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Month: May 2014

Voting with your two feet

If your time is being wasted, ignore sunk costs and change your situation by voting with your two feet.

I was initially skeptical of these bite-sized chunks of advice, seemingly for the self-employed followers of bliss. Though as I make my way through Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life I awoke this morning with a different perspective. I thought, this is advice I could apply to my life as well. So I gave it a shot.

At first read, I thought this was telling me to quit my job and walk away. That’s not feasible for a life constructed around the stable income. One that gives my wife the freedom to experiment. I am the rock. She is the stone.

At second read, I took it to mean get up and take a walk.

When I have a problem I can’t solve, I hit my head against it until I was exhausted. Frustrated and no closer to a solution, I’m slowly learning to step away. To change my situation by voting with my two feet. To take a walk. Think about something else. Do anything else.

Even getting up to get a cold drink resets my mind. At a former job, we had a soda fountain in the building. When I hit a problem I couldn’t see my way past, I would walk by my co-worker’s desk and utter a single word. “Drink?” And with that, we’d head upstairs to the fountain. With icy cold Cokes in hand, we’d chat about life, work, writing, whatever weird Internet thing we’d come across that day.

Sometimes we’d ride the elevator all the way up, or all the way down. Just for a few extra moments of conversation. Sometimes with others, but often alone, we’d chat and laugh. Then, when I got back to my desk, fueled by good cheer, cold carbonation and a few moments of joy, I would stare down the problem. And more often than not, a solution would come to me.

So next time I come upon a seemingly insurmountable problem, or one I just can’t seem to think through, I’m going for a walk. And maybe a drink.

Making Outlook Manageable

I am stuck in Microsoft Outlook. As many others around the world, I too suffer through dealing with Outlook. I’m often struck by its lack of flexibility and usability. For an application that appears to do absolutely anything I can imagine, it fails at some basic points. One of the times I moaned about being stuck in Outlook…

Jason Rehmus shared his secret of Outlook Contentment…

I’ve setup this system in Outlook 2010 and have used it for a few weeks with no issues. It does not require scripting nor a degree in Computer Science. It uses only Outlook’s built-in features.

Steps to Outlook Contentment

  1. Create a new folder and give it a name. I named mine Archive but the name doesn’t matter. Call it whatever you like.
  2. Setup a rule to do two things. First, it will copy all incoming emails to your newly created folder (which I’ll call Archive for the rest of this post). Second, it will mark all received mail as read.
  3. Start the Rules Wizard in Outlook.
  4. Create a New Rule.
    Under the heading Start from a blank rule click Apply rule on messages I receive and click Next >.
    Create a new rule
  5. On the What condition(s) do you want to check? screen select nothing, and click Next >.
    Conditions to check

  6. Outlook will display a prompt that says This rule will be applied to every message you receive. Is this correct? Click Yes.
    This rule will be applied to every message.

  7. On the What do you want to do with the message? screen, check the boxes for mark it as read and move a copy to the specified folder.

  8. Click the link that says specified in the lower box.
    Move and copy and mark as read.

  9. Choose the folder you created in Step 1. For me, it is Archive.
    Choose folder

  10. Verify the rule now reads move a copy to the Archive folder. Then click Next >.
    Verify folder name

  11. On the Are there any exceptions? screen. Don’t check any options. Then click Next >.
    No exceptions.

  12. On the Finish rule setup screen, name the rule and check both boxes.
    For Step 1: Specify a name for this rule, name the rule whatever you like. I’ve called mine ARCHIVE all received mail.
    For Step 2: Setup rule options check the first two boxes, Run this rule on messages already in “Inbox” and Turn on this rule.
    Name rule and check boxes

  13. Click Finish. A dialog will pop-up stating This rule is a client-only rule, and will process only when Outlook is running. So none of this will take place when Outlook is not running.
    Rule will only run when Outlook is running
    Once you click Finish, Outlook will begin copying all email to the Archive folder and marking it all as read in both the Inbox and Archive folders. This will take some time, especially if you have a large mailbox.

  14. Once it finishes running check to make sure all messages were copied over. An easy way to do this is to look at the number of items in each folder. Once those numbers match, I also check the first and last message in the folder and make sure they match.

  15. Once you’ve verified all of your messages were moved successfully, delete everything from your Inbox. All of those messages are safe in your Archive. You don’t need them in your Inbox too. Delete them!

Now the system will work for you. Only keep any message you’re actively working on in your Inbox. When you’re done with it, delete it. Remember, you have a backup copy in your Archive folder.

Now, instead of having thousands of messages in my Inbox, I have 3. And once I’m done responding to those, they’ll be gone too.

Why go through all of this?

You mean other than for your own sanity? I worked in a customer support role, so it’s valuable for me to keep all communications I receive from customers. But I don’t need to see them all the time.

When I need to find an old message, I search my Archive. I need the messages for reference, but I do not need to look at them everyday.

Why do I mark them all as read?

I don’t care about unread/read status. If it’s in my Inbox, I need it. If not, I don’t. I also mark them as read or they’ll show up as unread in my Archive too. And it’s a waste of your time to mark messages read. The fewer things I have to touch, the happier I am.

What if I don’t have space on my mail server?

Setup your Archive in a Personal Folder instead. You can set up the folder anywhere you like. On the mail server or saved locally to your computer. Though please, if you are going to save everything in a Personal Folder, please save it to a network drive where it can be backed up. The Archive is useless if it can be lost when your hard drive crashes.

Resist complication!

I like to tweak and tinker. I like to try to be clever and make things easier for myself. But often times it only results in more work. Let me leave you with this piece of advice I’ve tried to adopt as much as possible. Don’t complicate the system!

I’ve resisted complicating the system. Mostly. I had a few rules I’ve automated to categorize messages I need to quickly find to run reports again.

I turned off those rules after setting up this system. I realized the categories are unnecessary. If I need a message, I search the archive folder. Categorization is complication. So I disabled those rules and haven’t missed them.

I hope helps bring some sanity to your life in Outlook. I’m much happier looking at a tiny number of emails instead of thousands. I hope you will be too.

Did this help you? Have a suggestion (but not a complication), please let me know! I’d be curious to hear from you.