A close friend and business partner recently asked me about my own systems for managing emails, task lists, and generally organizing stuff. I'm confident that I don't have the best system in place but its working for me right now. Here is the outline I sent to my friend.
Organizing and Managing Email:
I use Gmail's priority inbox which creates three sections of content: Important and Unread, Starred, and Everything else. About 4 times per day (or more often if I have dead time or transit time) I process incoming mail. Processing incoming mail consists of opening and reading ALL unread email. After opening and quickly evaluating the email I either: Star it (important and requires action), Archive it (may need later but requires no action), Delete it, or do nothing (not important but requires action). This leaves me with a clear set of important emails/tasks that are displayed as starred in my priority inbox. Everything else in the inbox is in the not-important but requires action area below. I try to never have more than 10 starred emails.
In-boxes (more generally speaking):
I capture all thoughts and tasks and stuff that requires action in one of three in-boxes. This is a lesson I gleaned from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- First is email and I've already covered how I manage that inbox.
- Second is my to-do list. EVERYTHING goes into this inbox. Every random thought or consideration must be archived by category (Family, Church, Business, etc). More detail about how to use to-do lists here. In the past I've used Google Tasks to manage my task list. Its always available on the computer in my Gmail and Calendar keeping it top of mind. It isn't the most robust interface (Google needs to step it up here) but it fits my needs. It will allow you to assign due dates and input notes per task. Here are the top apps for iOS and Android that interface with Google Tasks (iOS / Android). I now use Asana which is an enterprise project management solution that better suits my needs as a business owner.
- Third is the home inbox. This is a physical red basket kept on our kitchen counter. Warranties/receipts, mail, and other notes and reminders find their way into this inbox. I check it every day and try to keep up on it the best I can.
Regular Planning Sessions
- The most critical regular planning session is EFC (Executive Family Council). My wife and I sit down on Sunday evenings after the kids go to bed and plan the week. Topics include: Budget and Finances, Church Work, Week's Calendar, Family Night (Mondays), Date Night, and our current Spiritual Book that we are reading as a couple. This doesn't generally take more than 30 minutes. The calendar is generally fast because when either of us adds something to our own calendar, that at all involves the other person, we always send a calendar invite. Also worth noting is that we have 2 tools that we use to manage finances. The first is Mint.com and the second is a Google Doc Spreadsheet we call “This Month.” Its a daily inflow/outflow worksheet that allows us to plan every expense and inflow to maximize our savings and ensure we never have a negative balance.
- Personal Daily Planning: This is a 3 minute nightly review of the next days activities. Just reminding myself if I need to wear anything specific (like a tie) and if I need to leave early or take anything with me outside of normal.
Tools I use religiously:
- Google Tasks
- Gmail / Google Calendar
- Google Drive
- Teamviewer (for connecting to any of my computers from any other computer or mobile device)
Business Tools I Live By:
- Google Everything
What are some of the systems or tools that you have found work best for you and your family?