Beware the UPS Store (or Mailboxes Etc or similar) mailbox 2014
Warning: If you sign up for a mailbox at a non-USPS location, you will not ever be able to file a change of address for it with the postal service.
Also, it's probably a franchise, meaning UPS (with their potentially-consumer-benefiting concerns about maintaining their brand) has no control over pricing, meaning the store might decide to double the fee for that mailbox at some point and leave you with a tough choice.
CRMAs are required to offer mail forwarding services for six months, but they can (and do) charge for them. So far as I am aware UPS Stores do not offer forwarding for a closed box for longer than that six month minimum.
Yes, it's nice to have a non-home-address to use for business or other purposes, but be aware that there are serious flexibility issues with signing up for CRMA (Commercial Mail Receiving Agency) services.
Update July 25, 2014: Just spent 51 minutes on the phone with USPS. The person I spoke with said her supervisor told her that you can put in a change of address from a CRMA address to a street address or USPS P.O. box. I'm going to try that and hope it works.
My particular UPS Store, while not bending on their pricing which is now 4x the cost a USPS box, did say that it is their policy to hold mail from terminated boxes for a little while and to turn it over to the former box owner if they check in, after which they return it to the postal service. It is unclear what would happen to that mail then. It's already been delivered, but maybe a change of address could kick in.
But no. After trying to submit the change of address, I got this on the USPS website:
"Mail addressed to an addressee at commercial mail receiving agency (CMRA) is not forwarded through the USPS. The CMRA customer may make special arrangements for the CMRA operator to re-mail the mail with payment of new postage. A CMRA must accept and re-mail mail to former customers for at least 6 months after termination of the agency relationship. After the 6-month period, the CMRA may refuse mail addressed to a former customer. The Application for Delivery of Mail through Agent (PS Form 1583) requires an addressee and agent to comply with all applicable postal rules and regulations relative to delivery of mail through an agent. For more information on mail forwarding regulations, contact your local Postmaster."
I have not been offered any mail forwarding service from the UPS Store and it sounds as though they would immediately put in a termination notice with USPS for accepting my mail. Not sure what that means would happen to any of my mail, but seems as if it would be destroyed or returned to sender.
Announcing The Art of the Shim—a new book from Dinah! 2013
Hooray! My second book, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, is now out in hardcover and ebook.
Building this book has been a fun time and—due to an aggressive sub-one-year production schedule—a challenge, but the results are beautiful. Kelly Puleio's photography is even better than my high hopes and the production quality on this, the first offset printed title from Sanders & Gratz, is excellent. I'm very happy that the book has the sturdiness to serve its readers many years on their bar shelves.
Along the way I've been expanding my skills even further into the publisher realm. (Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff is print-on-demand in its paperback form, so inventory management and distribution is a new adventure.)
Some of the lessons have been painful. I've now learned the hard way that Amazon's record of a book can apparently get messed up if the release date is before Ingram has their copies on hand—or at least that's the only explanation I can find for Amazon suddenly switching the book's status to "Out of Print--Limited Availability" sometime between midday Saturday and midday Sunday last weekend. We're now on day four of no order button for the hardcover, which is enough to make anyone trying to launch a book tear their hair out.
Copies of the book are now in stock at Ingram's Oregon distribution center and lots more will be arriving at their Tennessee one today or tomorrow. Perhaps that will help kick the Amazon status back to normal (though I fear that if their techs don't identify and eliminate the bug, the problem would just come back the next time Ingram or their on hand count hits zero).
Next Tuesday (9/17) will be the New York launch at Pouring Ribbons bar and a week from Monday (9/23) will be the San Francisco celebration at The Booksmith bookstore. Looking forward to those events very much!
Even with bumps on the road, I'm having a great time as an author and a publisher!
The Week Behind 2013
It's been a good week, with much satisfaction arising from the current book project, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level. All the amazing conversations of the week before and much digging in old cocktail books, thinking about principles of drink creation have been percolating in my head. This resulted on Tuesday in my finalizing the first draft of the Bibulo.us Cocktail Taxonomy and posting it for comment. Mostly Twitter chatter in reaction so far, but the process of articulating my principles for others has, as usual, clarified them and this structure is performing well as I continue to research old recipes and organize the book's recipe candidates.
This pleasant creative burbling all week was accompanied by a big experiential spike in the form of an amazing concert Sunday at the new SF Jazz Center in honor of Bobby Hutcherson. Wonderful sound and great performers! Such a joy to have this resource so close to our home.
Around those themes the week swirled along quite well with a nice mix of home life and time out on the town and up in Napa county for Joe's work.
Proud: I have been keeping up my exercise routine! Between the Fitbit, the treadmill desk, and Zombies, Run! I am able to make myself put in the effort and seeing my strength and endurance grow as a result. Very pleasing!
Completed: I think I can now say I've achieved mastery on maintaining a beautiful, uncluttered living space with minimal effort. Still projects to be completed and undulation in tidiness from day to day, but in general the place is within ten minutes of "company-ready" pretty much all the time. The fortnightly visit from the maid who does my most-hated chores (vacuuming and scrubbing porcelain) has helped tremendously in letting me put my energy into things that pay off without driving me nuts.
Learned: Twitter may not seem like it eats much time to quickly check now and then, but it is a huge time-suck if not constrained. Trying out a Pomodoro method timer to help keep me on track and not ducking into email/Twitter/etc every 10 or 15 minutes. Getting better at managing this will help me not only with completing the current to-do's but also with staying focused on work as my social media activity grows when the book comes out.
Inspired: The barfolk I've been talking to as I research the book have been just marvelous; generous, enthusiastic, customer-focused. Really looking forward to working with them a lot this year.
A few more thoughts on self-publishing 2013
- Scrivener and OmniFocus continue to be invaluable in my book writing and publishing process.
- Amazon's Kindle store sales represent just over 51% of the number of copies sold and just over 34% of the money earned, despite the $2.99 price tag. KDP first, last, and always; hugely important for self-publishers.
- iTunes sales represent nearly 21% of copies and nearly 16% of income. Their management interfaces may be a pain, but it's worth it.
- Createspace is great for selling print-on-demand copies through Amazon, but only use them for that. Lightning Source (LSI) is your better method for print-on-demand sales to distributors and thus bookstores and libraries. LSI allows you to set your terms and you will need to make sure they are attractive enough to bookstores. Make at least your U.S. terms (if you're in the U.S.) returnable and with a wholesale discount of 60% in LSI's interface so that after Ingram or Baker & Taylor takes their cut, the bookstore still sees a discount that allows them to make some profit to keep their lights on. That means you need to think about those terms as you set the book price so it doesn't actually cost you to sell the book wholesale. International terms may have other constraints, costs, or reduced payments to you, so read those details carefully as you go through your contract agreements and adjust your discount percentage accordingly.
- Promotion is a lot of hard work. Plan it and don't burn yourself out too early. It is a marathon. You should plan on beginning your work 3 months before you put the book out (e.g., setting up the book's website, creating your Amazon Author page, etc.) and continuing at least 9 months after the release date. If you're continuing writing in the same subject area, it doesn't really stop, but can wind down so you can focus on the next book.
- It took 15 months for Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff to reach 3000 sales, which is actually quite good for non-fiction from what I hear.
- Always always always carry some of your Moo cards with the book cover and details. People frequently ask "What do you do?" and it's great to be able to hand someone the card when they perk up after you tell them you're an author and describe your book. This makes sales and recommendation happen.
- Plan on doing a "second printing" about a month after release which updates your master files and corrects the inevitable few typos that you and your editor miss. I fixed around 13. Since then only a handful more have turned up and they are of the "missing period after that parenthesis in that one bulleted list" caliber of problem, i.e., fine to wait until I do a second edition (with content changes, and thus a new ISBN) years down the road. It'll never be perfect, but it needs to be near to garner great reviews.
- Make your book available in international markets as your ebook and print-on-demand services allow. You'll earn less per copy, usually, but it's worth it and is a whole other market in which your work might take off.
- Don't obsess over charts and stats; focus on getting the word out and tracking your actual sales numbers. List positions and similar data are worth looking at quarterly or so to understand trends over time. For example, here's the page on BookChart.info for Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff.
- Do pay attention to your costs; remember that you're going to be earning them back a couple bucks at a time and that you don't start getting paid for your actual time writing and promoting until you're in the black.
- One caveat regarding tracking sales: Apple's interface is a true pain in the rear and their fiscal calendar does not correspond to actual calendar months. I track sales in a spreadsheet and actually just enter the iTunes number for a month for each day (e.g., the KDP cell for last month has the value 47 while the iTunes cell has the value =0+1+2+1+1+0+2+0+1+1+1+1+0+0+0+2+2+0+0+3+1+0+0+2+0+0+0+0+1+2+0
- You do need to track your sales, though, or you won't be able to tell when the book has paid its costs or confirm you're receiving your share. (I will note that the only problems I've seen on the latter front working with these big vendors is where I wasn't getting payments at all due to an error in the bank account number they put in for direct deposit.)
- I find it useful to have a spreadsheet file per book (or other writing project with income or costs) and separate sheets within that file for costs, income, sales tracking, and consignment details.
- Though I have not sold a huge quantity through local consignment, it still represents about 4% of the copies and, because of the higher per-copy profit, about 10.5% of the money earned. That money comes at a high cost of my time and effort, though, so choose your consignment locations carefully. Select places where the book is likely to do well for both you and the store, and where it is not inconvenient for you to visit to restock them or retrieve unsold copies. In general, if they are willing to order through Ingram or Baker & Taylor (whoever you're able to get distribution through) it's going to be less work for both of you.
Happy writing and publishing! As usual, I'm happy to answer questions in the comments.
My research now is better than my research 25 years ago 2012
I'm vastly more likely to find relevant material within & cite books which allow keyword searching (through Google/Amazon). #scholarship
Seems trivial, but reveals deep attitudes toward workers 2012
RT @newsyc150: Why Quit? Because the other company has bigger monitors. http://sef.kloninger.com/2012/05/engineering-culture-litmus-tests/ (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3989752)
Turns out even freelancers have a boss that drops surprise projects. New plan: work on this slight fever, weakness, & scratchy throat.
Monday morning motivational video: The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger 2012
I am going right into my house of bees. I don't give a shit. I've already started the laundry. I don't care about being stung by bees.
The book is out! 2011
Hooray! It was a good weekend. Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff got approved and now is in the iBookstore, the print version can be bought through my Createspace estore, and it's now listed in both Kindle and print versions on Amazon.
With everything now in place I can move ahead on promoting the book. I'm ramping up gradually, in hopes that my early adopters will write reviews that will be seen by other folks as I start driving more traffic to the various storefronts.
As before when I transitioned from writing to editing and formatting, I feel myself changing hats and switching to a new aspect of the job of indie author.
I need to run the numbers again, but my sense is that I need to sell around 3500 copies to pay back my costs. So far I'm about 2% of the way there with the very small amount of publicity I've done, so that's encouraging.
Planning through dependencies: A lesson from self-publishing 2011
I'm in the very last stages before self-publishing my book, Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff, and the remaining steps are often exceedingly clear.
I will be publishing in the iBookstore, but I can't submit the book to them until I set all their pricing terms.
I can't set all the iBookstore ebook pricing until I have determined the book's price for its physical version (in trade paperback through Amazon/Createspace).
I can't set that price until I know my costs for author copies and my royalty share in the different sales channels through Createspace.
I can't know those costs until I have a solid estimate of the book's page count.
I won't have that page count until I do the layout in the print template with something very close to the final version of the text.
I won't have something very close to the final version of the text until I've transferred almost all the copy edit changes into the master manuscript in Scrivener.
I can't copy those edits over until I receive them from my editor when she has finished her main copy editing pass on the manuscript.
Fortunately, I'm expecting those from her shortly.
To be fair, I also don't want to submit the book to iBookstore until I have the final version with all the copy edits, but I find the dependency between print layout and ebook publication worth noting.
Kobayashi Maru, man. 2010
I love Merlin Mann and Jeff Veen's kickass brains.
The whole episode of Dan Benjamin's The Conversation is very worth watching, but this bit resonated deeply:
Merlin: "There's still companies today where they are feverishly trying to lock down, like not let you get to Gmail and not let you get to any of this stuff, but you've got 3G on your phone! You know? It's there's this shift that – ...we usually use this in the sense of talking about media – but the toothpaste is out of the tube with this stuff. ... It's not like it used to be like you're describing, Jeff. Like back in the day when if I wanted to do anything with email, I had to go to the office and sit down with Eudora and my Hayes modem and that was a completely different way of thinking about my work than it is today. And I think that you're describing a shift, though, that's a whole constellation, a syndrome of changes that IT in particular is probably having a pretty hard time keeping up with."
Dan: "Well, you know, just the existence – to kind of support what you're saying - just the existence of apps like Gowalla, the existence of the Gowalla/Foursquare mentality, of something like that couldn't have existed the way it does now just a few years ago, let alone a decade ago. And I think people want to be in touch and it's like would a company now, today, a new one, ever be able to do anything but encourage this kind of thing? And when is enough enough?"
Jeff: "Well, I'll tell you, there's another shift as well, and it's not just this 'IT departments trying to exert control', but it's also this notion of how you measure productivity. Right? ... In the past corporate productivity measurements were about your butt in a chair for forty hours a week. Right? You know, filing your TPS reports. So that's why you see crazy stuff, like, you know, firewall filters that won't let you go visit Facebook while you're in the office. As opposed to... be more milestone-based, set out your objectives, know what they are, get them done, have a deadline, and then leave me the hell alone. I'll get my work done and that might actually require me connecting with somebody on Facebook to answer a question, or, or whatever! Right?"
Merlin: "Yeah, it's infantilizing!"
Jeff: "It is!"
Merlin: "What's funny to me in this is again another thing from the book, but, like, to me this is a huge pattern is that what is knowledge work at the heart of it? Knowledge work is you hire somebody because they're smart and they either know how to solve a problem you don't know how to solve or they know how to solve it better and more efficiently than you. So they're a part of this value chain where, like I call it the black box career, but you don't need to know everything about MySQL to go hire the guy who's your MySQL admin. You just need to know that that person does a good job with it. ...Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, Andy Hunt (one of the Pragmatic Programmer guys), he has this wonderful term, and I really recommend this book for anybody... and the phrase he uses is... that the problem at a lot of companies like you're describing, Jeff, is they're trying to herd racehorses and race sheep. And so, in that instance, you are infantilizing people whose job it is to figure out what their job is. ... You know what, just tell me the deadline and the rules. Kobayashi Maru, man. I will figure out how to do this, but, like, get out of my face and stop trying to give me unnecessary rules. In my opinion, that is a failure of management. You look at somebody like Lopp, right? Michael Lopp. You talk to Michael and he will just say 'You know what my job is as a manager? My job is to get out of the way, remove barriers, and then run defense so my people don't get interrupted.' And that is so different from 'You need to be sitting and checking email all day long so I know that you're there.'"
Jeff: "It's about trust, right?"
Merlin: "The lack of trust, absolutely, the lack of trust. And also... when you get to the big company level you end up having... more mortar than brick."
Definitely in motion on my road 2010
My latest Discardia post is about choosing what you most want and don't want in your life and then bearing those priorities in mind when faced with options (which we are all day, every day).
Here are my choices:
1. to be thriving in a great relationship.
2. to feel healthy and strong.
3. to be a published author.
I don't want...
1. to work in a cubicle.
2. to have little control over when I do what.
3. to be stressed all the time.
I'm making great progress on all of these goals. I quit my office job just over a year ago, went into business for myself as a productivity and life coach, started writing my book about Discardia, devoted more of my energy to my relationship with Joe, and consciously began designing my life for less stress.
The feeling healthy and strong part has been tough, though, I have to admit. I hate gyms. I have a weak knee and a weak ankle which make running or jogging very unattractive. Really, the only exercise routine I actually like and seek out many times a week is walking. As someone with a project of walking the city of San Francisco – every street, every block – that's not a surprise, right? :)
During the past two years I've made various attempts to up my activity level. I tried the Wii Fit for a while; fun, but not inspirational for daily activity. I got a pedometer and renewed my focus on my SF walking project; definitely a help, but not always compatible with working on a book and maintaining a happy home many hours a day.
Yesterday, I think I finally found the sweet spot: a treadmill desk.
I moved my Ikea office armoire to the other wall so the space in front of it wouldn't block our path to the back bathroom, switched the shelves around so that the extending desk surface could hold my monitor at face height when I'm standing, and put my treadmill in front of the desk. There are a couple tweaks needed – the typing surface needs to be an inch or two lower and the stereo speaker buzz needs to be resolved – but in the first part of my day today (less than two hours) I've already strolled at a comfortable speed of 0.7 miles an hour (while typing and reading) and logged over 2700 steps.
I can see that with this setup it will be very difficult not to reach a daily goal of at least 10,000 steps. Also my energy and alertness levels are both higher than when I'm sitting in a chair. Awesome!
Notes on my setup:
- LifeSpan Fitness TR200 Fold-N-Stor Compact Treadmill
- nice finished board
- two scarves to tie board on treadmill handles
- blanket under board for padding and as additional safety grip
- Ikea armoire with extendable shelf
- cheapish monitor
Meetings Cost A Lot 2010
I'm pleased to see that others have had the meeting cost calculator idea and done something about it.
Every tech company I've ever worked with (except those run by Clemens Pfeiffer) has needed a device like this, but some need it more than others. Yes, you with the weekly hour-plus meeting attended by the CEO and three VPs, I'm looking at you.
(Thanks for linky goodness, Boing Boing!)
How To Work Better 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
This is some good advice.
As far as I am aware, the original is explained best here in the Tate Etc. magazine archive where the piece is identified as being Peter Fischli and David Weiss's How to Work Better from 1991. Since then - in addition to inspiring from studio walls - it has wandered the internet, often in the visual form you see at left.
One of the things I like best about this particular form, and which gives it more weight with me than the text alone, is the imperfection of it. It is a good reminder that it's better to get something out into the world than to endlessly tweak on it seeking perfection.
The words are great too.
Do one thing at a time.
There's a key Expediter principle; you will achieve more working on multiple projects if you give them your full attention for set chunks of time than if you flit between them rapidly. The chunks don't need to be large - even 15 to 30 minute sprints can be hugely productive. Just focus and don't give in to the "I'll just take a quick peek to see if there's new email" urges.
Know the problem.
There are many ways to interpret this, but one which I find valuable is to confirm with myself what it is I am trying to solve or achieve. What is the outcome I am seeking? I've heard GTD coaches phrase this as "What would done look like?"
Learn to listen.
Simple, right? Nope. This one is a lot harder than it seems and critical to success in all aspects of life. Really shut up - mouth and mind - and really listen. Then think. Then respond.
Learn to ask questions.
Assumptions can bite you in the butt later. Ask, clarify, confirm. Even when you're working on something for yourself, ten minutes spent unpacking and spelling out your expectations into a brief journal entry can both vastly improve the finished work and steer you clear of avoidable problems.
Distinguish sense from nonsense.
This is the outcome of listening and asking questions. What actually works in this situation? What doesn't fit?
Accept change as inevitable.
This is true of our projects, our companies, our culture, and most definitely ourselves. Much of the nonsense we deal with results from trying to shoehorn the no-longer-current into a changed situation.
They are inevitable and they are valuable. Denying them is a far worse mistake than anything else that could go wrong and interferes with learning.
Say it simple.
Omit needless words.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
"Do only what is necessary to convey what is essential. [C]arefully eliminate elements that distract from the essential whole, elements that obstruct and obscure... Clutter, bulk, and erudition confuse perception and stifle comprehension, whereas simplicity allows clear and direct attention."
- Richard Powell, Wabi Sabi Simple, quoted in Presentation Zen
"The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are."
- Marcus Aurelius
Calmness is essential to clear perception and appropriate reaction.
Yes; it helps. Being happier tends to make all the other parts easier. So keeping your spirits untroubled is a good investment.
And even when you aren't feeling your best, be nice. That's a prudent investment too.
Does your workspace energize and focus you? 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
Next time you're at your desk, open up your attention and be where you are. What does it feel like? What bothers you? What doesn't belong? What do you love? What gives you a lift as soon as you notice it?
It's funny how such a simple thing as asking "am I getting what I need here?" can be so hard to remember to do regularly. The benefits of asking that question of yourself and acting on your answers are huge.
Take five minutes out from everything else, breath deeply, and look around.
Spot one thing that isn't as it should be and change it right now.
Maybe it's a souvenir you no longer love that can be thrown out or donated to charity. Get it out of here.
Maybe it's your computer desktop still showing the default image it came with. Put a picture on there of someplace beautiful that makes you feel alive and awake.
Maybe it's a stack of magazines from two years ago that you should decide you really don't need to read. Toss 'em in the recycling.
Maybe it's an empty stapler that needs to be refilled, for which you've been needing to get a fresh box of staples. Walk over to the supply closet, drop a note to the person who'll restock your desk, or add it to your errands list to remind yourself when next you're out and about.
Maybe it's something big like the complete lack of a view. So add "get a better office" to your projects list and spend a moment brainstorming a few things you can do to get that ball rolling (e.g. prep notes for annual review, rearrange office layout to face more towards windows across the hall, update resume). Whatever your tasks are, add them to your to-do list and make them a priority.
Every day take these few minutes out to tune in and give your world a little twist toward the best day you can imagine. It all adds up!
You are already smart; just step back from the noise & listen to yourself 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
Increased productivity often comes more from better tools and processes than it does from new data. When you make it a regular habit to take time out to think about your commitments and organize your ideas, the logical next steps will reveal themselves. When you know what your potential next steps are for each of your projects, it becomes much easier to find one to fit your present context and energy level.
A best practice which can pay off more than any other is to stop trying to keep track of everything in your head. These days we've all signed on for more stimulating input than any one person can engage with fully in a lifetime.
"You receive too much information, and its not your fault. Just accept that there is more information than time, and that it's increasing every day." - good experience guru Mark Hurst, in his book Bit Literacy
The essential trick in the face of this daily onslaught is to think in advance and to respond appropriately in the moment acting in accordance with your priorities. This is as true for a creative professional as it is for someone who works with structured plans in an office.
"The randomness of my job is one of the most interesting things about it but that randomness feels less chaotic if I have all of that disparate clutter out of my head and categorized." - comedian and actor Rob Corddry
By learning the tools and techniques to regularly clear your head and review your goals and projects, you free yourself to act on new input in ways which help get you where you want to go. Distractions are transformed into opportunities or their negative impacts are minimized.
"In truth, I've found that any day's routine interruptions and distractions don't much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters." - author Stephen King in his book On Writing
Taking the real stuff of your daily life and using it to produce your best outcomes radically changes your experience of the world for the better. It is this practical approach to being focused and open to change which creates a better work/life balance and a happier you, even in the face of moment-to-moment chaos.
Gaining new skills and understanding is a gift which pays off both in the short and long term. There isn't a single one-size-fits-all answer, but the specific practices which will most help you are out there. As productivity guru David Allen put it in regard to his coaching practice, "I'm not here to tell you what's the content of your process; I'm here to find out what is it that's getting in the way of you being fully available to whatever is now. And now. And now. And now."
Improving your relationship with your email inbox, part 4 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
Finally, I'd like to close out this series of posts with a few high level tips.
Hoard your attention
I said it before in part one, but it is vital that you take control over default settings that distract you. Start by turning off all audio and visual alerts that you have new mail. Of course you have new mail or you will shortly. Unless your job is purely to read email and then do nothing that takes longer than a minute in response to it, you shouldn't let your email flow dictate your day. If that is your job, your email is already open anyhow. Turn off the alerts.
Work on your priorities, not on what's freshest
Don't sit and press the "Check Mail" switch like a lab rat hoping to get a tasty food pellet. Yes, okay, you might get something you can answer quickly and scratch off your list, but that will not be as important as what is currently on the top of your to-do list. Do what you already spent time and energy deciding was most important. Dive in, knock out a task appropriate to your current resources and energy level, then surface and check email quickly before diving in again on the next prioritized task. By "quickly" I mean processing only. Anything that generates a new task for your list only needs the question asked: "Is this more important than what I was planning to do next?" If the answer is no, which it usually is, carry on as planned.
Merlin Mann said it beautifully: "Don't let the blur of movement try to replace one elegantly completed task."
Pay for checking email
If you find yourself checking mail far more often than actually results in a change in your plan of action, start forcing yourself to complete the next task on your list before you are allowed to check again. Quit the mail program if you need to keep yourself from autopiloting back into your inbox. The task list - whatever you use to track the next steps on your projects and other high priority work - is where you need to land whenever you're not sure what comes next.
Set a good example
As you want your email processing to be quick and prone to inspire clarity, so too do those who receive email from you. Write good email. Be brief. Use good subject lines; not "about next week's meeting" but "Tuesday 8/18 ABC meeting agenda & goals". As Mark Hurst suggests, "frontload" your messages to state the one key piece of information and then, if needed, support it.
Improving your relationship with your email inbox, part 3 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
"All these best practices are well and good", I hear some of you crying, "but what do I do with this backlog of email clogging up my inbox?"
I assure you, you don't need to deal with all of it at once. You can get rid of it, and quickly, but you need to do just a few little steps.
1) Draw a line in the sand.
Create a label called "Old Inbox" and label every single thing older than 48 hours with that. Give it a color you dislike so you'll be motivated to get rid of that stuff. (If your mail program doesn't have labels, then you'll have to drag everything to a new folder called "Old Inbox" but you will need to be tough on yourself to keep dealing with its contents until it's empty).
2) Above the line, practice good inbox habits as described in my previous posts.
Get clean and clear on everything in the inbox that's newer than the "Old Inbox" label. Live above the line and use search to dig for things below it only if needed.
3) Just ten minutes at a time, knock the old stuff into shape.
Whenever you can spare the time, but at least once a day, set a timer (I recommend Minuteur for Mac users) for 10 minutes and process the old stuff. Do not let yourself get distracted in that time. It's just ten minutes; you can do this!
The best part? It turns out it doesn't actually take very long to get through the old stuff, even if you have hundreds or even thousands of "Old Inbox" messages. Make use of sort by sender or subject to help you knock categories of messages into the right place quickly.
Mastering your inbox will reduce your stress, help you focus your time on the most important actions, and give you the ability to respond thoughtfully when response is appropriate. The calm and control it creates can transform the way others perceive you, building trust and respect.
Improving your relationship with your email inbox, part 2 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
Sorting incoming email faster is one of the critical ingredients of email mastery. You need to be able to process the contents without getting bogged down in doing everything.
First, know what you have. Second, do the right next thing.
Taking as few seconds per message as possible whip through your inbox and delete, file or label everything as appropriate.
If you don't already have labels set up for your mail, do that quickly now. You need very few:
1) "active project support" (or "task support" if you need a shorter term)
These are emails which you need in order to perform tasks for a current active project. If the task won't be done in the next 48 hours and the information in the email can be easily copied to your to-do list entry for that task, don't keep the email. If the task is coming up quickly, just apply the label and spare yourself the extra effort; strike a good balance between the pleasure of an empty inbox and busywork copying information around more than is necessary.
2) "waiting for"
Use this label as a reminder of something you may need to nudge someone else for or which is queued up behind another task you want to finish quickly.
3) "to read"
You will probably want more than one of these, for example, "to read: business" and "to read: personal". This label goes on anything you can tell from the subject line you don't need to read right now, but will need to look through at some point. Catching up on these categories can be a good task for when you are feeling braindead or have only a few minutes before you go into a meeting.
Bloggers may also find it handy to have a "to post" label for email to which they want to respond publicly or which inspires a post, but in general the 3 labels above should be sufficient to cover anything worth keeping in the inbox temporarily.
Use color for your labels to help you quickly recognize the categories of the past decisions the labels represent. I like to use a moderately dark color I'm fond of for "active project support" and a pleasing but limbo-implying color for "waiting for" (which for me are forest green and light purple, respectively). For tasks you need to draw yourself to more often than you might otherwise do them, use your favorite, most energizing color (in my case, bright spring green on my "to read: business" label to keep those newsletters from getting stale).
If your mail program allows you to list the label in a dark color with light text (e.g. Gmail) or otherwise make labeled messages really stand out from new or 'read but unlabeled' ones, do it. This approach makes it incredibly easy to tell at a glance - without needing to read the text itself and be distracted by it - what's in your inbox and that no processing action is currently required.
Why label instead of move to folders? It avoids the risk of "out of sight, out of mind" while allowing you to tell at a glance that you've already handled everything that currently needs handling. You get the benefit of inbox zero without wasting a lot of time or having to establish new rituals to check special folders.
For categories that you don't want to be reminded of until you're performing a round of that activity (e.g. something like "to read: professional development"), folders are helpful. In Gmail you can keep those pending things labeled appropriately but archived, ready to be retrieved by selecting all messages with that label (which you just remove after reading). Gmail users are also encouraged to take advantage of the latest controls for showing & hiding the list of labels to keep only these primary ones in view in your sidebar.
Remember, when processing new email you want to be incredibly quick, spending as few seconds on each message as is necessary to answer the questions "does this require any action on my part?" and "if so, what?"
Most email can be immediately deleted (or thrown into a single archive). My approach (using Gmail) is to scan over the unread subject lines checking the boxes beside any spam and then clicking "Report Spam" to clear that out of my way. Then I scan down again - faster this time because I've already read the subjects once - checking the boxes for anything that can be archived without opening (e.g. "John Doe is now following you on Twitter") and click "Archive". What's left can be dealt with one by one: reading, forwarding with brief comments and usually an improved subject line to someone else if appropriate (delegate), noting a task or event for the future by copying information to my calendar or OmniFocus (defer), replying if it will take less than 2 minutes (do), and/or labeling if the email needs to be kept for the moment to support a future task (including any responses which would take more than 2 minutes).
The goal of the 2 minute limit on doing is to avoid duplicating effort on low-return tasks; you've just spent enough energy and time to decide the necessary action, so rather than having to remind yourself of that again later, do the fast actions now. Beware though; any "it'll just take 5 or 10 minute" emails really add up. Be firm with yourself about the 2 minute limit and come back to the longer tasks after you've finished processing. Remember: first, know what you have; second, do the right next thing - as opposed to the one that just happens to be next in the inbox.
Building this habit into your daily routine will change your relationship with email. Instead of a murky pit of unknown obligations, your inbox will be a functional space. Repeatedly throughout your day you will know exactly what's there, if anything, and what commitments it represents when it isn't empty.
Improving your relationship with your email inbox, part 1 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
Is your inbox a source of despair? Fear not! You can conquer it and develop good habits which will reduce its negative impact on you in the future.
First, a few basic principles:
1. Discard the idea that every email you get deserves some of your time. Make a quick evaluation and then delete, do any less than 2 minute task, or add the appropriate task to your to-do list.
2. Be brief, if you need to answer at all. Not every email you get deserves to be answered with a correspondingly lengthy reply or, in many cases, any reply at all. Mail templates which you can use to auto-insert frequently used responses are huge time savers; learn how to do them in your mail program.
3. Don't file, archive. Mail programs have search functions; unless its a category where you regularly need to retrieve the last action on it (& you don't have that status in a more trusted system) or something that would be hard to capture in a search, just throw it in one big Archive folder.
4. Trash is your friend. Delete anything which requires no action on your part and isn't something you need to reference soon or in the future.
5. Give up your job as unnecessary archivist. If this email isn't the very first place you'd look for this information, don't save it for future reference. Put the information where you will look if it isn't already there.
6. Stop the distraction machine. Turn off ALL new mail alerts. No sounds, no counts, no pop-ups. Check email on your terms, as needed, and only between doing other actions.
7. Filter where possible. If you know that mail fitting a particular pattern belongs to a particular task - for example, email newsletters which fit within your recurring professional reading activities - then automatically route it to a folder for that task and remove its "unread mail" status on the way there, so that you aren't tempted to pay it more attention than it deserves. In your to-do's and/or calendar is where you'll track the need to do the recurring activity of examining those folders.
Finally, and most importantly:
8. Don't use your inbox as your to-do list. It is ill-suited to that purpose because it doesn't help you focus on doing. It is poor at distinguishing between things you want to pay attention to today and things you may not need to act on for days or even weeks. Think of your inbox instead as your hand, reaching out to someone passing you a piece of paper. You can glance at the paper to see if it's urgent, but what really needs to happen is not that you stand there with hundreds of pages in your hand, rather that you put the pages where they need to be. They represent actions you should do now or add to your to-do list or else they can be archived. A small percentage may need to spend time in an Active Project Support or Waiting For folder, but pretty much everything can be deleted or archived.
In my next post, I'll share tips for quickly processing what's in your inbox so you know exactly what's there, if anything, and what commitments it represents when it isn't empty.
How to take a vacation & truly leave work behind 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
Having trouble getting the most out of your time off? Here are some tips which apply particularly to vacations, but can be helpful principles too for having great weekends.
Clear your head before you go.
Schedule at least an hour a week with yourself in the three weeks before to do the following:
- Brainstorm about all your open projects, deadlines and other stuff on your mind; write it down as you go, either freeform or in a mindmap style if you like something more visual. Look over your calendar for the months before, during, and after your vacation to spark recollection of any other open activities.
- Once you feel like your head is clear, group the things you wrote down into goals & projects. Identify the next actions in each of them and when they need to be done by. If the deadline is before your trip, schedule when you'll do them. If it's during or in the week after, do them early or delegate them. If they're due more than a week after, but less than a month after, list them in a clear, prioritized way on a piece of paper and set that front & center on your desk as your starting point for your return.
- Briefly talk over at a high level the status, next actions and upcoming deadlines for your active projects with your boss and/or colleagues who may cover for you while you're gone. If they'll need to cover a lot of new ground in your absence, provide them with a similar sheet listing next steps, goals & deadlines for that project.
- Place a clearly marked inbox on your desk or chair to receive anything physical coming to you while you're out.
You'll be able to travel knowing that nothing is forgotten - you gave yourself three whole weeks to remember anything known - and that you've prepared others to deal with unknowns within the context of your goals.
I find it also helps to return from vacations on a Wednesday, use the Thursday to recombobulate myself at home & finish unpacking, then spend Friday on processing email &, if I quietly go into the office, any accumulated inbox papers. Say to everyone that you'll be back in the office Monday, but use Friday to get you soundly back on your feet at work, with a weekend as an additional reward for doing so!
One gift you can give yourself before you dive into your inboxes, is an hour or two of high-level, undistracted, newly relaxed thinking about your work, tools and processes. This can be hard to carve out of day-to-day business, so take any opportunity you can to give yourself quality thinking time.
Another great thing you can do on that Friday if you go into the office is look at your space with fresh eyes. Have a large trash can and some bankers boxes brought to your workspace and purge stuff that is not useful, required, or inspiring.
Good luck and have a great vacation!
Dinah's new productivity/planning coaching business now open! 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
I'm very pleased to announce that I'm now open for business in San Francisco in my new career as a productivity/planning/workflow coach! As a good friend put it when I described my services, I'm a lens that helps you focus.
In my two and a half hour sessions with clients, I help them concentrate on their priorities, knock away roadblocks, improve the flow of their business processes, and get more out of their tools and techniques for getting things done. After the session I leave them unstuck and moving forward with a clearer understanding of their goals and the actions they'll be doing (or stop doing) in order to achieve them. Ideally, they'll even be able to knock a few things off their lists during our time together.
Here's what some of my clients have said about the experience:
"Dinah literally helped me get my priorities straight, and now I have a better sense of how each of my individual projects are helping me move in the right direction. I now feel like I have a system in place to make sure all of my projects are manageable, and that the little things don't fall through the cracks. Thanks Dinah!!" - Lila B.
"After meeting with Dinah, I felt like my business had undergone a productive angioplasty. Her suggestions were like stents, removing the obstructions and allowing productivity to flow more smoothly through the workplace. Bravo, Dinah!" - Fil M.
Sessions, which include a follow-up report, are $300 each, with discounts for prompt payment or successful referrals to new clients.
Thank you for visiting my site (and for pardoning its current minimalism as the full official site design is being completed). I'll be happy to answer any questions by email to Dinah at this domain. You can also find me on LinkedIn and follow me as
expediterSF Discardia [as of March 2010] on Twitter.
Thank you for your time - and please do let me know if I can help you make the most of it!
What can the Expediter do for you? 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
I offer planning/workflow/productivity assistance to small businesses. I'm different from the usual sort of consultant in that I am offering my skills in small chunks of focused work together, rather than coming in with "my system" and trying to waffle-iron it onto you.
My goal is to spend 2.5 hours with you, help you focus on your priorities, knock away roadblocks, and improve the flow of your business processes. After the session I want to leave you unstuck and moving forward with a clearer understanding of your goals and the actions you'll be doing (or stop doing) in order to achieve them.
I've worked in a wide variety of positions from senior software product manager to office manager to bookstore owner. I've also been writing and presenting extensively in both my professional and personal life during the last decade and can bring these skills to bear along with my organizational, productivity, and planning knowledge.
We can cover a lot of ground in that time, but here are some of the kinds of things I can help with:
- listening to your project or business plan ideas and capturing them in a written form you can use as a base with which to move forward;
- exploring how you work with information inputs (e.g. email, feeds, physical mail/reading, phone calls). identifying where they help or hinder your ability to stay productive, and making adjustments to maximize the helping and eliminate the hindering;
- talking through a current roadblock (e.g. thousands of emails in your inbox, a teetering stack of papers including receipts you need to give you your accountant, unpaid invoices from your clients or client billing not yet done) and knocking it out of your way so you can get back in the flow;
- reviewing past goals, priorities and tasks you set for yourself to evaluate your current strategic position, updating your plans, and defining the future points at which to measure progress;
- discussing things that didn't go well (e.g. missed deadlines, cost overruns, and other painful experiences) and adjusting processes and plans to avoid these problems in the future.
(little animated construction guy) 2009
[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
More information will be coming here soon about my new services as Dinah Sanders, Expediter.
I will be helping small businesses to eliminate problems slowing them down, improve their relationship with incoming information & tasks, and get back in the flow.
Saying farewell and heading into a new adventure 2009
After over six & a half years at a good company, working with a lot of excellent people on great things for libraries , I'm striking out on my own for the next stage in my career.
I'm very proud of the work I did at [the company I still don't name here in my personal blog]. It's particularly pleasing that a colleague and good friend who I respect very much will be taking over my duties. The icing on the cake is that my library uses the product, so I'll get to enjoy the benefit of all those features I helped create.
As for what's next, I'm returning to my roots. The common thread across all my past jobs has been knocking down roadblocks in people's way. Much of it has involved making things more findable or easy to use, but I've also helped with workflow and productivity in general. A secondary, but closely related skill, is that of synthesis: collecting, integrating, documenting, explaining and teaching.
In all of this, the core is "getting unstuck".
Stay tuned for more information about my new business helping small businesses to eliminate problems slowing them down, improve their relationship with incoming information & tasks, and get back in the flow.