How to Use Google Keep to Eat Healthy

For those trying to change up their eating habits or for those simply trying to make easier the prospect of regularly eating healthy, there are certainly a few key challenges.

Those challenges are:

  1. Figuring out what to eat
  2. Finding recipes
  3. Staying on budget (Myth: healthy food costs so much!)
  4. Remembering to take ingredient lists to the grocery store

I’ve found that one simple part of the solution to these challenges is Google Keep. Although Google Keep and myriad other “brain overflow” cloud storage apps have been around for a while (e.g. Evernote, OneNote, etc.), it wasn’t until recently that I was able to find a utility for the service and add it to my trusted systems list. I’ll explain why further below, but for now, here is the complete system I use to help find healthy, inexpensive recipes, select the best ones, and store them so they’ll be immediately available when I need them.

Figuring out what to eat and finding inexpensive recipes.

For some people, this is the hardest part. Fortunately, it’s the easiest to solve. Google “healthy recipes”, and peruse the results. Even better, use these targeted boolean searches to refine your results as follows:

  • Simple recipes:  recipes healthy ~simple
  • Inexpensive recipes: recipes healthy ~simple ~inexpensive
  • Quick and inexpensive recipes:  recipes healthy ~inexpensive ~quick
  • Minimal ingredient, quick and inexpensive recipes:  recipes healthy ~inexpensive ~quick “~limited ingredients”

And of course, just add any search terms you want, and use a minus symbol for any results you do not want. For example: -pinterest

From those results, pick a few blogs that have recipes that you like. Finally, add those blogs to your RSS feed. If you’re not sure what an RSS feed is, it’s an aggregator (collector) of blog entries. One I use and recommend is Feedly.

The result of these actions is that now, every day (or so) you have new recipe ideas hitting your RSS reader. This solves problems 1-3 from above.

Refining our options and remembering to take ingredient lists to the grocery store.

First, open your Google Keep account on your computer. Do that by clicking on the grid of nine small squares located by your avatar (picture) in the top right hand corner of your Gmail account. Or, click here.

Second, install the Google Keep app on your phone.

Next, create two tags or categories:

  1. Recipes to make
  2. Recipes that rock

Then, look at your battle rhythm (or daily routine) and determine a time to review the recipes coming into your RSS feed. This is also a cool thing to Do Instead of Facebook (DIOF, or affectionately titled “die off” — an idea I continue to explore and eventually post about).

Note: I originally discussed the concept of a battle rhythm in my blog post: Inbox Zero – You Are Doing Email Wrong (Step 1). One day I’ll elaborate on the importance of the concept, perhaps. But I digress…

As you review these recipes and discover ideas that hit on all of your particular requirements (quick, simple, limited ingredients, etc.) click the share button and share them with Google Keep (there’s a chrome extension that allows you to do this from your computer as well). Finally, be sure to tag these recipes with the “Recipes to make” category before you close the Keep app.

The results from these actions are…

1. We have taken a large array of overwhelming recipe options and boiled them down into just a few recipes we know that we are able to make,


2. the next time we’re at the grocery store all we need to do is open the Google Keep app and select the “Recipes to make” tag.

Additionally, if you’re a super efficiency nerd like me and want to waste zero time in the grocery store deciding what you might want to make that week, you can pin your top selections in Google Keep and they’ll be at the top of the list waiting for you when you launch the app.

That’s it!

Bonus: When you make a recipe that turns out great that you would like to eat again, simply tag it as a “Recipes that rock” in Keep and it’ll be there waiting for you as a “go-to” or “throw down” recipe in a time crunch or other moment of decision-making weakness (hey, we all have them).

And that’s literally it.

Background (for those interested in more than just the nitty gritty how-to above)

The reason I found this topic interesting is because I’ve tried to set up numerous trusted systems for keeping recipes. Pocket was probably my first attempt, but the UI just wasn’t good for recipes. It has tags and such, but its necessarily and beautifully “stripped down” look (it typically removes images and other things for simple offline reading) don’t work for recipe making.

I’m also not sure if I tried keeping recipe ideas in Google Drive, a spot where I do all of my work and often use my miscellaneous folder as a dumping ground for brain overflow storage (i.e. things I just can’t bother with trying to remember, but can easily search with the tap of an app on my phone or computer). However, creating a Google Doc or saving a link in a Google Doc for each recipe would involve way more clicks than what I outlined above, so also not great for recipe keeping.

Finally, I think my first attempt at recipe total recall was with GQueues (heads up, affiliate link). This is my everyday super trusted to-do app that integrates with Google Calendar like a boss. It’s also highly customizable so you can employ the David Allen Get Things Done (GTD) contextual settings and location based methodology, if you so choose to do so (and I so choose). Unfortunately, the UI and resultant UX didn’t make this method a keeper either (no pun intended).

So as you can see, Google Keep wasn’t my first shot at this. Hopefully my research results save you some time and help you get on track with a healthy lifestyle. You only get one lifetime… choose wisely.

Please let me know any ideas or systems you might use for eating healthy in the comments section below!

Don’t waste your lazy Sunday on misbehaving desktop icons

So there are weekends where, instead of focused work or a healthy day spent outside, I spend almost an entire day (or more) trying to solve a problem that doesn’t matter.

This Sunday was one of those days.

I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, I am running Windows 10, and recently, the icons on my desktop started misbehaving. By misbehaving, I mean they started randomly arranging themselves on my desktop after a reboot. Or, when I would attempt to arrange the icons in a particular order (i.e. the correct one), certain icons would displace other icons, disallowing me to arrange my desktop icons the way that I wanted them.

So, in effort to save others with my same level of OCD from this situation that is both 100% unimportant and incredibly frustrating, I present to you, the fix (that I found on 0 of 5 self-help threads posted on the interwebs):

1. Turn off Auto arrange icons: right click desktop > view > uncheck. (I am uncertain if this relevant to my problem or not, but this was one of the first suggestions I came across as a fix. It may fix the problem for you, but it did not fix it for me.)

2. With your mouse, hold the Ctrl button and scroll up/down on the wheel so that your icons get smaller.

3. Attempt to rearrange them. If you are successful, once you have them where you want them, resize them and they should stay put (mine did).

4. If you still can’t rearrange them without them displacing other icons or relocating to their previous location, shrink them to the point that they comply. Then, arrange and resize as desired.

Microsoft, you can send the check to

There now, go outside and play.




So Much Time, So Little to Read

Strike that. Reverse it… as Willy Wonka said.

Seriously though, how often do you find yourself up to your neck in piles of self-improvement, tech, excel shortcuts, Google Drive tips, food, health or myriad other to-get-to-later articles and listicles… that you’ll actually never get to.

Me too. Let’s resolve this, shall we?

OK, so I can’t offer a solution that’s sure to get you 100% caught up, I can offer a technique that will catch you up and hand back to you some of your life’s wasted time. My solution involves getting caught up on your reading during your work commute (without actually reading during your work commute) and a product that I thought was well-known to everyone (but apparently is not): Pocket.

I am not suggesting that you read while driving, so please do stay with me.

First, the tech. Pocket is both a phone app and a Chrome extension one can acquire in the Chrome web store. For this solution you’ll of course need both.

Next, you’ll need articles that you want to read later. Oh wait, we already have plenty of those… so on to the next step — putting those articles in Pocket. Do this by sharing them with Pocket on your phone, or via the Chrome extension from your desktop.

When you share articles with Pocket they become immediately available for offline reading within the Pocket app — which is primarily the point of Pocket, actually. I use this feature to catch up on reading on planes or in other locations without cell or WiFi service. Similarly, I also use this to download articles to read later so that I save even more money on cellphone data use on my already extremely inexpensive Google Project Fi service plan (keeping my bill even smaller). But back to the solution…

Pocket has a great feature that actually reads your articles to you. Out loud of course. OK yep, you see where I’m going at this point. In the event that you don’t, here’s the full math equation:

Pocket read aloud feature + saved articles + 30 work commute x 2 = 60 minutes of free reading time, back in your lap. Every. Day.

You’re welcome! And happy listening…

PS – Audible from Amazon is also a great alternative option if you’re not a huge fan of blogs/articles/online stuff. Podcasts are great too, but that’s a post for another day.

Efficiency 101: A Micropost on Opening Files

I never post much and I know it’s primarily because I end up fussing too much over the spelling, grammar, and content (i.e. making sure I included *everything*).

So instead, I’ve promised myself that I will allow myself to publish shorter microposts that address one or two simple topics. Ironically, this was the initial purpose of this blog. So back to basics, I guess…

Efficiency: Opening Often Used Files Quickly

My fulltime job requires that I constantly update a number of the same Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. These files all reside in a number of different locations, including: company intranet, external SharePoint collaboration site, and of course, my own computer (though I try to avoid saving anything critical in this last location).

I am also a fastidious file organizer. This means that each of these files that I must update are at least two-clicks deep into any digital file folder system — but typically many more.

As such, anytime I need to make a quick update to any one of the many files I update each day, there is probably a 3-7 second delay, depending on how deep the file is buried. So in the best case scenario on a day that it takes 5 seconds per file and I update 24 files, I’ve wasted a full 2 minutes just looking for files. That’s 10 minutes a week, 40 minutes a month, 9 hours a year, or over 3 days every decade wasted on opening files. If you’re interested in saving 3 days of your lifetime every decade, keep reading.

Disclaimer: These tips are for the MS Office environment. Although I prefer Google Drive / G Suite (and lament every moment I spend using products that are not part of the Google enterprise environment) my day job requires it. Chances are good yours does too. Hence this post.

The solution to opening often-used files very quickly, with minimal keystrokes, or mouse clicks, is actually very simple.

Option A: Use this option when you do not know the precise name of the file

  1. Launch the program for the file type you are about to open (i.e. if you need to open a Word file, launch Microsoft Word).
    Note: I highly recommend pinning all commonly used products to your taskbar for quick launch purposes.
  2. Once the MS Office product is open, click File > Open.
  3. Once you do this, a very long list of the most recent files you have accessed will be readily available — choose the one you need.

Option B: Place your cursor in the Cortana search box (Microsoft’s search assistant) 



  1. Type the name of the file.
  2. If you have multiple extension versions and you know which one you need to edit, add the extension (e.g., .pptx, .ppt, .doc, .docx, etc.).
  3. If you’ve provided enough discriminatory information, your file should be selected already, allowing you to simply hit enter to launch the file.

It’s that easy.

Some additional unimportant personal best practices…

I discovered how well Cortana works when I found myself wanting to find my Microsoft files just as easy as I find Google docs. I have created a number of digital filing systems (managed knowledge centers, as I like to call them) for a number of different companies using Google docs. Each of these systems included a very purposefully organized hierarchy, highly efficient sharing conventions (using Google Groups) and deliberate naming convention of folders, sub-folders, and carefully employed one-to-many sharing relationships.

Most of this organizing is done with a focus on proper rights management. This focus is necessary so that the right people have the right access to the right files on their first day of hire, not when Bob from AR finally realizes that Susan from AP doesn’t have the files Bob’s been referring to in the last five monthly update meetings. Anyhow…

At the end of the day, my primary personal focus is to name files in such a way that I never actually have to open folders.

When I open Google docs the first thing I do is select the Recent category. More often than not, the file I need is somewhere near the top.






Or I click enter in the search bar, begin typing, and watch the results begin magically populating. Oh, by the way, this can also be done directly from Gmail as well.







Money 101: Budgeting Made Simple

If you’ve been putting off getting your finances under control, or organized, or just pointed in the right direction, simply because you’ve been waiting for someone to do it for you, you’re in luck! OK, I’m not going to do all of it for you, but I am offering you the chance to start right now by providing you a simple budgeting tool that anyone can fill out in just a few minutes.

First, let me warn you. This tool is as about as far as you get from fancy. It’s a Google sheet that I literally threw together in just a few minutes. However, where it lacks in sex appeal, it makes up for it in functionality. I’ve linked it below, along with a video explaining how to fill it out (which you probably won’t even need to watch).

What’s the catch? The catch is you need to reach out, grab it, and execute!

No seriously. If you’ve been toying with the thought of buckling down and paying off your debt, or cutting spending, or investing, or just figuring out how much you spend each month (or all four) your time is now! This where you start! A budget.

However, in case you’re not yet fully convinced, I’ve provided some more words below.

Budgets are Important

Developing a budget is probably the most important first step to wrangling in your personal finances. Trying to get your cash flows (i.e. your money) under control without a budget is like dumping all your silverware into a bucket and then trying to count out how many knives you have. Certainly, you have a good idea how many knives you have, but you’ll never be sure. You know why? Because there’s always a couple knives hiding behind the spoons… as they so naturally do.

That’s why budgets are so important. They provide certainty and remove any guesswork from figuring out exactly where all your money goes each month. And of course, until you know exactly how much you’re spending, it’s almost impossible to set goals or limits on that spending.

Budgeting is Not Hard

Unfortunately, for something that everyone understands is so important, there are not many simple and free tools available — especially for those that have never created a budget before. Even the simplest of tools, like for instance, Mint, still left me a little bit uncertain about exactly how much money I bring in and send out each month.

What am I trying to say here? Let’s just say that even the easiest-to-use budgeting apps, like Mint (which I use everyday), still come in at a medium on the easy-medium-hard scale. As a first-time budgeteer, what I wanted was something that was a 1 on the difficulty scale and a 10 on the “yes I understand what these numbers mean” transparency scale.  

This tool did not exist. So, I went ahead and made one — along with some instructions. Of course, I’m happy to share both of them with you.

The Super Simple Budgeting Spreadsheet for the Everyman

The spreadsheet is linked below, but please take a moment to consider some ideas on how to “locate” or track all of your monthly expenditures. I’ve listed a few recommendations below, listed in order from least to most tedious:

  1. Credit card statement. Cash can be hard to accurately track (which is why drug dealers don’t take Visa). If you’re not already in credit card debt (i.e. you pay off your card each month) consider using only your credit card for all purchases for one month. You can then easily use your credit card statement to populate your budget.

  2. Debit card statement. If you don’t trust yourself with a credit card, consider the same approach as number one above, but using your debit card instead. In my experience, debit cards don’t always capture vendor information as accurately as credit cards do, so keeping receipts and/or capturing a written log of your expenditures is also a good idea.

  3. Keep a log and/or receipts. This is just what it sounds like. As “a” way of doing this, I’d recommend keeping a box or bag to collect receipts in a conspicuous location to which everyone has access. We kept a ziploc bag underneath our key rack right near the front door — you couldn’t miss it walking in the house.

Open the spreadsheet using this link: Everyman Budgeting Sheet

Heads up! Please be sure to make a copy for yourself first by selecting File > Make a copy…

Note: If you’re not familiar with how to use Google Sheets (which are part of Google’s G Suite of applications), sign up for a free Gmail account here, make sure you’re signed in, and then click the Budgeting Sheet link above. To learn all about the wonderful world of free Google products associated with your Gmail account, check out Google’s G Suite Learning Center.

Here’s the instruction video:

Got questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.



Money 101: Personal Investing Made Simple

Included below are the few simple investing concepts that are not my own, but that I wish someone had taught or shown me 20 years ago.

In case you don’t have time to read any of this, get out of credit card debt and then invest all your money in VTSAX (it’s one of those low cost index funds they talk about in the two minute video below, and is also similar to the low cost mutual funds referenced in the index card below).

If you do have a few minutes to spare, continue clicking…

One Minute Read

The Index Card Summary

Two Minute Video (John Oliver)

Five Things YouTube Video

Twenty Minute Video (John Oliver… pardon the language)

John Oliver: Retirement Plans

When You’re Ready to Start Saving

J. Money

Jim Collins

  • Stock Series (multi-part series written in plain English in short, digestible, bursts) 

Mr. Money Mustache (reading):

Mr. Money Mustache (videos):


Disclaimer: The information provided above is for entertainment purposes only. I am not an investment professional, merely a regular guy trying to make sense of all the options available to us normal people. Invest at your own risk… or reward.

Getting Inbox Zero’d: How and Why to Archive in Gmail

This post is part of my Getting Inbox Zero’d series that will provide all the tools and nitty gritty details necessary to get right if you truly want to hit inbox zero.

Since showing is ten times better than explaining, this series will be captured on YouTube with the most important points from the transcript included below.

Bottom line: Please watch the video first — it has everything you need all baked right in.



Reasons why you should archive:

  1. SEARCH. With Gmail or Outlook (I’ll explain Outlook at the end), you can search and retrieve any email you might ever need — no reason to keep them in your inbox.
  2. CLARITY. When you archive emails that no longer require action, only the emails that require action remain in your inbox — making it very easy to see what emails you have left to action or respond to. To further illustrate, would you keep paper copies of bills that you have already paid lying around? In the same fashion, you should also archive emails that serve no value lying around cluttering up your inbox.
  3. ACTION ITEMS. Finally, if you use your inbox as a to-do list (which by the way is a terrible idea — go to to find out out why), but if you use your inbox as to-do list, this will leave only action items in your inbox.


Inbox: This is where all of your email lands — and if you do nothing with it — this is where your email stays.

All Mail: This is also where all of your email lands. The only way to remove email from your All Mail is to delete it, and unless it’s junk mail or a large file that you no longer need, there is no reason to ever delete emails.

Archive: The word archive is a verb. When you archive an email you are simply removing the Inbox tag. When you remove the inbox tag, the email then only appears in your All Mail or of course, when you search for the email from your inbox (remember, search is generally always the easiest way to find old emails — the days of folders and categorizing are long gone).

7 Reasons Why Your Inbox is a Terrible To-Do List

Many people — my past self included — operate from their inbox, using it as a to-do list.  I mean, it makes sense; email is generally how most offices communicate and direct work — so why not, right?

Here’s why not.

1. You can’t prioritize an inbox (even with Gmail priority inbox)

If your inbox is your to-do list, which emails do you complete first? Bottom up, or top down? Regardless of your workflow, if you’re using emails as action items (instead of capturing them in a prioritized to-do list), you will never be actively managing the things you need to do. Instead, you are now simply reacting, in order of email timestamp, to other people’s requests.

Further, what happens when other people’s requests outrun your ability to get work done? You lose the ability to focus on the tasks (and/or emails) that are actually important. Anyone, that argues differently is not being honest with themselves. Yes, I’m talking to you Mr. “Mark as Unread.” Bolding your emails only works in the short-term, and then ultimately fails you completely when your inbox grows to more than one page.

More on this one, keep reading.

2. It’s easy to lose track of important items

Managing your email requires that you remove completed emails from the congested mess that is your inbox. If you use an inbox as a to-do list, what happens when that really important unread email gets pushed to page two? The task has just left the building! I hope your memory is good. Or maybe you’ll get through the other 50 unread messages and unbury that email from your boss (from last week) just in time to realize the deadline has passed? Not likely.

3. Email subject lines are not clearly conveyed action steps

A to-do list looks like this:

  1. Buy milk
  2. Feed the dogs
  3. Read chapter 2 of of the PMBOK guide

A to-do list does not look like this:

  1. Re: Meeting on Friday
  2. Fwd:  Please review
  3. Hi!

Unless your inbox is your to-do list.

Certainly some email subject lines are written well enough that little or no further reading is required to complete the associated task. However, for all other emails you are now required to open each email (that you’ve already read, mind you) and refresh your memory on (1) exactly what the email was about and (2) what it was that you intended to do in order to accomplish the associated task. The only way anyone could possibly be more inefficient would be to also print emails.

4. Important details get buried

If you have to dig around looking for the information you need to accomplish a task, for every item on your to-do list, you have effectively doubled or tripled the amount of time it takes just to start a task! This is what happens when email contains your to-dos. Think about how much time you spend returning to emails over and over again, or worse, searching fruitlessly for a particular email in an effort to find specific information needed to accomplish a task. If you are like most people who use email as a to-do list, you spend way too much time searching, reading (and re-reading), processing and determining your next moves.

Some might argue, “I keep my emails as to-do items because they contain relevant back-traffic necessary to accomplish the task.” This is would be a valid argument, except that copy/paste is a thing (unless you are still using only pen and paper for your to-dos — if so, contact me immediately for some urgent help). Additionally, most to-do list programs or apps have a notes section for this exact purpose. Many apps also have an active inbox and an email address to send emails that are automatically converted into a to-do item (the key here is to edit the subject line before you send it, or whenever your process your list of to-do items).

5. Working to an inbox is prioritizing your day around other people’s requests, not your requirements

If you are using your inbox as to-do list, ultimately, your agenda becomes an assortment of other people’s requests. If this is the case, where are the things you need to do? Unless you email yourself, it’s not in your inbox, that’s for sure.

More on this one, keep reading.

6. Working from your inbox requires two to-do lists

If your inbox is your to-do list, where do all your priorities reside? Anyone who uses their inbox as a to-do list that also has priorities outside their inbox absolutely requires a separate to-do list (anyone without perfect memory at least). So in this case what remains are two separate to-do lists, one in random order (the inbox), and one prioritized list. What a mess. Why would anyone purposely do this to themselves?

7. Your inbox is a moving target

If the inbox is where you organize your day-to-day work, every new email changes your to-do list. Worse yet, random things — of varying importance and at random intervals throughout the day — are added to the list. This creates creates a continuous onslaught of distractions severely limiting your ability to focus and ultimately killing your productivity every day.


If you are using your inbox as a to-do list, you are working from a non-prioritized, random and constantly changing list of things to do; a list dictated by others that may or may not actually be important to you or your success that day… or ever.

The solution

  1. Find a trusted to-do list app or system — I listed a few options in an earlier post.
  2. Follow my three simple steps to maintaining inbox zero, every day.

That’s it.

Inbox Zero: You are Doing Email Wrong (Step 1)

Ever leave the office and realize that the only “work” you actually accomplished was answering or sending emails?

If this has ever happened to you, or happens to you often — and you want to actually get real work done — please keep reading.

I should also state up front that I don’t consider processing email to be actual work (unless of course, your job is somehow 100% email-driven and/or you perform a customer service function). Email is simply a communication tool, albeit an incredibly misused one (more on that in a separate post). As such, my goal in these next three posts is to free your inbox so that you can get back to getting real work accomplished.

This particular discussion covers the most efficient way to accomplish step one of my inbox zero methodology:

  1. Check email
  2. Complete/capture email
  3. Close-out email

Or simply, how to “do email right.”

How to do email right

I have been managing five inboxes successfully (i.e. maintaining inbox zero) for the last five years. I have done this by adhering to three simple fundamentals. They are listed below.

  1. Avoid sending email
  2. Establish a battle rhythm
  3. Batch process emails using step two of my inbox zero methodology

Avoid sending email

Unfortunately, email begets email — so stop sending emails.

Look at your inbox, right now. How many emails in your inbox are responses to emails that you originally sent? How many of those will you respond to? And how many of those will prompt another response? It’s a terrible cycle, and it can be avoided by using at least two much more efficient options: phone calls and meeting agendas. When to employ these preferred options varies depending on the situation, but either one of them is more efficient than an email conversation. Using these options instead of just “banging out a quick email to Bob” also requires a significant amount of willpower and/or a trusted personal organization system. However, once a trusted system is in place, the willpower requirement is significantly reduced or eliminated. I will explain the organization element in another post.

So when is it efficient or appropriate to send an email? The simple rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Will this email solicit an unwanted email response?” If the probability is “likely” or greater, then use one of your other two more efficient options (phone/meeting).

Here are some examples of efficient or appropriate use of email:

  1. As a follow-up to a discussion (phone/meeting) that includes information or files that were already promised or discussed (i.e. nothing new is being introduced)
  2. Sending FYI-type information to one or more people (i.e. no action or response required)
  3. Requesting a file from a person who will understand exactly what is being requested (i.e. a standard request)
  4. Anytime zero responses are guaranteed!

Establish a daily battle rhythm

What’s a battle rhythm? A battle rhythm is simply a dependable daily routine. The primary reason for establishing a daily battle rhythm is to ensure that key work inputs are reviewed every day so that correct priorities are established before beginning any work. Sticking to a battle rhythm also helps to avoid getting sucked into processing emails before first determining what’s most important to accomplish that day.

A battle rhythm should include all the key input processing tasks that need to be accomplished each day. For the average office worker or executive, a battle rhythm should include the same general series of tasks: calendar management, processing email, managing to-do lists, and doing actual work.

My daily battle rhythm looks like this:

  1. Open to-do list (GQueues)
  2. Open email, select calendar (avoid eye contact with the inbox at all costs!)
  3. Review the week ahead
  4. ID all key events that will require action and capture those in my to-do list
  5. Prioritize to-do list
  6. Accomplish 3-5 key tasks on my to-do list
  7. Batch process emails
  8. Repeat steps 5-7

If the idea of accomplishing real work before checking email is alien and unthinkable, it is absolutely possible to swap steps six and seven for the first round of the day only. However, keep in mind that if you are not able to start your day without checking email, ultimately, everyone but you is driving your priorities at work.

Batch process email

To batch process email means processing every email in your inbox without stopping or working on anything else. The keys to doing this most efficiently are (1) to follow step two of my inbox zero methodology and (2) process email at pre-determined times during the day.

This particular tenant of “doing email right” might be one of the hardest, simply because it involves a significant amount of willpower. The desire to accomplish the easy task (responding to the email) instead of the more complex or less pleasurable task, is a daily battle for many.

The simple truth, and the ultimate case for batch processing email, is that processing email all at once — instead of multiple or hundreds of times throughout the day — is absolutely the most efficient way. There are numerous articles explaining why responding to emails throughout the day is woefully inefficient (and considered multitasking, which is also terrible), so I will not belabor the point here. I will however, happily provide some methods for avoiding it.

Here are some additional tips to avoid email multitasking

  1. Establish times in your battle rhythm to process email, and stick to them
  2. Turn off all email notifications (e.g. smartphone lights/sounds, desktop notifications/sounds)
  3. Check email only at established times throughout the day, no matter what
  4. Let subordinates/peers/supervisors know that if they need something from you immediately, that they should stop by or call (most good leaders should know/do this already).
  5. If you are fortunate enough to be able to shape company culture, strive to create a climate where employees don’t feel required to respond to emails within minutes — it’s hurting your business

In summary

  1. Don’t send email unless you‘re guaranteed to not get a response
  2. Establish a battle rhythm that includes a time to batch process emails — and stick to it!

Stick to these simple concepts and I guarantee that you will find yourself with much more time to accomplish your priorities.


Inbox Zero: The Two Most Important Steps to Email Freedom (Step 2)

Do you need a simple process to keep your inbox empty? Need a process that you can remember? Need a process with just one decision to make, every time? If so, take a second to see if this straightforward approach to inbox zero is for you.

The simple truth is, I’ve never read Getting Things Done and I had never seen Merlin Mann’s inbox zero video until a few weeks ago. However, at one point in my life I did have three separate careers and five email inboxes that were threatening both my marriage and my sanity. It was the email or me, and I won.

How did I win?

I won using a very simple, 100% repeatable, dummy-proof set of rules to guide how I process emails every day. This process works because I didn’t invent it out of boredom or curiosity.  It was born purely out of necessity — sink or swim. Most importantly, it has been forged, tested, and proven on the battlefield of my own personal work/life balance. The entire process itself could not be more simple:

  1. Check email
  2. Complete/capture email
  3. Close-Out email

I am going to skip discussing step one because everyone knows how to check email (well, sort-of — stay tuned for my to-be-published batch email processing discussion).

I am also going to skip discussing step three because I already covered how to close-out email in my last post: Inbox Zero: The Key to Less Email is No Email.

This article addresses the two steps (or decisions) that are the core components to attaining and maintaining zero emails: complete email or capture email.

How to keep it simple

The concept is straightforward and simple.  When you open an email, you have two options: complete the task associated with the email or capture the task associated with the email.

If the task associated with the email takes less than 60 seconds, complete the task.

If the task takes more than 60 seconds, capture the task. Do this using GQueues, Evernote, Keep, [insert your favorite to-do list app here], or using an old fashioned post-it note (or using the 2014 version).

In the event you’re a visual learner and are thus far thoroughly confused, I drew a diagram to illustrate the elegant simplicity:Final Capture_Complete

Why you have to keep it simple

When you remove all options but two, any possible “paralysis by analysis” about what to do with the email that might occur is eliminated and your actions become so binary (yes or no), the follow-on actions become almost automated. And of course, as you know, automating an action reduces the associated processing time from hours to minutes, or even seconds.

Now certainly, by adding a number of email tasks to my to-do list, my to-do list has grown. However, when I transfer tasks from my inbox to my to-do list, I am able to do two very important things:

  1. Create a single, clear, actionable task.  I do this by removing any ambiguity from the subject line of the email and by including any necessary details from the body the email in the actual to-do verbiage. For example, my email with the subject line RE: Invoicing Request becomes Conduct invoice audit on Friday.
  2. Prioritize the task. This is key. Now, instead of immediately trying to answer this email and wasting half of my day on an unplanned task, I’ve simply placed it on my list of action items for Friday.

As long as you attack your inbox and complete or capture using the 60-second rule — resisting the incredible urge to complete tasks that do not adhere to the 60-second rule — you will reach inbox zero every day, with very little effort. Guaranteed.

The only challenge with this process is moving from a trusted, incredibly inefficient system (your email inbox) to a new and as yet, untrusted system to manage your action items, projects, etc.  My challenge to you here is to spend 30 minutes today looking for that trusted system.

Trusted to-do list recommendations

I listed a few systems earlier in this post, and there are literally hundreds of apps, programs, and moleskine notebooks dedicated to managing your to-do list. I personally use GQueues to tackle not only my to-do list, but to manage just about every aspect of my scheduled life. I prefer GQueues for a few simple but important reasons:

  1. It integrates with Google Calendar and sends reminders via pop-up, sms, or email
  2. It’s highly collaborative (I can assign, share, and receive tasks)
  3. It’s highly customizable to suit my personal organization style (I use the GTD set-up)
  4. The drag and drop user interface is incredibly simple to manipulate
  5. It does 100% of what I need it to do and requires zero plug-ins, add-ons, or workaround measures
  6. I’m able to add tasks on the go with only two phone gestures (or just one Google Now voice command)

But I digress.

Before this turns into a full-blown GQueues or to-do list post, I will end here and challenge you one more time to spend time today to find a trusted system. If you already have one the next step is easy — begin tackling and conquering your email with that simple yes or no question.