GMST {getting my schtuff together} Diary for 10/20/2012: Reducing my distractions even more

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim.” ~ Annie Dillard, winner of Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction 1975

If there is one thing I miss about Outlook after switching to Gmail, it’s the RSS delivery feed feature. I used to have all my blog subscriptions grouped by category in Outlook. However, I didn’t dedicate time to read any of them on a regular basis.

When I moved everything to Gmail, I moved my blog subscriptions to email delivery.

BAD idea.

Things got worse before I realized they needed to get better.

Earlier today I wrote this post about how I was successfully reducing distractions in my life. Since I am still in the process of reducing my distractions bit by bit, and since I lamented on the fact I had not yet done a diary of sorts in my life design experiment, I thought I’d start doing one as regularly as possible. Today is the first one.

Welcome to the ‘getting my schtuff together’ diary.

Looking back: A year ago today…

We had just taken in a family of six into our home for a total of ten in all – 4 adults and 6 children – squeezed into 2200 square feet of living space. We had no level of quiet in any segment of our day. I was cooking for the masses (and paying for it too in time and money). Our barn was filled to the brim with their household goods, and ours (I still hadn’t unpacked everything from our move in 2009). I was broke and spent in every possible way (emotionally, physically, financially…)

So much for the dream of having horses someday…I was distracted in exponential ways.

I was also only a month away from going into the biggest health scare of my life due to stress.

Fast forward….to today. What a difference a year has made.


5:45pm – The horses are fed and a pre-made dinner is in the oven. The phone is off and everything is quasi-calm. That means it is time to catch up on some emails…

…only to find too many of them.

(Funny how that happens, despite having claimed email bankruptcy earlier in the year.)

I realize that if my biggest worry is too many emails, I’ve got life half licked. BUT, I still need to do something about it.

Now when I go to my email box, I see a lot of subscription notifications for blogs that I absolutely, positively can’t live without – peppered in between other important emails. Sometimes I look at the volume of emails that come in and get overwhelmed.

I may have come a long way in the last year, but I still have to reduce my stress and stay on target for bigger dreams on the horizon.

I’ve noticed over the last few months if I read each email, my mind shifts from topic to topic, blog to blog, going off on rabbit trails. End result? I fill my brain up with too much information, let alone filling my tabs up and choking my web browser. Then when I can’t take it anymore, I put those tabs in the “Read it Later” queue.

I don’t want to miss out on blog updates so unsubscribing doesn’t feel right, and reading them one at a time each and every day creates too many shifts in my attention. It also takes away from my focus of getting in and out of my inbox quickly.

All I was doing was shifting masses of emails into my “Read Later” queue. Not helpful. At. All.

If the links didn’t make it to my Read it Later queue, archiving them to read later was just filling up my email storage capacity with shit I’d never get to anyway.

What is a girl to do?

That got me thinking…

…if I am already batching my phone calls and emails to two days a week, why can’t I do the same for the blogs I like to follow?

…and what if by doing that I can avoid the need for subscription notifications that clog up my inbox in the first place?

Voila! The solution:

I set a timer and shut the door to my room/office space. I didn’t need to be distracted from reducing my distractions.

I opened my inbox and started from the top, working my way down, using the following steps:

  • For every blog notification, I opened it and copied the root web address of the blog it came from.
  • Then I opened my Google Calendar to find the “self education” calendar.
  • I picked a day of the week that I wanted to read that particular blog. I started with Sunday. I created a “new event” titled “Read:”
  • I clicked “edit event” to open it in full, then selected “repeat” and scheduled to do this event on a weekly basis. Then I clicked “save”.
  • Then I went back to my inbox and STRAIGHT to the unsubscribe button in the email and unsubscribed from that blog notification.
  • I repeated these steps for each blog notification as I went down my email list. If the email wasn’t a blog notification, I’d scrutinize it to see if it can also be eliminated for good (ie, newsletters, sales from stores, etc). Otherwise, the email was flagged and will wait until my designated ‘email days’ twice per week in order to be taken care of.
  • For each blog I put on my calendar, I’d group them with other like-subject blogs. For instance, if it was a foodie blog, I’d do all the foodie blogs on the same day. If it was a marketing blog, I’d do all the marketing blogs on the same day.

What I think will happen:

  • My inbox won’t give me heart palpitations any more.
  • I will still get to read my favorite blogs, but only if I have time that particular day. If a skip a day because I didn’t have time, I’d get to it the next week instead and not miss a thing.
  • By batching my blogs with like topics, I can keep my focus (and learning) to that particular subject. I won’t have to shift from a chicken lasagna recipe to SEO tips to parenting advice to writing hacks — ever again. Goodbye, multiple distractions!
  • Starting tomorrow, and only if I have time, I’ll only read the blogs on my ‘self education’ calendar for that day. Nothing more.
  • I will see a HUGE reduction of emails coming in. :)

Here is an added plus:

Now that I can see just how many blogs I am subscribed to, I can start cutting out the ones I really can live without.

I realize I just invited all my readers to unsubscribe to my very own blog by sharing this trick, and this is ultimately the kiss of death for any blogger to lose subscribers en masse, but I am sharing this to help YOU, not me. If losing my subscribers in one big swoop means your life is simpler in the end, then my job here is done.

If you do unsubscribe, please consider adding me via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest instead. :)

Now, go forth and unsubscribe at will.

Sound off! Did you do this with your own inbox? Did you find a huge sense of relief like I have? How is the new way of doing things working for you? Did I totally miss a better way to do it that you know about? Please leave a comment below!

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Swift Kick in the Butt Series: Can you declare email bankruptcy? How to manage your inbox like an email Ninja.

Photo by R’eyes

This week in the series, I am going to focus on ways of finding more time, energy and balance.  In order to do that, we have to work smarter and not harder. It also means there will be a cleansing of all your mental, physical and digital clutter. 

Today is the day to start slaying the digital clutter!  Email.  I mastered this solution in less than 25 minutes.  You can too!

Are you an email Ninja?

I sure as hell wasn’t (until recently).  I was a slave to my inbox.

If you’re like me, you have slowly subscribed to more and more “things” over the years.  I turned around one day to find I had amassed more than 15,000 unread emails.  I estimate that 90% of my emails were from “stuff” that I rarely opened, or didn’t need.  Back in the olden days when I had maybe 10 emails per day, it was so easy just to delete the ones I didn’t need and move on.  Those times have changed.  Significantly.

I currently get hundreds of emails each and every day.  Whoa, right?  Email alone was sucking up my time in the ever-so-evil Quadrant 4!

If the sheer volume of my emails weren’t enough, I identified even more time and energy vampires in my email box:

  • Autocheck:  Mine was set to every minute.
  • Redundancy:  I was answering the same questions from people over and over.
  • Babysitting Tracking:  I hadn’t implemented any method to track emails that required action from others.
  • Offline vs. Online:  If I wasn’t near my computer, I had no way to access my emails via my existing Outlook program.  God help me if I was gone for a few days without my laptop.  Phawk, those emails sure built up!
  • Writing too much ‘stuff’:  Brevity was not my strong suit.  I spent way too much time composing my replies.
  • The spam.  Oh, GOD have mercy…the SPAM!  Why can’t Outlook see it for the obviousness that it was?

The Problem with Auto-Check:  An email auto-check set for every minute means you receive 60 potential distractions every hour, or almost 500 per day. I looked back at a week of my emails and asked myself: how many distractions was that really worth? How much crucial, instantly-actionable email did I receive to make it worth taking time out of my life to shift my attention over 2000 times?

(It was time for me to tackle it head on in a stealth-like manner, much like a Ninja.  I could either fix it or declare an email bankruptcy.  I decided to fix it for good.)

Here is how I fixed it:

  1. I ditched Outlook.   I created a Gmail account and imported all my email accounts into one place.  (See how-to’s: How to Switch to Gmail from Outlook, Gmail:  One Inbox to Rule Them All, and How to Merge Inboxes Using Gmail).  Not only is it web-based and accessible from any computer/phone with an internet connection, it also cuts the spam out of my inbox.
  2. Next, I set up folders:  Using a modified Inbox Zero method, I created the following folders –
    1. Do
    2. Delegate
    3. Defer
    4. Archive
  3. Then, I set up filters:  For items like newsletters that are interesting but not urgent, I didn’t want to unsubscribe from it but I didn’t want it to come into my inbox every time, either.  Same goes for items like PayPal or Amazon notifications.  For these type of emails, I created a filter in Gmail so they will end up in my “Defer” or “Archive” folders. With a filter, I’ll know exactly where to find it to read later…when I actually had the time to spare.
  4. Finally, I committed to scheduling email dashes:.  Now I have to manually check into Gmail, which is done only three times per day.  I set the timer for ONE Pomodoro in each dash and knock it out without interruptions.

Now that I had my new Gmail system started, I would log in during my scheduled email dash and handle each email session in manageable bite-sized tasks. 

I TRIAGE the emails in each session like this:

  1. I read each message that came in since my last log-in.  One by one I ‘triage’ them.
  2. Unless the email adds real value to my life or work, I unsubscribe.  Liberally.  Or, I report it as spam.
  3. After I unsubscribe from an email, that is when I will flat-out delete it.
  4. If I want to keep receiving the email and it is something I could read at my leisure, I create a filter for this and all similar/future emails to be filtered into the “Defer” folder.
  5. If it needs only a fast response (<30 seconds), I bang it out.  If my reply requires a more comprehensive response, I put it in the “Do” folder.  I do NOT respond to anything requiring more than 30 seconds of my time until I am done reviewing all my emails first!
  6. If the email can be handled (or needs to be handled) by someone else, I put it in the “Delegate” folder.  

Once everything has been triaged and put in their proper folders, then I get into Ninja mode:

  1. I take action and knock out all the items in the “Delegate” folder.  I leave those items in that folder until they are fully resolved.
  2. I take action and knock out all the items in the “Do” folder.  To simplify my responses, I use the following:
    1. I create and use a template for boilerplate responses to help manage answers to frequent email subjects.  This way I can manage requests that would have identical (or similar) replies over and over without having to type each one by scratch. Once they are completed or read, I put those items in the “Archive” folder.
    2. Respond with less words using sensible replies.  If people don’t like this tactic, I may end up using this as my email signature:
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?


3.  LAST FINAL STEP:  Once an item is fully resolved, it goes in the “Archive” folder or “Deleted” entirely.

Your recommended assignment for today, ah grasshoppahs

By investing a few extra minutes of your time today, you can save significant amounts of your time and sanity later.  Follow my steps above to become an email Ninja.

If you can’t do it today, put it on your Pomodoro list for later this week.

If you still don’t think you can invest in more than a few minutes of your time to get this done, just do this:

Subscribe to only the lists and newsletters that you actually open and read on a regular basis. Unsubscribe from the rest. You can follow them on Facebook or elsewhere if you think you might be missing something.

Every little bit counts!  Now, go slice and dice!

Update: In October 2012 I took this process one step further. Please see “Reducing my distractions even more

Please scroll down and leave a comment - I love to hear your thoughts!
You can also join me on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook for sneak peeks and updates.
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