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Thursday, December 30, 2010

I resolve to .... take control of my email

Of all the advice my father has so graciously provided over the years I am troubled most by his advice regarding company email. If I had only followed his advice sooner, I would have avoided so much conflict and misery.

I was visiting my parents when my father mentioned that his work had offered him a smart phone, but that he had politely refused. As I sat in utter disbelief, I silently wondered if senility could set in at such an early age, how much time would I have before my parents would require full-time care and quite possibly need to move in with me. Before I could schedule an appointment for him to be examined by a physician he uttered words that in retrospect I should have applied to my own life. “Why would I want to receive work emails nights and weekends? I work 10 hour days as it is, anymore than that and I’m a prisoner.” The same man, who once told me that if you have time for a hobby you should get a second job, was suggesting that there should be a limit to work emails. Could this man who has been known to eat lima beans from a can actually be on to something? Before I could finish my thoughts I was interrupted by an email and I let his advice slip my mind.

I didn’t see email quite the same way he did. I believed that with a smart phone I was free. I could take a day off to spend with my children and periodically check my email. Without a smart phone I would be chained to my desk. The reality is that I’m never in the moment. I’m actually in a constant state of interruption so my New Year’s Resolution is to take control of my time and I’m going to do it by managing my email.

The email guidelines are as follows:

1) Do not immediately respond to emotionally charged emails. If I can respond within the hour by phone I will do so, if not I will let the person know via email when they can expect a response. I will not perpetuate any misunderstandings or emotional unrest via email.

2) Always use the subject line. What good is email if you can’t use it as a record of events? It can take hours to sort through old emails with the subject line: re re re re, so even if I’m responding to an email lacking a subject line I will add my own before sending a response. This is also a courtesy to recipients of my email as they can quickly see what the subject is and determine importance. If possible add things like URGENT or FYI in the subject line.

3) Read the email twice and collect all information before responding. If this will take more than a few hours I will let the person know when they can expect a response. This will eliminate the back-and-forth that can suck hours out of the day. If someone emails asking for a shipping address and I leave out something like the zip code it will add a few more emails to the string.

4) Group emails. Instead of emailing a coworker each time I have a thought, I will create a draft email and add to it throughout the day. Sending one email instead of many will help me and the recipient.

5) Program my email so that each new email doesn’t pop-up on the screen or otherwise alert me. I will check email every few hours rather than every 5 minutes.

6) Be clear in my email. Specify by bullet point exactly what I am requesting and when I need it.

7) Set work hours and stick to them. Family time is family time and work time is work time. Sounds easy, but keeping myself from email in the evenings will be a challenge.

8) Organize my email. I will keep a folder of open items and completed by subject. I will save only what I really need. In a string of emails I need only save the last message as it will include the previous correspondence.

9) Set up a folder for newsletters and a folder for shopping. I will set up a rule that any coupon or shopping email subscription goes directly to that folder. I can check just once daily and delete any that I don’t plan to use. Informative subscriptions to blogs, magazines, etc. can go in their own folder. I will check those just once daily as well. I will unsubscribe to any website that sends me useless mail more than once a week. I like to know what the trends are or who is having a sale, just not every day.

They say it takes about a month to create a habit. If I can create healthy email habits in a month then I will buy myself a Penelope & Parker bag. (Since I have not yet decided which bag I want, this will give me a little time to make my decision.) If not, I won’t give up. I’ll give it another month or two. I’ll keep trying because like healthy eating I know this will improve my quality of life. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Holiday Gift Giving

Holiday giving is very tricky. No matter how you choose to celebrate you should be sensitive and courteous. For many the holidays are a difficult time of year, personal, family or financial problems are magnified. In addition, people celebrate in many ways. There is Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, just to name a few. The last place you want to upset someone is at work, so consider the following:

1) Celebrate Thanksgiving-Find out if there are any non-profit organizations that deliver meals to needy families. Make a list of the items they require and post in the break-room. People can sign up without feeling pressured.
Going desk-to-desk to collect money is not acceptable, neither is sending out a mass email specifying the people who still haven’t anteed up. Holiday drives and donations are great, but if they single people out who can’t afford to participate they are not in the holiday spirit.

Host a gift drawing, but again make sure it’s not mandatory. Be considerate about the gift you submit. Sweets, alcohol, etc. are off limits in a day and age of strict diets and struggles with addiction. A fun
Jonathan Adler umbrella or commuter mug is always welcome and say a little more about your gift giving efforts. By giving something unique and thoughtful you are also standing out at work in a positive way.

Direct supervisors should always try to do something for their employees. Don’t over buy. An extravagant gift can be irritating to someone who would rather have the money to buy groceries. Likewise, if there is a significant salary gap between you and your staff don’t be cheap, they will notice. Treat all staff fairly. A $5 coffee house gift card, a gift set with whimsical office supplies (think
Jonathan Adler highlighters, sticky notes, etc), or even a business card holder (Gloss Business Card holders are very inexpensive) are useful and well-received by almost anyone.

4) If you feel compelled to buy for a boss the same rules apply. Extravagant gifts can make people uncomfortable. A lovely
notebook or journal is useful and thoughtful. Don’t push your own ideals on others. You would love to get your boss into yoga so she stops complaining about her neck pain, but your gift of a yoga mat will not likely be a turning point in her life. So give in and buy her the new commuter mug you know she will use.

The short version:
Be sensitive to other’s beliefs.
Be sensitive to other’s financial situation
Be thoughtful
Be practical (executive Zen gardens are out)
Buy reasonably priced gifts

Image above: 1. Jonathan Adler Umbrellas $25; 2. Jonathan Adler Highlighters $10; 3. Sarah Pinto Notebook $12 & Orla Kiely Pear Notebook $17; 4. Jonathan Adler Sticky Notes $7; 5. Gloss Business Card Holder $6.50; 6. Jonathan Adler Travel Mug $15

Friday, December 03, 2010

See Jane Create

What's a Jane to do when she can't find a stylish cork board? Make one....

Finding exactly what you want isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to office supplies.

I recently did an office makeover for an online news editor. She works from home in her lovely, but small, Manhattan apartment on a desk that is visible from anywhere in her home. I was challenged to find desk accessories that wouldn’t take up a lot of room. I decided that wall storage would be a great solution, but I couldn’t find a bulletin board that fit her style, so I decided to make one. It turned out really well, so I thought I would share it with you.

Supplies (prices vary depending on location):

Ung Drill Frame from IKEA $29.99
Rolled cork from Office Depot $11.59
Spray Adhesive from Office Depot $ 5.29
Jewel Push Pins from Office Depot $1.99


1) Remove glass and backing from frame. Recycle glass, retain backing
2) Use backing as template to cut cork to size, must be precise.
3) Apply spray adhesive to cardboard frame backing.
4) Mount cork to cardboard backing.
5) Sit a heavy object like a book or laptop on the cork until the adhesive is dry.
6) Reattach the backing
7) Hang (I didn’t bother with the side screw holes, simply a nail at the top)
8) Use adorable jewel push pins from Office Depot to complete the look.