Currently I’m struggling with my work/life balance. More than ever before the distinction between home and work is blurred. I’m spending a ludicrous amount of time each week either at work, or in work mode. More alarming is my current inability to be present when I am with my family.
Luckily I married an amazing women who hasn’t smothered me in my sleep with my pillow… yet.
The last time I felt even marginally like this was when I took on my first managing role. I was young(er) and taking on everything that was thrown at me. The solution was to examine how I managed my work and I researched workflow methodologies. This led me to David Allen’s Getting Things Done and to a lesser extent, Inbox Zero. Eight years on and both of these methodologies govern my productivity and workplace procedures. Sure I continue to refine, however the underpinning strategies still exist.
But this time it’s different…
This time it’s not about being more productive. This time it’s about coming to the realisation that I am literally at capacity. I know what you are thinking, everybody believes they are working at capacity. Surprisingly it was my boss that, unknowingly to him, pointed me in the right direction. At the time, even I didn’t realise that the “hey, here’s something I heard at a recent conference” spiel I was sitting through would potentially save me from myself.
So that’s why it’s a Friday night after another week which included 50+ hours at work and many more at home engaged with work. A week that doesn’t include morning tea or lunch breaks. I eat one-handed at my desk, or as I walk, and I don’t drink close to enough water. A week where I come home drained everyday, without the energy to exercise or be present with the family. A week where I haven’t been able to successfully transition from one place to the other. It’s this reason that I have turned to Dr Adam Fraser’s Third Space for answers (again).
I have a bit to work through. One thing is for sure, if I can’t find my third space and I continue on this trajectory… things won’t end well.
Here’s Dr Adam Fraser explaining the Third Space.
Watch this space to hear about my Third Space. Long live the work/life balance myth…
Update: I just changed the title to this blog post from “how I deal with emails” to “how I ‘currently’ deal with emails” as my constant pursuit of productivity doesn’t end with the full stop at the end of this post.
My workplace currently uses Microsoft Office 365 as it’s mail client and I can’t fault it. Over the last 12 months I have been working to improve how I manage my emails within the Office 365 environment and the desktop client Microsoft Outlook. Here’s where I am currently at:
I only check emails twice a day
Firstly, and this is super new to how I manage my email, I only action my emails twice a day (8am and 2pm). Desktop notifications and emails arriving every few minutes does not assist with getting things done. Every new email is another distraction.
In Outlook I spend most of the day in “work offline” mode (Fig 1). I can still send emails while in this mode by clicking the send/receive button (F9) but emails aren’t received. At 8am, and again at 2pm, I change Outlook to online mode and allow all of my emails to download. Once completed, I switch back to offline mode and action the emails I just received.
Figure 1: Work offline when using Outlook
I don’t check my email, I action them and (mostly) maintain inbox zero
When I flick the ‘work online’ button and my incoming emails stream down I action them, not check them. That’s just semantics I hear you say. Maybe, but I try to be in the mind set that every email I receive I action. I do something with that email right then and there. These 4 actions have been adapted from David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero:
I don’t delete emails. Luckily my organisation has awesome filters and I receive almost zero spam emails. If I don’t have to do anything with the email, I archive it. I also don’t sort me emails into intricate folders, I find this to be false economy. The time spent deciding on which folder to put the email in, or scrolling through the long list of folders you have, is lengthier then the time spent searching for it if you require it in the future. I simply move any email I don’t need to action immediately into a folder called Archive 2015 (or whatever year it is). Having the year on the folder is important. I have Archive folders right back to Archive 2012. Easily searchable and easily backup up if required.
To make the archiving process quicker I have created a quick step in Outlook (Fig 2). If I decide to archive an email, I click the archive quick step icon and the email is immediately marked as read and moved to the archive file. The email is dealt with, and I am one email closer to regaining inbox zero and getting back to getting stuff done.
If I am not the person to action the task in the email I forward it to the correct person, or reply letting the sender know the direction they should take. If I need to check the email was followed up, or I need a response from that person, a copy of the email ends up in my ‘waiting for’ folder, see below.
Next, I click the archive quick step mentioned above and the read email is moved to the archive folder. Done.
If the email requires further action that can’t be completed immediately, I turn it into a task in my todo list. It’s important that your inbox doesn’t become your todo list. Your todo list should be your todo list, makes sense right?
When I turn the email into a task, I give it a name that clearly explains what I need to do. Often an email subject isn’t a clear indication of the next action it requires. I also attach a copy of the email to the task as reference and if needed add a couple of notes to the body of the task.
In Outlook I have created a quick step named ‘create task’ that does the following:
1. Creates a task with the original email attached
2. Moves the original email to the archive folder
3. Marks the email as read
I do have a process for dealing with my task list in Outlook too. That can come later…
When I receive an email that I have to action on a specific day, like an agenda for a meeting, I add an entry directly into my calendar and attach the email. Again I have created a quick step button to do the hard work for me. It opens a new blank calendar entry and attaches a copy of the email to it, then it moves the email to archive folder and marks the email as read.
If it takes less than 2 minutes to do, I do it.
If I don’t have the time to do it, then I shouldn’t be ‘checking’ my emails and looking for distractions. I need to get back on the task I am distracted from and action my emails at a different time.
One other important part of my email management system is my waiting for folder. When I email someone asking them to complete something for me, it may be important to check at a later time that the task was completed. I call it my waiting for folder, because often I can’t complete the task as I am waiting for something else to be done first.
In these cases, I add my email address in the Cc: field, which in turn emails me the same email I sent. I have a rule in Outlook that if I receive an email sent from me and my email address is in the Cc: field the email is automatically moved to the waiting for folder. Basically if I put my email address in the Cc: field and send it, it appears in my waiting for folder and not my inbox. I also change the settings on the waiting for folder so it shows the total number of items inside so I can see at a glance how many emails are in there.
When I review the waiting for folder I have a list of the emails that I sent people requesting something to be complete and I can check that has been completed, or send a kind reminder email.
I subscribe to a few mailing lists. I have an email rule that automatically moves emails from these mailing lists to a mailing list folder with a subfolders. This way I can flick through the mailing list emails when I get a spare moment, or when I am searching for something specific. Most importantly this keeps my inbox from being inundated with these potential time-wasting emails.
So all that sounds really confusing? It’s not really. Here’s the brief summary:
I only check emails twice a day.
I action every email and do one of the following:
I have the following quick steps set up:
Archive – marks email as read and moves to archive folder
Create task – opens a new task dialogue box, moves the email to archive folder and marks the email as read
Add to Calendar – opens the create appointment dialogue box and attaches a copy of the email to it, then it moves the email to archive folder and marks the email as read
My email folder structure looks like this, and only this:
– Archive 2015
– Mailing Lists
– Waiting For (4)
I am fortunate enough to attend a few conferences each year. They usually revolve around technology education.
Here are some of the tools and strategies I use to gain the most out of a conference. I continually hone these strategies and seek best practices so I don’t just walk away with a heap of ideas or visions, but walk away with real strategies for implementation.
Rule 1: Don’t use anything you don’t already use.
Rule 2: Keep it simple. If you are in a session you will not want things to be complicated when you are trying to get ideas down.
I only have 4 apps in my conference tool box. All applications I use are cloud based, allowing me to have access to the information stored within them anywhere, anytime and on any connected device.
Every single note I take, regardless if I am at a conference or not, is stored in my EverNote account. This just simply makes sense. EverNote being cloud based means I have access to every one of my notes on any device anywhere I have an internet connection.
And thanks to the desktop and iOS apps, I also have access to my notes when there is no internet access.
I use Delicious to store all of my “tasty” bookmarks I find in one location. When a speaker throws up a good looking website, I can quickly add it as a bookmark in Delicious.
Even better, any links I add to my Twitter feed are automatically aded to my Delicious bookmarks. This is a great way to save time during a presentation. It means that I can tweet about a link and don’t have to double handle the bookmarking of it as it’s already done for me.
With Delicious, tagging is the key. Adding tags helps with searching for bookmarked websites at a later date.
For me, Twitter is a no brainer. I already use it as a tool to engage in a professional learning network, so of course I would continue to use it when I am engaged in learning at a conference.
Every conference I have attended since 2009 has had a conference hashtag. Following the conference hashtag on twitter is an easy way to follow the conference backchannel.
Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk is an integral part of my productivity work flow. I use it primarily to record things I wish to complete, both short term and longer. During a conference I use RTM for the same reason. As todo’s hit me I quickly record them and move on.
It really doesn’t matter what device I am using. However, I try to find a device with the following characteristics:
1. Portable (I have to carry this all day)
2. Good battery life (I have to use this all day)
3. Connectivity (WiFi is a given, but 3G is important as well due to the poor wifi connectivity you often find at conferences)
Currently an iPad and a MacBook Air are my weapons of choice. This will change. The device doesn’t matter. They are just a vehicle for me to communicate with the applications I use.
Many people I know complain about how they can’t achieve a “work life balance”. This too is something that I am constantly struggling with, especially since the arrival of my twin boys 12 months ago.
I think that sometimes we have to accept that this utopia is not always achievable, but the pursuit for this seemingly impossible happiness is more about the journey you take then wondering when you will arrive at the destination.
Finding the correct balance is a complex dynamic that is different for each individual, and more importantly, actually doing something to improve this balance is harder than simply talking about your inability to achieve it.
I recently read the following quote on a staff members office wall:
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said:
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Needless to say I liked what I read. Not only did I like it, it really struck a chord with me. I found myself saying out loud to no one in particular: “he’s right.”
It also reminded me of a story I read a while ago about the fisherman and the businessman:
There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village. As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink and we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
I guess the simple fact here is that we seem to spend our whole life working hard in the pursuit for the simple pleasures that one day we may possible achieve. When we could have some of these things right now, if we just re-adjust our priorities a little.
I am not sure of the origins of the fisherman story, but here is where I shamelessly stole the above version:
My brother-in-law and I were recently discussing the TED Talk presented by Barry Schwartz about “the paradox of choice“. Schwartz identified issues with living in a world were we have too many choices. I see many correlations between what he was saying and the challenges we sometimes face as educators who are integrating ICT devices into the classroom.
“With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all” Barry Schwartz
When making a decision about a certain ICT device it is easy to get struck by the “paralysisof choice”. There are just too many choices when it comes to mobile phones, digital cameras, MP3 players etc…
The important thing to remember is that eLearning is NOT about the device. It is also NOT about how good the device is. It is about what you are doing with the device, how well that device integrates into the classroom and how the device improves student outcomes.
Don’t get paralysed by choice – It really doesn’t matter that much. Don’t be afraid of choosing a device that is not the “best device”, be more afraid of not choosing one at all.
Here are my simple steps to choosing an ICT device.
- Do some research.
- Choose a device that falls within your budget and is easy to use.
- Tell yourself “this is a good device because it does what I want it to do, but it is not the best”. Because quite frankly there is probably a better device out there. Or if there isn’t now, there will be soon.
- Forget about the specifications of the device and concentrate on how you are using it to improve student outcomes
If you are at peace with the fact that you haven’t got the best device then you won’t be surprised or disappointed when you come across a better device (and you will).
Integrating digital technologies into the classroom is not about the device, it is about the pedagogy.
Recently I had to complete an expression of interest that asked me how I will achieve the goals I have as a life-long learner.
This question stumped me for quite a while as I don’t think I have ever thought about how I would actually achieve all of the goals I set for myself. One problem I face is that I am interested in almost everything, which is exhilarating and exhausting at exactly the same time.
So how will I achieve all of the goals I set for myself? Up until now I have just “done them” but my goals are starting to become more long term and more in-depth.
I certainly believe I am, and always will be, a “life long learner”. Deliberate, focused learning should occur throughout a person’s lifetime. But also we have to ensure that we are able to learn in an informal setting as well.
I do plan my formal learning throughout the year with specific goals that are designed to improve my teaching practices, leadership skills and technical know how. This can be specific like “learn to write iPhone applications” or more general like “improve leadership skills to help move the immovable”.
I also actively seek opportunities to learn, and engage with a number of professional learning networks – but are these actually helping me achieve my goals?
I guess the answer to the question of “how I will achieve the goals I have as a life-long learner” is:
- Create SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)
- Focus on effective learning
- Engage with others that you can learn from
- Look out for informal learning opportunities (they exist everywhere)
- Be organised and maintain productive workflows
Before I start let me say one thing. Getting Things Done by David Allen has quite literally changed my life. (actually you will probably find the book is called How to Get Things Done in Australia)
A little over a year ago I was absolutely swamped. At the time I was Head of Mathematics and IT at my school and the work load was insane. I only handled it out of necessity. Luckily for me my wife is an amazing person and I was well supported by my admin team and my staff in both the Mathematics department and the IT department.
Things changed… and the catalyst for this change was David Allen’s book. Lets get one thing straight, I do not read self help books. However, what I do is identify a problem and seek a solution. I started reading a lot of blogs that made reference to something refereed to as GTD. So I made a decision – if I am reading all these blog posts about this getting things done thingy, I’ll shell out the money and read the book myself. And I did…
Just recently I was asked what my “favourite tip” from Getting Things Done was. The answer was, quite simply – “If it takes less than 2 minutes to do something, do it.”
I am still working towards that utopia that is a perfect work/life balance, and I may never actually achieve it. But I am getting more things done. I follow a workflow model that is only slightly modified from what is found in David Allen’s book. I have set up my office to reflect this, and I engage in technologies that assist. Specifically Remember the Milk and Google Calendar. Also, my newly acquired iPhone (synced with the aforementioned web apps) certainly assists in getting things done.
This idea came to me while I was struggling with understanding the whole New Years Resolution thing. At the start of every year a large number of people choose a new years resolution and, if they are anything like me, promptly forget about it.
Or even worse, we set ourselves up for failure by making a New Years Resolution that is impossible to achieve, or not measurable. E.g. “be a better person” or “change the world”.
So I decided instead of having one unachievable, unmeasurable goal this year, I would have 52 and give myself all year to complete them.
For instance, “Learn French” is not measurable. When has someone actually learnt French? However “Take 6 French Lessons” or “Enrol in a French Class” is measurable and achievable.
So here it is: my 52 things in 52 weeks list.
Give it a go and see if you can think of 52 things you want to achieve this year. Remember everything on your list must be achievable and measurable.
I plan to create a website that allows others to create their own 52 things list and cross them off throughout the year as they achieve them.
[UPDATE: I even have a domain registered - www.52things52weeks.com]
You have probably noticed that it has been a long time between posts for me. Unfortunately the fact that I haven’t been writing any blog posts is simply because I have just been too busy.
Until 12 months ago I would NEVER use the “I am just too busy” excuse. But all of a sudden I realised what being too busy really meant. I am certainly not new to working long hours, but, working long hours and still not getting thing completed was starting to become a constant occurrence.
I believe one of the problems is the amount of things I quite willingly take on. I am definitely trying to cut back on this nasty habit, especially when it comes to work “stuff”.
Some days taking my daughter to the park for a ride on the swing just happens to be most important task and all others MUST be put on hold.
So where has this left me?
Firstly I have been attempting to simplify the things in my life that I have made either complicated, or unproductive.
I used to have two twitter accounts, one for work orientated tweets and one for social. It was definitely unproductive and too often I thought a tweet I wanted to post could (or should) be posted to both accounts. So I scrapped one of my twitter accounts.
I am trying my best to move away from my web programming roll within my wife’s graphic design company. I certainly enjoy the web work, and by me doing it my wife doesn’t have to pay an outside contractor. However, it was taking up too much of my free time – remember, sometimes an emergency trip to the park is priority 1.
I have also canned a number of other areas of my (cyber) life that seemed to be draining a lot of my time as well.
Finally, and the actually reason for this post, I have been investing a substantial amount of time into learning about processes that I can use to help improve my productivity.
I have already raved on about the web 2.0 tools that I use in an earlier post, and I still use both Google Calendar and Remember the Milk religiously, but I was more looking for an overall productivity system.
This is where Getting Things Done (GTD) comes into the picture. GTD is an action management method devised by David Allen. I heard about it, I bought the book and now I am setting up my own work flow management system using the methodology from this book.
Of course being a geek, I can’t help but search for web-based applications to help implement GTD.
So, here is the deal. A number of my following posts (but not all of them) are going to revolve around productivity and the implementation of the GTD system, this may include:
- How I am setting up my work space.
- Getting to, and maintaining Inbox Zero
- My GTD work flow and processes
- Useful GTD web apps
- My new Moleskine notebook
- And other less boring stuff
OK, here is something I thought about today:
I blog using WordPress about meaningful ICT integration.
I upload a photos and videos to Flickr.
I rarely check my facebook account.
I run a social golf club web site using WordPress.
I use Feed Burner to keep track of subscribers to my different sites.
I stay organised using Remember the Milk.
I have a Twitter account.
I have another Twitter account.
I use TwitPic to share photo’s on the go.
I created a web page to blog our Christmas 2006 trip around Europe.
I store bookmarks on Delicious.
My wedding album is online.
I run a website about Golf in Brisbane.
I use Google Reader to maintain all my RSS feeds.
I set up a site to keep track of my wife and my digital footprint.
I have an Evernote account that I am not utilising as much as I should.
I take a photo every day and publish it to Flickr.
I chat to some friends using GTalk.
I chat to others using Skype.
I like to transfer files using Drop Box.
I purchase stock photography from iStock for presentations.
I use my PayPal account for online purchases.
My calendar is supplied by Google.
Google Documents is where I prefer to create and manage my documents.
I share my presentations using SlideShare.
I have too many email addresses, my favourite is my Gmail account.
My wife owns a Graphic Design business.
My wife manages Scoop eNews an eNewsletter service.
I have a tumblr site I use for dumping my personal thoughts and stuff.
I created and manage my school’s web site.
I sell things on ebay.
I listen to PodCasts.
I search YouTube for resources and movie trailers.
I search the Internet as a first resort, not a last.
That is it… Well it is all I can think of for now.