Productivity

How I (try to) Achieve Email Zen

I'm continually on the lookout for ways to make life inside my inbox a little more pleasant, peaceful, and efficient.

Here are the tools and systems that are working for me currently:

  • Gmail: I have all three of my email addresses feeding into one single mailbox. I use the forwarding and "send/receive as" functionality.
  • "Send and archive" feature in Gmail: saves lots of time and lots of clicks. 
  • Unroll.me: to roll up many of my subscriptions into a single daily email (though my subscriptions are still a bit out of control)
  • Insightly: I use this as my CRM, and I use the Gmail plug-in. The plugin is okay but not great, as it doesn't always recognize new versus existing contacts. (I previously used Streak for Gmail but switched about a year ago when I needed something a bit more robust.) 
  • Sortd: I just starting to play around with this - a way to move emails to different lists (ie: follow-up, tasks). Appeals to my visual side, and still feels a little freaky and rebellious to me.
  • I use batching/Pomodoro as much as possible to work my inbox during set blocks of time (instead of checking it throughout the day). I typically try to do it in 30-minute chunks mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and sometimes in the evening. 
  • Joe and I use Asana to communicate about tasks, projects, and questions that arise between our in-person meetings. We don't really use email at all to communicate between the two of us.  

What about you? What are your favorite ways to achieve (or work toward) Email Zen?

The 5 Essentials of a Great Morning Routine (or, how to have an awesome morning, every morning)

 

If you’ve been following along for awhile, you know that I’m a big fan of morning routines. I find that starting the morning in an intentional, reflective, and mindful way leads to a better day - with almost 100% correlation. Similarly, I find that skipping my morning routine leads to more chaos, more running around, and a less productive, less easeful day - again, with almost 100% correlation.

Lots of people have written about morning routines. Hal Elrod talks about the 6-Minute Miracle Morning. Alex and Mimi Ikonn have this so-cute-it-might-make-you-throw-up version on YouTube, and it’s one of their most-viewed videos of all time. I recently found this website - which brings us a new morning routine every Wednesday. And, many of us have heard about incredibly successful and famous people who swear by their morning routines.

Different people swear by different types of morning routines. Based on personal experience, client feedback, and research, I’ve found that these are the essential elements of a great morning routine.

Creation over Intake.

This might mean drawing, writing, journaling, or planning for the day. The most important thing is that the first part of the day is free of intake - meaning no emails, no Facebook, no Twitter, and I even say, no news (online or otherwise) first thing. This allows us time to connect with ourselves, our thoughts, and our deepest desires - rather than starting the day with requests, updates, and information coming at us from various directions. For me, this involves journaling and writing. For one of my clients, her new morning routine was as simple as “not checking email on my phone until after I get ready” and picking out her outfits the night before. While these things sound small, they were large shifts for her (she was used to checking email on her phone while still in bed each morning and a very chaotic morning, every morning), and they were transformational in reducing the chaos and putting her back in the driver’s seat for the start of her day.

Reflection.

Reflection can look however you want it to. For some people, this means meditating for 10 minutes each day. For others, it means a peaceful walk around the neighborhood before others are awake.  For one of my friends, it’s quietly sipping a cup of coffee. For me, it’s quiet sitting, journaling, and writing. The important thing is that you have at least a few minutes to be alone with your thoughts, before the chaos of the day takes over. We spend a lot of time throughout each day getting in touch with other people’s thoughts and requests - the morning provides a chance to connect with our own.

Solitude (at least for part of it).

Some of us are lucky enough to share parts of our morning routine with another person. When we’re organized enough, Jake and I like to share our Five Minute Journal entries with each other. Several friends of mine have morning workout buddies. And, well, you saw Alex and Mimi. Sharing parts of your morning routine with another person can be a great way to make it enjoyable and to hold yourself accountable. And, I strongly recommend that at least part of your morning is spent alone - even if for just a couple minutes. Most of us spend a lot of time each day on the phone, in conversation, and surrounded by others. Thoreau said, “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” While we may not agree entirely with Thoreau, we start to uncover the magic within us by slowing down, tuning in, and listening.

Movement.

This doesn’t mean you have to run 6 miles or do an hour-long yoga class each morning. It can, however, be helpful to get your body moving and your blood flowing first thing in the morning, even just for a few minutes. This can be as simple as some gentle stretching, a bit of breathing, or perhaps a walk around the block. It can also be fun; a couple years ago, my friend Vicky took early morning daily walks to the lake near her house, and snapped a photo each day. Through her morning walks we were able to view the freezing lake, the falling snow, the spring thaw, and the different colors emerging. I’m a firm believer that movement of any kind should be fun - so find something that works for you and that you find enjoyable.

Simplicity.

This is, I’ll argue, perhaps the most important component of a great morning routine. It must be simple and easy to do first thing in the morning, every morning. I highly recommend that it’s also portable, so that your morning routine can go with you wherever you are. When I’m traveling, my morning routine helps to ground me even during the busiest weeks onsite with clients. I also enjoy the challenge of making time for my morning routine during jam-packed days - this might mean waking up extra early or taking my morning routine “supplies” with me while grabbing breakfast. Inspired by my friend Lisa’s blog post, I recently created a morning “basket” to house all my favorite items for the start of the day. In addition to keeping things organized, this basket brings me joy, because it contains some of the things I love most for the beginning and end of the day.

This is my list of essentials for a great morning (and therefore a more productive and easeful day), formulated based on personal experience, feedback from my clients, and ongoing research on this topic that I love dearly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts - what is your favorite way to start your day?

Key Questions to Ask in the New Year

 

Each year, between December 1st and February 1st, I spend a good chunk of hours with giant post-its, markers, planners, notebooks, and pens. Tools in hand, I reflect on the previous year, vision and plan for the year ahead, and attempt to increase my odds of achieving the things that are most important by getting really clear on what they are, what they look like, and how to get there.

Here are the key questions I'm asking and answering as we begin 2016. 


Reflecting: Looking Back

What am I most grateful for in 2015?

What worked well? What do I want to continue?

What was the single biggest game changer of 2015?

What didn't work? What do I want to let go of?

Visioning: Looking Ahead

How do I want to feel in 2016?

What's possible in the year ahead?

Action: Making It Real

What's the single most important thing I can do to turn these possibilities into realities?

What other specific actions do I want to take in the year ahead to feel the way I want to feel, and create the things I want to create?

What is one thing I can do this month?


What do you think? Any favorites of yours that are missing from the list? 

Wishing you a joyful and powerful start to the new year.