Saturday, April 15, 2006

What's not working?

Conveniences are all around us. From microwave ovens to electric pencil sharpeners, we have an abundance of tools that make our lives easier—provided they work. What a handy tool we have in that electric stapler—only it doesn’t work because it’s out of staples. How about that empty tape dispenser in your desk drawer?

This week, I challenge you to look at what’s not working in your world and do something about it. The electric stapler sits unused because it’s out of staples and you haven’t refilled it because you are out of (or can’t find) more. You have been meaning to order more but you keep forgetting. The next time you think about needing staples is—you guessed it—when you go to use that stapler and find it’s still empty.

As you come across these little annoyances, take a second to decide what needs to be done to fix it, and jot it in your planner. Don’t put getting staples on the list for today. Instead pick a day about a week out and start a list of little items to get. A week from now, you can handle that whole list at once.

Fixing the problem is the first step. The second step is deciding how to avoid the problem in the future. Think about this one—at your house, when do you decide you need to buy toothpaste? Is it when the tube runs out and you realize there are no more under the counter? Or, is it when you take the last one from under the counter? In the first case, you have a minor crisis—you need toothpaste NOW. In the second case, you just need to put toothpaste on the grocery list and go on about your business.

Ask yourself the same thing about supplies in your classroom. Do you order more when you are OUT or when your reserve is low? What about textbooks? If a new student enrolled tomorrow, would you have books for him? If not, why not go ahead and put in a request now, so that when you DO get another student—and you will—that you are prepared. You own 7 umbrellas, yet you never seem to have one in the car you when a downpour occurs. What could you do to fix that problem once and for all?

What else in your classroom doesn’t work? What about that regular pencil sharpener where the handle has been loose for 2 years? What would it take to fix that? You have two desks that are awfully wobbly. What would it take to fix them? Realize this is a thought process that seldom occurs to most people. Too many of us simply get so used to all of the things in our lives that don’t quite work that we soon stop thinking about them anymore.

Have you cleaned out your desk lately? If not, put it on your to-do list. Out go the pencils with no points, the dried-up ink pens, the empty packs of Sweet & Low, and a host of papers that never should have been there to start with. You will be amazed at what you find there that you had no idea you had.

Why do people resist thinking through what it takes to fix the little broken things? I think the answer lies in that thinking through what needs to be done creates a long to-do list for people who already have too much to do and try to keep up with all of it in their heads. For those of us who have a “capture tool,” life is easier. We take a second to jot down what needs to happen. We organize our list in a way that groups similar items together. Then, we handle a number of similar items all in one sitting.

Get all of those conveniences in your life working and watch some of the stress in your life go away.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Getting from “In” to “Empty”

Let’s return to last week’s analogy for a moment. You walk to the curb and take empty the mailbox. When you walk away from that mailbox, it is empty! Better yet, it’s not empty just one day; it’s empty at the end of EVERY day. Wouldn’t it be great if only your e-mail inbox operated like the mailbox by the curb?

Decisions, Decisions
The key to getting an empty inbox is to simply make decisions about each and every item there. Therefore, make a practice of only looking at your e-mail when you have the time and energy to make those decisions. You are going to need to go from top to bottom and make small decisions at each turn.

Delete It
Much of your e-mail requires no action on your part other than briefly scan it and hit the delete key. Candidates include advertisements in which you have no interest, jokes, threads from e-mail discussion groups, and FYI courtesy copies. I find it helpful to sort the e-mail by “conversation.” All mail related to a single subject appears together. If the subject is of no interest, I delete the entire thread at one time.

Do It
Some e-mails require only a quick response. I recommend giving that response immediately and then deleting the mail if it is of no further value. What if the response is going to take some time, and possibly some research? In that case, I send a quick response to let the person know I received the message and will be getting back with them. Using Outlook, I drag the e-mail to the Task icon, assign a due date, category, and change the subject line as needed. I then delete the e-mail.

Delegate It
Perhaps someone else really needs to be handling this message. I simply forward the message the appropriate person and delete the e-mail. If I should happen to need it later, I can always go to my “Sent Items” and view what had been forwarded.

Save It
What if the information may be of lasting value? I can save the e-mail by going to the “File” menu and choosing “Save As.” I am able to choose the appropriate place on my computer.

If the e-mail is something I need to save for documentation purposes, I go to the “Memos & Letters” folder I have created in “My Documents.” I name the file with the author’s last name, a hyphen, and a few words descriptive of the subject. I choose to save the message as a text file. After saving, I can then delete the e-mail.

Perhaps the e-mail is a lesson plan. I would then save it with other lesson plans already stored electronically.

“In” Becomes “Empty”
The point is that a decision is made about each piece of e-mail, and that decision is made the first time the message is read. The basic decision is in which category a message falls: Delete, Do, Delegate, or Save. After handling each item, “IN soon becomes “Empty.”

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Handle your E-mail—ALL of it

Imagine for a moment you have just arrived home from work. You walk to the curb and take the mail from your mailbox and walk back in the house. You open the mail and read it. Then, you walk back to the curb and put all of the mail back in the mailbox. Sounds crazy doesn’t it!

The next day, when you walk to the mailbox, you find today’s mail sitting on top of yesterday’s mail. After a couple of more days, will you need to buy a bigger mailbox! Even worse, you will hate that walk to the curb.

This scenario sound crazy, yet it is exactly how all too many people approach their e-mail inbox. They read it, and because they don’t know exactly what to do with it, they leave it. It is not uncommon to see an inbox that contains every piece of e-mail the owner has received since the computer was installed!

Next week, we will look at how to dig out from other and establish some habits that will get your inbox empty every day.