it should be done at night to go over the day, but I don’t have time alone to be reflective at night.

    For someone else, it might be not writing a novel that’s itching to get out due to fear that it won’t come out a bestseller.

    Or denying the urge to decorate a cake because it won’t look like Martha Stewart or Duff Goldman did it.

    And so on and so forth.

    I began to truly understand what perfectionism was doing to me when I finally understood Flylady’s Weekly Home Blessing Hour and the idea that “Housework done incorrectly still blesses your family!” That was a real eye-opener for me.

    I began to accept that doing things imperfectly is allowed!

    I was raised with the “do it right or not at all” approach, so you can imagine how revolutionary this concept was for me. And it’s transformed my life:

    I now clean my house in sections – I’ll vacuum the upstairs one day and the downstairs the next. I’ll clean one bathroom each day, instead of all three at once. I’ll dust one room but not another. The whole house may not be clean all at once, but everything does get cleaned, just at different times.

    I walk on the treadmill now, and take a Pilates class once a week, and while I’m nowhere near the condition I was in when I ran a 5K five years ago, at least I’m doing something.

    I journal most mornings now, because that’s when I’m alone and can think things through. It’s still made a difference in clarifying my thoughts, goals, and perspective.

    I’m still trying to figure out how “do it anyway” coexists with “do it right or not at all,” because I understand the value in putting forth your very best effort. But I guess it’s just that sometimes your very best effort isn’t warranted.

    What do you think?

    The Three Words that Dramatically Increased My Productivity

    A couple of months ago, Crystal wrote about how she manages her email inbox, and her last tip really resonated with me. In essence, it boils down to three words:

    Do it now.
    I’ve been getting this message for a long time from Flylady, but I really “got it” in the context of Crystal’s post. I began dealing with emails as they arrived in my inbox, and got my inbox down from 30 or so emails to one. The one that’s left is an e-gift card that I need to spend.

    Dealing with all of my email each day doesn’t take anywhere near as long as I expected. I unsubscribe and delete liberally, which leaves me with just a handful of emails that actually require responses each day. Those responses usually don’t take very long to compose, and I’ve shortened the time even further by using “Canned Responses” in Gmail for those inquiries that I receive frequently.

    I felt so much more productive dealing with my emails every day that the “do it now” principle has carried over into other areas of my life as well. I pin recipes right away instead of saving them in my feed reader. I order Scholastic books as soon as my kids bring the flyers home instead of letting the flyers gather dust on my desk. I fill out forms sent home from school immediately and send them back the next day. I submit flexible spending account reimbursement requests right away instead of waiting until I’ve accumulated a few.

    It turns out that tackling small tasks right away keeps things from piling up – in my brain, as well as my physical surroundings.

    And next week, I’ll share a tip on how to get the big tasks done while keeping the small tasks from piling up.

    Decrease Stress by Working Ahead {it’s a skill that can be learned}

    Now that my kids are fully into the swing of two sports, I’m feeling overwhelmed by all that it adds to my plate. My kids adjust better to these changes than I do, and I like to think it’s because my husband and I make it easy for them, but still … I now have more to do and less time to do it, with the new practices and games added into our schedule. It’s got me thinking a lot about time management and the joys of working ahead.

    Teaching the Benefits of Time Management and Working Ahead

    My oldest child is now in second grade, and has to do a monthly project, a weekly book report, and “regular” homework. Plus he’s got the two sports, which means multiple practices and games each week.

    Not surprisingly, we’ve had a tremendous opportunity to teach our son about time management, and how planning and working ahead can make life easier and less stressful.

    For example, his teacher sends the book report form home on Monday and expects it back on Friday. But at our request, she gives it to us ahead of time so my son can do his book report over the weekend. That gives us one less thing to worry about during the week. And seeing how much easier his homework load is when he does his book report ahead of time has been an eye-opener for my son – it’s a tangible demonstration of the benefits of working ahead.

    Another example: The students are given about a month to complete their monthly projects, so it seems natural to us to start as soon as possible to get it done. Because of our busy schedule, there really aren’t that many days that can accommodate extra work, but whenever there’s a big block of unscheduled time (usually over the weekend), we tackle the project. Sometimes my son has to be reminded that he has to work on the project when he can because there aren’t that many opportunities. He gets back on board with the plan whenever my husband or I point out how happy he will be to have it done and not be stressed the week before it’s due because there’s so much left to do.

    That’s why I’m shocked by how many of his classmates don’t work ahead when given the opportunity – toward the end of each month, I discover that some of them haven’t even started, and that others are less than half done.

    At this age, projects are still very much parent-driven because they can’t be completed without adult assistance and participation. And it’s the rare child (though I hear they do exist) who bugs his or her parent to work on the school project.

    I wish all parents would take the opportunity to teach their children time management and the joys of working ahead.

    Working Ahead Works for Adults

    Of course, as adults, many of us don’t have great time management skills, and we often don’t work ahead. And it’s hard to teach what you don’t know (or practice). I have to admit, that even though I have the ability, I often fail to manage my time well and don’t fulfill my intentions to work ahead.

    But I’ve discovered that Flylady‘s philosophy of I can do anything for 15 minutes works really well in helping me manage my time and get ahead. I started by managing my “hot spots” on a regular basis: I deal with the mail every night instead of letting it pile up on the dining table, I clear my desk (almost) daily, and I put away laundry right away. I’ve also developed an evening routine that makes my mornings easier.

    Keeping these tasks off my plate has given me more time and energy to focus on other areas. Consequently, I am getting better at working ahead in the kitchen, and on this site, and at other projects. It’s been interesting and rewarding to experience this trickle-down effect – and just as interesting (and far from rewarding) to see how quickly my productivity drops off (and my stress level rises) when I stop working ahead.

    It’s all a work in progress, but by consistently working ahead at one area of my life at a time, I’m increasing my productivity and decreasing stress!

    Get Out of a Rut and Overcome Frustration by Tackling your Energy Drains

    All of us, at some point, feel frustrated or stagnant about our situation in life – and often, although we want to make a change, we’re not sure where to start. Or, we feel like we don’t have the time and/or space in our life for something new.

    When you feel this way, a surefire way to feel better about your situation is to tackle your energy drains.

    I first learned about “energy drains” nearly 15 years ago, in Take Time for Your Life, a book by personal coach Cheryl Richardson. An energy drain is something or someone that makes you feel tired – it could be doing your taxes, which you’ve been putting off, the person you always dread talking to, or the bathroom you don’t want to clean. Richardson talks about identifying and eliminating your energy drains in order to gain clarity about your life.

    We all have different energy drains, but you know what your energy drains are. Start with the easiest one to get some momentum going. You don’t have to complete each task, and you can do your tasks in increments – as I’ve learned from Flylady, you can do anything for 15 minutes. The important thing is to make progress and open up space – literal and metaphorical – in your life.

    Here’s an example: I’ve been cleaning out one closet for a couple of months now. When I started, there were 15 banker’s boxes full of stuff in that one area. After the holidays, I moved six of the boxes to different areas that made more sense, based on their contents (and I was able to do that because I’d eliminated other clutter previously). Since then, I’ve slowly been going through the remaining boxes, most of which contain paper clutter in the form of old files. I’m now down to six boxes of stuff, and I’m pretty sure that I can get it down to four boxes of storage. It’s not creating a ton of space, but it’s creating enough that I feel possibilities opening up!

    There are other energy drains in my home that I want to tackle too, but I’m sticking to one area at a time.

    What are your energy drains, and what are you doing about them?

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    Sanity Saver: Update your calendar as events arise

    I use Google Calendar to organize my life. I love it because I can use it to send myself email reminders, schedule repeating events, and more. I even color-code different types of events so that I can spot things at a glance.

    At the end of each month, my kids bring home the next month’s school calendar, filled with upcoming events. One of the main reasons I quit my full-time job and became a work-at-home mom is to be able to participate in and contribute to various school events, so that calendar is important to me.

    A couple of weeks ago, when my kids brought home the February school calendar, I took it and entered relevant events into my own Google calendar while my kids were doing their homework. PTA meetings, fundraising events, etc. were all transferred. Where appropriate, I set up email reminders so I don’t forget to go to a meeting, or to bake something for a bake sale.

    Doing this calendar update right away has several benefits:

    • I don’t miss anything because I look at each event listed (and just skip the ones that aren’t relevant to me, like fire drills).
    • I have a good idea of what’s coming up, so I can plan ahead. Whether it’s buying baking mixes, arranging childcare, or something else, I can avoid last minute scrambles (and possible expenses).
    • I get to toss the paper clutter right away, which is great because I’ve been working hard not to let paper clutter build up in new places (and working equally hard to get rid of existing paper clutter).
    • I’m setting a good example for my kids. It’s important to me to teach my children good time management skills. I want them to know how to plan ahead and be organized, so that they don’t have the extra, unnecessary stress that comes from constant last minute emergencies.

    How do you save your sanity?