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Opinion Editorials

Getting Myself Organized (with a little help from Chris Brogan)

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If you are a blogger, or even remotely interested in the world of social media and Web 2.0, you MUST subscribe to his blog.  The value he delivers on a daily basis is unparalleled.  There are a lot of reasons that I like Chris and his blog (an interview with him is why I started using Twitter, he actually USES twitter, he seems conscientious, he left a comment on my blog), but one of the things I really like about him is that he is willing to talk about his own experiences and challenges, and is willing to ask for help from others and share what he finds.

A recent post of his hit home for me in a big way.  It is called, “How I Tamed my Inbox.”  I get a lot of emails every day.  I have a tough time keeping track of all of them sometimes.  I imagine that Chris gets a whole lot more of them than I do, so if he could get his email life in order, this must be pretty good.I read the entire post.  I adopted most of it, altered the rest of it to fit the way I work, and I wanted to share my finding with you.  My guess is that there is a reader or two of AgentGenius that is wishing life could be a bit more organized.

The Applications I Used

Just like Chris, I use Gmail.  I happen to love Gmail.  I shudder to think what my inbox would be like if I couldn’t archive emails or tag them or organize them into conversations.  Gmail rocks!  You can use whatever email program you want, but I’m sticking to Gmail.

Just like Chris, I use Google Calendar.  Gcal is also awesome.  It makes my life a lot easier.  The fact that it integrates seamlessly with my Gmail and my BlackBerry calendar makes me love it even more.  It means that I don’t have enter appointments into my phone AND my BlackBerry.  Putting it in one puts it in the other automatically.  Sweet.

Unlike Chris, I chose not to use Things for Mac.  I had a few reasons for this.  First, Things is in beta, and it will be a paid-for program upon release.  I try to do free things whenever possible.  Second, I work on two different computers most of the time.  I didn’t want to have to buy two programs, so I was looking for a web-based solution.  Third, I don’t own an iPhone.  Things is going to be compatible with the iPhone at some point, but since I am a loyal crackberry owner, a web-based program is again my preference.  Since our office uses Google Apps hosted by Google, we have access not only to Gmail and Gcal, but also to the new Google Sites.  Gsites is this cool app that is kinda like a wiki-creator.  It allows any member of the hosted domain to create a site and share it with the others on the domain.  You can share the site with everyone, or with no one, and there are plenty of different site templates.

What I Did

1)  I had to go through my Inbox and go back and organize stuff.  I had almost 4000 emails in my inbox.  I went through and archived the ones that I wanted to keep, but didn’t need, and then I deleted everything else (there was a lot of crap in there).

2)  I created labels for my email and filters to attach the proper label to the incoming emails.  I created a label for “clients,” “office stuff,” “officiating,” and “zebra stuff.”  I also created some other labels that refer to specific clients or events, but these are my general labels.  “Clients” is pretty self-explanatory.  “Office stuff” refers to any of the day-to-day office stuff I have to attend to.  “Officiating” is for all those emails I get that relate to my other job, and “zebra stuff” is for all of the things that are related to my blogging endeavors.  I am going to create another label later for “personal.”  I didn’t think of that one right away.  I also created additional labels for each of my current clients.

3)  I created filters for some of the labels so that Gmail will automatically label what emails it can.  For example, every email that comes to me from my high school officiating supervisor automatically gets the “officiating” label.  Emails to or from a specific client email get the “clients” label and the label that corresponds to that client. 


4)  I created pages on my personal Google Site that correspond to the general email labels.  Each of those sites has in it a project list.  On the list, I will enter tasks so that I can keep track of progress.  This helps remind me what issues are out there that are still unresolved, and it helps keep track of deadlines.

5)  I entered all the dates and deadlines I could think of into my Google Calendar.  I also added reminders in there if the deadline is off in the future.  I’m less likely to procrastinate if I keep dogging myself with reminders.  Because of the Gcal sync with my BlackBerry, all those dates and reminders are now in my phone, too.  Sweet.


6)  This one is important.  I made the first 3 tabs of my browser my Gmail, my Google Site, and my Gcal.  This way, it is very easy for me to process my email, and then make any necessary changes to my Gsite and my Gcal. 

That’s it, I’m now on my way to being more efficient and organized.  

One thing that I am going to have to work on that Chris mentions is checking email routinely, and not constantly.  I think that his idea of checking it no more than 4 times a day is a good one.  If you check it too often, you are more likely to let things slide (thinking that you’ll get to it in a second), and less likely to concentrate on what you need to do and entering it in the proper places.

The key to this whole process is that I (and you, too) need to be conscientious about visiting the “project management” hub, and entering the information.  In my case, it is the Google site.  That is where I can see what needs to be done, and when.  It is also a visual reminder of the progress that I have made (hopefully).

So there you have it.  That is the strategy that I using to make myself more organized and efficient.  Two of the things I like about it the most are that 1)  It’s totally FREE, 2) It’s totally mobile.  I can access all of these resources from any computer with an Internet connection, and even from my phone.  Sweet.

I think I’m on the right path, and I hope that maybe some of this has given you ideas about how you, too, can get your email box in order and get yourself on the track to greater efficiency, and even less stress.  

Thanks, Chris. 

I'm a REALTOR, basketball referee, happy husband, and Community Manager (in no particular order). I have a passion for the real estate industry and officiating, a passion that I try to turn into inspiration on my blog, The Real Estate Zebra. I am also the Community Manager at Inman News. When I'm not blogging here on AG or the Zebra, you can usually find me on Twitter.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. mousewords

    March 24, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Great post! I hadn’t heard of Google Sites, so thanks for that tip!

  2. Brian Brady

    March 24, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    This is a really useful post, Zebra. I use yahoo and can achieve most of what you did, there. It’s not as robust as Google but I’ve been using it for 10 years.

    I like the idea of routinely checking e-mail and not constantly checking it. Miraculously, problems get solved and questions get answered, regardless of my influence.

  3. Andy Kaufman

    March 25, 2008 at 12:34 am

    Awesome post Zebra. I think I might actually give this a go.

    Rocking the blackberry is like being the guy who had intellivision when everyone else had atari

    & I had intellivision

    RIM FTW!

    Of course I’ll prob break down when iphone2.0 comes out.

    Seriously though I need to try something. My inbox is pushing 25K. [don’t ask]

    Another thing, if you’re not following Chris Brogan on twitter (@chrisbrogan), make that the next thing you do. He’s one of the most valuable members of the whole community & his Social Media 100 series on his blog is absolute dynamite.

  4. Brad Coy

    March 25, 2008 at 2:07 am

    Great post Daniel. I’m a big fan of all things G myself as well as BB. I’ve been a bit reluctant to check out the new G sites apps. but now you’ve given me good reason.

    Along the lines of taming and controlling your inflow of email that helps me greatly is starring and filters. I check my email a couple of times a day. Anything that can be quickly dealt with on a return, BAM it’s returned. Everything else gets a star and is archived. Any incoming mail that I don’t want to see regularly in my inbox, but is not spam get’s a filter tag on it. REvendors, newsletters, twitterbacn, etc. After a while of dialing this in you can get your inbox to zero quick every time. Going back to the stared items later to deal with and taking a look at your filtered emails once a week.

  5. John

    March 27, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Great tips. I like the idea of checking email only four times a day. For some reason, our inbox creates a false sense of urgency. Better to close it until we need it.

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a new remote job? Here’s how to impress your team

(EDITORIAL) New world. New normal. New remote job? Here are three steps to help you navigate your new job and make a lasting first impression.

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new home office

My past gig selling ergonomic furniture seems so much more meaningful these days. That’s a real aluminum foil lining on a horrible, deadly, terrifying situation, but I’ll take it.

For those of us who can keep up the grind for that daily bread (sourdough apparently) from home, we’re in da house like it’s a late 90s video. Or a much much much lamer early 2000s video aping late 90s videos.

It’s been weird. Intellectually, I know taking breaks to roast Brussels sprouts, hang my delicates, or weep uncontrollably into the living room carpet is NOT what I’m being paid for but…I’m doing it. And I can because I know my coworkers, superiors included, are doing the exact same.

We’ve already built up the kind of rapport that says ‘So long as XYZ gets done, organizing your spice rack between calls is fine, because we are all going NUCKING FUTS, and whatever keeps us from starting fires without driving up company costs is all gravy. Also here’s a picture of my dog’.

Maddie

BUT, for those of us cranking the money mill in a whole NEW work situation… it’s gonna be… well. Not necessarily like that.

If my first off-color joke to my manager was over G-Chat instead of face-to-face, I can’t even IMAGINE what horror shows would go through my head if she say… went to go check her mail right as I hit send and just kinda left whatever it was I said about bras hanging there.

So what can you do to improve your new-person status when you can’t meet your team and cozy up face-to-face?

Make introductions

Imagine you’re taking a pre-covid19 bus. Some stranger taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, you wanna approve this invoice right quick?”

Not the worst thing you could hear on public transport by a long shot, but it’s still a little presumptuous, no?

That’s why you need to introduce yourself.

Not just in the general group chats or Zoom meetings. No one’s going to remember those (and there’s a 75% chance you don’t have your video on anyway).

Introduce yourself every time you ask someone new for something. Like this: “Hi colleague! I’m April, the new girl in 2nd shift goth ops, how are you? I had a quick question about our joy division, do you have a moment?”

I get that I’m an 87 year old biddy when it comes to matters of courtesy, but when you can’t actually see someone or offer to grab something from the communal fridge for someone, this stuff goes a LONG way. Bonus, you might get some extra positivity back! And we ALL need that.

Scroll back

Put that mouse wheel in reverse, what we’re gon’ do right here is go back. The cool thing about work chat-ware is that most versions will have a history you can scroll through! Your mission now is to creep through public, multi-person channels and see how your new peeps cheep.

You’ll get a great sense of who’s who, the general vibe, and even see frequent pain points and questions that come up before you have to ask about them (which you WILL).

Is this the kind of workplace where you can leave an ‘It’s Twerkin Tuesday!’ GIF, and get a whole bootylicious thread going to lift everyone’s spirits? Or do you work with more of an “Here’s an interesting article about twerking for spine health” kind of crowd?

This is how you find out.

Keep your own records.

Art Markman over at the Harvard Business Review mentioned a super fun and also true fact: “ Your memory for what happens each day is strongest around things that are compatible with your general script about how work is supposed to go. That means that you are least likely to remember the novel aspects of your new workplace” .

Ergo, it makes sense to keep a diary of everything that happens at work so you can get help with what you need most… because those ‘novel aspects’ are EVERYTHING, experience or no.

I personally suck at making my hands write as quickly as I think, so I suggest a diary in the form of Google docs, or even a private Tumblr/Twitter, etc, where you can hashtag what you need to look back at, and search your logs at your leisure later.

Make sense?

It’s not always easy to navigate a new position, even if you’re the naturally charming, adaptable type. Adapting to several major things at once is a lot for anyone! But hey, you’re doing the right thing by reading this as it is. Gold star!

Congrats on the new gig. Keep your head up, or whatever direction medical doctors recommend – you got the job. You’ve got this!

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Opinion Editorials

5 ways to grow your business without shaming the competition

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.

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Entrepreneur women all talking around a meeting table.

The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly.

Perhaps you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. Regardless, this has been tough for everyone.

Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and at very different stages from others. We’re currently at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.

Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and online marketing outreach. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.

Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that offers an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes, and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate.

Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing OK. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”

Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.”

I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”

Now, comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (Sick of that word? Me too).

Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):

  1. It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
  2. Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
  3. Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
  4. Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
  5. Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.

It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different ways of doing things?

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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