Tag Archives: breathing space

TE-I (Loving Messages) Follow-Up

Last week I wrote this thought experiment on Loving Messages. It didn’t take long before I had the opportunity to put the thought experiment into action. In most cases I will probably not name the cast of characters involved, for pretty obvious reasons; and I still want to share my results.

Within two hours of writing that post I passed something on, which I considered to be rather considerate. In return I got something akin to a lecture about the concerns of sharing what I did. There was no thank-you for the action, just what could be perceived as criticism.
As the communication started, I had full awareness that this was the perfect opportunity! I was aware that an initial reaction of frustration was welling up. I took a deep breath, and listened for the loving message. The concerns were valid, and the love was found in the very fact of the concerns being expressed–if there weren’t caring, there would be no need for the expression of concern. Where in the past I might have gotten very frustrated by the conversation, I listened for the love, and ended up fairly neutral. This was a success.
The next opportunity came that evening. I was driving Josh and myself home after dark. I was about to turn left onto our street, and there was a car waiting at the stop sign there; I was going to be turning in front of them. As I started the turn, they starting into the intersection! I quickly steered away from them, toward the curb, to give them as much room as possible to stop. I was sure that there would be impact, and there wasn’t. I sat for a moment and took a breath, then continued on down the road.
It’s a bit harder to find the loving message in this “communication.” The easy way out would be to look at the fact that they didn’t hit me, and that’s too easy–I would want to be able to find the loving message even if they had. My tactic, then, is to simply let go of the judgment about what happened: instead of thinking they are a dumb $@#$% for not looking where they’re going, I just let that thought go. I have no idea what was going on in the person’s head: maybe they were rushing somewhere in an emergency, or to someone they love. Or, perhaps they simply weren’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter to me. I chose to simply take a breath and let it go. As a result, I had a peaceful time getting ready for bed (while the adrenaline dump subsided), and falling right to sleep.
As if to test my resolve, the near-identical thing happened the next day: I was turning left in front of someone at a stop sign, and they nearly drove into me again! It wasn’t quite as close a call as the previous night, and I wondered what I was doing that was attracting this. I’m still working on that one.
The results, so far, from my thought experiment are very good. I continue to incorporate the process into my life. I’ll give more updates as I believe they are pertinent/interesting.

Dealing with Bacon Part II

In a previous post I discussed bacon–emails that I’ve signed up for, yet aren’t a high priority. I’ve been fine-tuning my bacon-wrangling, and thought I’d share my progress in case others would find it useful.

In that past post I discussed the special Bacon folder I created, and how I created rules in Outlook to look for specific senders and move those emails directly into that folder.
Now I have a much simpler method that doesn’t require my adding email addresses to my Outlook rule every time a new sender shows up in my inbox.
Because I use Gmail, there’s a little trick I can use when signing up for things. With Gmail, it’s possible to create on-the-fly email addresses. Let’s say my email address is fantasticness@gmail.com (which it isn’t). You can create an unlimited number of email addresses by adding + after the username and anything you want, and they will all be delivered to you!
So let’s say I sign up for something, and want the emails they send me to go into my bacon folder. Starting with my fictitious email above, I’d sign up with the email fantasticness+bacon@gmail.com. Then, with the rule I have in Outlook that puts all emails sent to that address in my bacon folder, I’m all set! (Other email providers may have similar services–YMMV.)
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have only important emails in my inbox!
I also use a number of Outlook rules to intelligently put emails into folders based on project or group. I can see them all using the Unread Mail folder, and when I’m done reading them, they are already filed!
This combination of systems has helped me to automate a great deal of my inbox cleanup, meaning I have time for other things. I can’t recommend these types of automation highly enough.

Breathe

Last week was a bit  hectic. When I discussed it with my friend, Karen, she sent me this, which I think is very cool. Using it really helped me be more relaxed!

Breathe

Breathing in I know I am breathing in

Breathing out I know I am breathing out

Breathing in I see myself as a flower

Breathing out I feel fresh



Breathing in I see myself as still water

Breathing out I reflect things as they are


Breathing in I see myself as a mountain

Breathing out I feel solid



Breathing in I see myself as space

Breathing out I feel free


Thich Nhat Hanh

Two Down, Many to Go

Josh and I went to the Kalahari Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells to celebrate our second anniversary. I would normally eschew something so touristy (I am a snob in several ways…), yet Josh wanted to go somewhere warm. I was happy to go, especially since he got a special deal through work.

We arrived, as planned, before our room was ready, and went to the waterpark. There were, I dunno, a thousand people in there? The Lazy River wends its way through the whole place, which is punctuated by rides here and there, as well as four hot tubs.It wasn’t as warm as we were expecting–at first, anyway. we walked around for a bit, then went on a couple of the rides, then a couple laps of the Lazy River. What’s very cool is that they have single- and two-person innertubes. We jumped in a two-person and floated around, then went down more rides in that same tube. Then we went down a ride that used no tube–lie on your back, cross your legs (lest you want something unpleasant to happen) and put your hands behind your head. Unfortunately, I put my hands behind my neck, which did not serve the same purpose–I bumped my head. Not too bad. The ride itself was very fun! It involved shooting down a snaking tub into something large that was akin to a toilet bowl, then getting dumped unceremoniously into the pool below when the centrifigal force dropped. We had a lot of fun!

After a while we sat in the hot tub. However, after a few rides, we were warm enough everywhere in the park.

We went back to the room around 4:30 and had a nap, then got ready for dinner. We went to the Cheese Factory for dinner on Diane’s suggestion (thanks, Diane!). If you’re a Facebook member, you can read my review.

After dinner we went back and walked around the game area. Not so fun–lots of cheap, shiny things to attract kids’ attention. It just seemed kinda lame. However, we stopped and took a sequence of four pictures in one of those machines–that was fun. I’m attempting to get the picture up here or on Facebook and am being stopped at every turn–don’t know why.

We went back to the room and played a really fun game of Settlers of Catan cardgame. The game lasted 3 or 4 hours. I just squeaked out a win before Josh was about to take over and win.

What changed our plans was a call before dinner from the “showing line” that someone wanted to see the house a second time at noon the next day! We wanted to spend more time in the waterpark, but that was not meant to be. : ( However, we had a good time while we were there, and will probably go back another time.

Take Care of the Bacon, Y’All!

I think I got this from Merlin Mann. It works.

You already know what spam is–it’s the stuff you don’t want. Well, there are less-important emails you also received from organizations and other stuff you signed up for, but you don’t really want to read it often. This stuff is called bacon.
Bacon is really annoying in the inbox. I really just want to see email I’m interested in reading in my inbox. So I decided to do something about it. Since I use Outlook, I created a rule that puts emails from certain email addresses into a special folder called “Bacon” (oddly enough). I’ve placed this folder beneath my JunkMail folder. As new bacon arrives in my inbox, I add the new email to the rule I created.
Now when I check email, I see the emails I’m most interested in when looking at my Inbox. I then use the Unread Mail filter (saved to favorites) to quickly review all my Bacon and see if I want to read any of it. Otherwise, I can quickly delete.
I also have emails filing themselves upon arrival, and read them all in the Unread Mail filter. This is especially handy if you can predict the subject line (especially from mailing lists that put a prefix in the subject), or if the email is always from or sent to a specific email address.
This all makes email much more painless!
What other tricks do you use to help with your influx of emails? Please share in the comments!

Is This What Civilized People Do?

Great day today. Josh and I had our Sunday-morning pancakes (he made them–wonderful), then church, then home to continue work on the house. I finished the drywall in the downstairs bedroom while he put the stew on to cook that he prepared last night. He made some bread (focacia), and I asked him to make an extra loaf of dough.

We installed all of the hardware in the bathroom (looks very nice). For five years I looked at a set of shelves that had been installed crooked over the toilet. Like 1/2″ off one side to the other–how does that happen? When I installed the new shelf it was crooked! I futzed with it, and it was just that the thing wasn’t seated properly. It’s now quite level, thank you very much.
I did something I haven’t done in about 30 years: I made cinnamon rolls! While they were rising and cooking we cleared all of the tools and extra stuff out of the living room–it had been the staging area during constructions. The furniture was all piled up (the cats loved the hiding places) and tools were everywhere. No more: it’s all out and vacuumed, and the furniture is set up. We filled all the nail holes, then sat down on the furniture for rolls and hot milk tea. We just sat there. And ate rolls. And drank tea. It was very odd.
Is this what civilized people do? Eat rolls and drink tea while sitting on furniture? Turn off lights using switches that have switch plates on them instead of seeing the wiring? Walking on vinyl and hardwoods instead of subfloors? Use the bathroom on the main floor instead of going down to the basement? Sit at the kitchen table for a meal instead of at the counter because the table is full of junk?
Hm. Civilized, eh? I like it!

Zero Inbox

In a previous post I described the trials and tribulations of floods of email and living in that lake for way too long. I also described slashing and burning and emptying my inbox.

After that entry I was minimally successful at keeping my inbox empty. And I still had one very bad habit: if something arrived in my inbox that needed to be done but couldn’t happen right away, I left it there until I did it. When would I ever learn?
Well, the answer to that is August 22, 2008. I don’t remember where I got the link, and I found this page with a video by Merlin Mann talking about his Zero Inbox philosophy. None of the concepts were rocket science: there are 5 actions you can take on incoming emails:
  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do
Delete: I wasn’t deleting enough. Does everything really require a response? No. Delete.
Delegate: I’m a very compliant person. I’m very quick to take on too many responsibilities and say yes. I’m working on this (no, I didn’t buy any magazines for candles to the kid who came to my door yesterday, and I thanked him for offering). So for me, delegation starts with saying, NO I WILL NOT DO THIS–at least internally. Then ASK someone else to do it. I’ve been working on this one over the years and am getting better and better at it.
Respond: This one is not a challenge–I’m pretty quick to respond to people.
Defer: This one I was doing all wrong. I was deferring by letting it sit in my inbox. NO NO NO! I’ll get back to this in a second.
Do: I probably do too much of this. Just take the action now. Touch it once. The problem is that I can so easily get distracted by doing requests that come in that are of low importance or urgency, when there’s other more important and urgent things to do. So don’t do too much doing.
In Mann’s words, the most important thing to do when having an over-full inbox is to “simply stop sucking.” I love this! He suggested creating a DMZ folder (Google DMZ if you don’t know it) and putting all inbox contents there. Deal with that as you go, but don’t leave it in the inbox. Start fresh with the inbox and stop letting them pile up. This works! I stopped sucking immediately, and it felt great.
Getting back to the deferring, the inbox is NOT a successful way to defer. I now spend a bit more energy identifying the things I really want to do and saying no to those that I don’t or won’t. I then defer by putting the item in my calendar on the date I will do it.
If I take an action on an email by sending an inquiry, thus needing to wait for a response before more action, I flag the email as a task to complete, and put it in a new folder I created called “Waiting.”
If something is just kind of there–not really significant but I don’t want to lose it–I’ll flag it and add a reminder date, and stick it in the DMZ folder. Maybe not the best strategy, and at least it’s out of my inbox.
None of these concepts are new or earth-shattering–indeed, I learned most of these concepts from Patricia Clason years ago when I took her time management course. It simply took a decision to be really conscious and disciplined about it. Both of these ingredients are crucial to keeping an empty inbox, which for me means having a much more relaxed and orderly life. I continue to whittle down on the DMZ folder, and will one day perhaps delete it altogether (hopefully it will be empty. ;o}).
I’m practicing the same discipline on my desktop: nothing remains on it for more than a day. The receipts I put on from Home Depot last night I entered into Quicken this morning and filed, except for the return I have to make, so that is going out to be rubber-banded on the item and put into my trunk on the next visit.
I find as I follow these practices life is a lot more enjoyable. While I have experienced many long periods of having a buried desk and a flooded inbox, I know very viscerally that these things drain my energy and put me in a funk. Having clear space helps me feel like I can breathe.
How’s your breathing?

An Historic, Monumental Occasion

On February 7, 1995, I bought my first computer. I totally forgot, until I checked Quicken to find the date, that I got a loan from my boss to get it, which I paid off for over a year. And isn’t it interesting that 12 years after that day I met Josh? Anyway…

Probably the next day (for some reason my emails only go back to 1998) I got my first email. Oh the joy! Oh the wonder! Oh the fabulous possibilities! I couldn’t GET enough email! Please, oh please send me email! Let me learn about this strange new world!

A few months after this I received an email from my friend Chester, completely out of the blue. I had no idea he even had a computer. Chester had been living in Bay Area of California, and I hadn’t heard from him very much. It was a wonderful way to reconnect with him.

I forget exactly how many computers I’ve owned, although that’s a bit confusing. Judging from Quicken, I updated my motherboard in 1998 (January – would that have been for Windows 98?), and I think that was the first OS I installed from CD (oh the speed! Oh the convenience! This is AMAZING!). It then appears I built a computer in 2001 – I’m guessing with my friend Matt’s help. And in 2006 I built the computer I’m using at this moment, again with Matt’s suggestions for hardware.

I’ve learned a lot about computers all this time, to the point that I build my own machines and do all the maintenance a slightly-above-average geek can do.

And during all this time, the emails have been coming in. And coming in. And coming in…

It reminds me of my first “real” job, which is the job I still have today at Qualtim, which I’ve had for 17 years (does anyone DO that anymore?). After a few months, it was just my boss, Kirk, and me. And we took over administration of WTCA, then called the Wood Truss Council of America, but now called WTCA – Representing the Structural Building Components Industry (why do I still need to look that up after two years?). When we first took over, I turned from proto-geek to full geek: I created a timesheet and invoicing program in Excel so that they didn’t have to be done by hand any longer. I taught myself about relational databases and built my first one to run the association. It handled company and individual information, membership data, orders, shipping, and much more. I first created it in Lotus Approach (oh the days…), and then re-created it in Microsoft Access. The timesheet/invoicing program was then re-created in Access, with a bit of help from my friend Brad. The data was then ported to SQL Server. Today that program is called “Main,” and is the backbone of our organization.

When I was 23 and first creating these systems, I was high as a kite. I was learning a lot, and to have all that responsibility for a nation-wide association was quite a kick! I built the data and procedural foundations for what is today a multi-million dollar organization!

However, as time went on, the shine fell off the apple a bit: I soon realized that along with that joy and prestige (?) came a lot of responsibility. And that responsibility got heavier, and heavier… and heavier. I learned that the lack of documenting was going to lead to serious issues: first, I have a horrible memory, and while I can figure out code pretty quickly, it still wastes time. The larger danger, however, is that if I were “hit by a bus” (a phrase we have used consistently over the years), others would have a really difficult time figuring out some of the–shall we say–“elegant” solutions I’d created. I felt like Ebinezer Scrooge’s cohort Bob Marley, who dragged the chains behind him after death – that’s what Main felt like at times. Even today, when we have three programmers on staff, I’m still the only one who takes forays into Main to make updates, etc. Others have gone in over time, and none of them are with us any longer.

Let’s get back to the topic at hand: email. During all of those database adventures, the emails continued to pile in. There were long stretches of time that I didn’t delete email from my inbox, to the point of having thousands of emails. Because I was becoming an instructor with the Center for Creative Learning, I found it necessary to get more organized, so I cleaned out the inbox, leaving only those tasks that needed to be done, responded to, etc. And I flagged emails that were of greater urgency: red being most, then yellow then orange, purple is for info only, and green is for whatever else.

And my inbox began feeling heavier, and heavier… and heavier. In the early ’90s I used to be BORED, not having enough to fill my time! Oh how I’ve yearned for those days, or at least a short visit of that feeling (that feeling was one of my three goals on vacation, along with eating and sleeping). In the past 10 years, life has felt more full than I like, at times being really stressful. I worked for 9 years at 3/4 time, taking most Wednesdays off. Then when I bought my house in 2004 I figured I’d better work full time to “support the house” – stupidest thing I ever did. The next three years were miserable, and I went back to 3/4 time last year. Although by then I had Josh in my life, so any vacuum I created was more than filled.

And all along, my inbox has been a focal point. A metaphor for my too-full life. An anchor. At times an enemy. I had a vision of a free and easy life, where I’d get up on a warm Spring morning with a smile on my face, have a Zen breakfast on the back patio (please pronounce “PAH tio” or “PAH chio” if you like), do some reading, BREEEEATHING all the way. And I’d be able to do that because my inbox (hear low cellos from a horror music score here) would be empty. I MUST EMPTY MY INBOX! But how? There are too many things to do! TOO TOO MUCH!

Well, sometimes adequate pressure is required to bring about change. Last December I was stressed out and had an epiphany: I cannot process all of the educational emails that come in as a result of my instructing work. I still had emails that I had to finish reading from 1998! I set up a system for the instructors to save that information for reference when needed, and get it the heck outta my inbox! At that point I got it down to eight emails, and was on top of the world. And immediately thereafter it began growing again. My decided limit at that point was a screen-full of emails. I soon surpassed that mark.

The pressure built again until the end of last month, when I added more decisions to my earlier epiphany: I cannot say ‘yes’ to as many things as I was. I love to please people (I’m actually quite compliant in personality), yet doing so gets me into trouble, i.e., not having a life. So I sent an email to the Instructor body of CCL informing them that I was going to focus my efforts on areas where my value is greatest, and leave some things for others to do. And I have been: when an eBook was being created, I only gave it a quick read-through, and didn’t do a SINGLE edit, which, with my desire to have things “Just so,” was a huge success in and of itself. Others were surprised by this (lack of) behavior on my part, which meant the success was serious.

This brings me (now us, since you’ve been reading this long [you still there? really? not bored yet?]) to last week, where I (trumpet fanfare) REMOVED THE LAST EMAIL FROM MY INBOX.

Have you ever had one of those moments where something monumental happens, and you don’t fully appreciate it until later? An unpleasant example I had that was comparable was cutting the end off of my fingernail with some of the quick a few weeks ago: I realized immediately what happened, but then sat and looked at it to really assess how bad it was (it wasn’t that bad – not a mark on me today). Or walking across the stage to graduate, or many other life-changing events. Does it sounds silly to compare these things to an inbox? If it does, I haven’t adequately communicated the significance of the feeling.

I’d lived for so long with my inbox having “something for me to do” – say 13 years? – that I was literally disoriented. It felt for a moment like I was looking at my Junk Folder, which I always empty immediately. There was nothing there to do. I imagine it felt something like having a dog die who was always peeing on the carpet, barking at the neighbors, chewing up shoes, and being generally unlikeable. Yet when he died, there was an empty place.

Well, this is where that analogy ends, because emails still come in, unlike the dog that won’t be coming back to life any time soon. It takes resolve and focus to keep my inbox empty, and I’ve got the systems in place to do it: things get passed off to others, scheduled, or filed with a reminder now. And it feels REALLY GOOD.

This morning felt really good, in fact. I got up with a smile on my face (petting Raja for a while is good for that), made my simple bed, walked across the bamboo flooring to open the blinds, then put on my robe and made some 10-grain cereal. I’ve responded to a few emails or scheduled things, and deleted or filed them. All. ALL of them. There’s nothing in my inbox right now. How does it feel?

As always, your comments, even if just “I was here!” are welcome.