Too Many Tabs

There is a great internet meme that has been floating around for a while:

“My mind is like an internet browser. 17 tabs are open, 4 of them are frozen, and I don’t know where the music is coming from.”

I think of this meme whenever I am working with a client who has a lot of tabs open. These clients may also have multiple Word documents or Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations open and unsaved. They are also likely to have many e-mails in their Drafts folder.

When you start something on your computer and then don’t finish it — whether it’s a browser tab, a file, or a partially-written e-mail — it’s easy to lose track of what you were doing and what is still left to be done. This leads to inefficiency and duplication of effort.

One way to practice good computer hygiene is to close all of your windows and shut down your computer before you go to sleep. This ensures that you evaluate everything you left open during the day. If something is incomplete, make a note of it so that you can deal with it tomorrow or another day. You may think that leaving a tab or a file or a draft e-mail open will remind you to get it done, but there is too much visual noise on your computer screen and the result is overwhelm, not clarity.

The idea of turning off your computer may leave you in a panic. That is because you are under the illusion that by leaving your computer on and all of your windows open, you won’t lose track of anything. But here are some of the realities:

  • By working on files and leaving them open, you run the risk of losing your latest changes because the files haven’t been saved. You also run the risk of having multiple versions of a file.
  • By having a lot of unfinished e-mails in your Drafts folder, you run the risk of thinking you replied when you haven’t. You remember writing the reply but then you got distracted and never sent it, which is how it ended up in your Drafts.
  • By keeping tabs open indefinitely because you don’t want to forget about a page you found, you run the risk of losing track of it completely. Better that you should save a bookmark of the page.

The more you have open on your computer, the slower your computer will run, and the more likely it will crash or hang up. Then you will be forced to reboot it and you will lose track of everything. You will have better control over your time and your work if you take control of your computer instead of leaving it to chance.

Leave yourself some winding-down time before shifting gears from one activity to another. Save your work with a name that will help you to remember what it is. A file name default like “Document1” is not going to be much use. A file name like “NYSCA Grant Application DRAFT 9-29-23” will make it much easier for you resume work on that document at a later date.

Look in your e-mail Drafts folder. Delete the old ones that you will never send. Look at the more recent ones and see if it’s still worth sending these (with an apology for the delay). Your goal should be to have NO drafts in that folder. Then it will be noticeable if it a number shows up next to the folder name. At the end of each day, make sure you clear those out, either by sending or deleting them.

Now, about those tabs. If you get into the habit of bookmarking pages you want to find again and then closing the tabs, you’ll be in much better shape. Your browser will let you organize your bookmarks into folders. You can rename the bookmark before saving it so that you can remember why you want to find it again.

Getting out of the habit of leaving everything open will be tough at first, but, like all other organizing habits, it will give you greater peace of mind.

Just Unsubscribe

You get too many e-mails. I may not even know you, and even if I know you, I may never have seen your inbox. It doesn’t matter, I still know. That’s because we all get too many e-mails.

You may have signed up for newsletters that you were really interested in reading but never have time for. You may have neglected to click the checkbox next to “Send me marketing messages and offers” when you bought something online. Or you may have started receiving something completely unsolicited but that kind of intrigues you.

Forget them all. Next time you get one of those, go to the bottom of the e-mail and find the “Unsubscribe” link and click it.

“But I really want to read this when I have time!”, you protest. Yes, I’m sure you do. But having those messages flowing into your inbox — amongst all of the items that you really do need to pay attention to — just causes you stress. And besides, do you ever take the time to look at them?

The old adage says that you can’t find a needle in a haystack. But what if there only ten pieces of hay? You can find the needle then.

Think of your inbox as a haystack. Having those extraneous e-mails mixed in just makes it harder to notice the important and necessary items.

When I’ve mentioned to some people (whose inboxes I have seen) that they should unsubscribe, they say, “Oh, it’s not worth it. I just delete them when I see them.” But I don’t think that is a good use of time, and it still brings too many pieces of hay into your inbox. And did I mention the stress?

So just unsubscribe. And then delete.

You’re welcome.


Navigating The E-Mail Stream

I’m now entering week 2 of life without my computer, which is still in the shop waiting for parts. I’ve figured out how to work around most of the limitations of working on my iPad, but the biggest frustration for me right now is managing my e-mail.

I use Microsoft Outlook on my PC to manage my e-mail. All of my e-mail addresses — business and personal — flow into my Outlook inbox. From there, I read and process e-mail: responding when appropriate, then deleting when I don’t need to keep an e-mail and filing in folders when I do. The end result is that everything that remains in my inbox is a reminder of something that still needs a response or an action. I try to keep the number of e-mails in the inbox low enough that they don’t go past one screen, so that I don’t have to scroll down to see the oldest ones.

The inbox on my iPad, on the other hand, is simply one long stream of e-mails, both received and sent. If I don’t respond to a new e-mail right away, it gets buried way down in the list and I may forget about it. I can’t clear the e-mails out of the inbox unless I delete them, which I don’t want to do because I want them to wind up on my computer when I get it back.

My Organizing Goddess e-mail address is based on gmail. If I read a gmail e-mail on my iPhone when I’m out of the house, if will be marked as “read” in my iPad inbox, and then I am sure to forget about it. I now live in fear of overlooking a commitment because it’s lost in my inbox.

I often get annoyed at others who ignore or overlook my e-mails until I send several more urgent reminders. Now I have a greater understanding of what my recipients may be dealing with. Perhaps they, too, are processing their e-mail in one undifferentiated stream that just goes on and on.

When I get my computer back, I will have to spend quite a bit of time managing the hundreds of e-mails that will flood into my Outlook inbox and which will need to be filed or deleted until I regain order. Nevertheless, I am eagerly looking I forward to getting back to my usual efficient way of processing e-mail.

If you, too, are struggling with an endless stream of e-mail, then I suggest you look into other programs that will help you manage e-mail on your device of choice. In the meantime, if you write to me and don’t hear back, you’ll know why.



Back on Track

I’ve had a very busy couple of months. I was directing the musical “Legally Blonde” for my community theatre group, and it was the most complicated show I’ve ever helmed. It turned out great, and I’m very proud of it, but it meant that a lot of the rest of my life got put on hold.

One of the areas that suffered was managing my e-mail. It’s important to me to keep my inbox under control, which means I read every e-mail the day it arrives and respond the same day if a response is warranted. (Sometimes the response is, “I’m too busy to give a full response right now but I want you to know I got your e-mail and will respond more fully soon.”) Just like with paper, I put into folders the e-mails that I want to save, and delete the ones I don’t need. Anything left in my inbox is something that still needs action on my part.

I like my inbox to be empty enough that I can see all the messages without having to scroll. That usually means fewer than 30 e-mails.

A week after the show ended, I had gotten my inbox down to 44 messages, too many to see at a glance what I still needed to handle. That caused me anxiety, so I decided to go through the e-mails and make a list of what actions they represented. I called it “Outstanding Projects” because all of them required more than just a quick response. They all required time and thought. The list ended up being 10 projects long.

Even though I know had 10 projects staring at me, I felt instantly better. Just seeing them listed helped me to get a handle on what needed to be done. And a list of 10 projects was less scary than 44 messages!

That was three days ago, and I have done nearly all of them. I’ve gotten my inbox down to 10 messages, as you can see in this screenshot. It makes me happy to see so much white space in my inbox! I’m back on track now, and I know that nobody is waiting for me to take action on something. I’ve lobbed the ball back into other people’s courts.

This experience underscored for me the importance of distilling an overflowing bucket into a definable list. When I work with clients on time management, some of them are reluctant to make to-do lists. They are afraid that the list will be so long that it will make them feel even more out of control. But it’s hard to manage your time and responsibilities if you don’t know exactly what they are.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try making a list of everything you have to do. If the list is too long, select which actions need to be done this week and which can wait until next week. And don’t forget to breathe!




Capturing Contact Information

It always surprises me when someone asks me for my address even though this person has been to my house before.  Everyone has a way of capturing contact information, don’t they?   It may be in electronic form, or it may be in a physical address book.  So why would someone have to ask me for my address again?

I think it’s because it is just not a habit for most people to retain contact information beyond its initial usefulness.  But it’s really worth it, as it will save time later.

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