Monthly Archives: August 2012

Make space for what you want

Having a spectacular home garden is on my wish list.

When my husband Michael and I missed out on the spring season, we decided to wait until fall to dig up parts of the lawn and plant new trees, shrubs, and perennials in its stead.

Over the summer, the weeds took over and outpaced the few plants that we do have.

This week, with fall approaching, I finally tackled the overgrown weeds to make space for existing and soon-to-be plants.

Weeds are invasive, vigorous and aggressive. They are not sown intentionally and grow where you don’t want them to be. They compete with your plants for space, water, sunlight and nutrients. They usually spread and fill in faster than what you actually planted. Weeds produce by themselves very easily. But plants take effort on your part to grow.

Weeds are like the unhealthy habits, negative thoughts, limiting beliefs and toxic relationships that dampen your mood, drain your energy, and stunt your growth.

Plants are like the habits, thoughts, beliefs and relationships that inspire you, strengthen you, and add beauty to your experience.

To cultivate a spectacular garden, you need to weed out unwanted plants. Similarly, to create a sensational life, you need to chuck unnecessary things that weigh you down. ‘

Here are lessons I learned from weeding that you can apply in your life to make space for what you want:

First, get clear on what you want and what you don’t want. If you just sit back and let nature take its course, you could end up with a huge mess.

The longer you put off weeding, the harder it gets to distinguish what you want from what you don’t want. But no matter how long you wait, your deliberate choice between what you keep and what you throw out is the first step.

Second, weed out what you don’t want – one at a time. Start small. Pull up, dig out and dig through what you don’t want, one by one.

The magnitude of the weeds won’t intimidate you if you tackle them individually. If you take on too much, too quickly, you will feel overwhelmed, exhausted and outmatched.

Third, weed out what you don’t want – often. Pull up what you don’t want before it goes to seed and spreads like wildfire.

Weeding took me a couple hours or so because I neglected the task for months.  It takes a shorter time if you make it into a regular habit. Check back often and nip weeds in the bud from the get-go.

Fourth, dig into the roots.  Remove what you don’t want from the roots, rather than just prune the top parts that show.

If you ignore the roots, which can be very large and deep, the weeds will likely return, sometimes stronger than before.

Fifth, nurture what you want. Without proper tending, gardens get overrun with weeds that stunt the growth of the plants.

Likewise, if you don’t attend to your valued relationships, important projects, and creative ideas, they will wither and die. And your life will get cluttered with things you don’t want.

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After I was done weeding, the hostas finally came into full view. Noticing the change, Michael said he had forgotten we had so many. You could barely see the hostas when the weeds surrounded them.

By pulling out what you don’t want, you make space for and get to enjoy the things you do want.

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Photo by: woodleywonderworks

Managing email overload

Today marked my first official day of working from home. As part of my flextime and telecommuting work arrangement, I check my office email and voice mail from home to ensure urgent matters get my attention.

But once I logged into my email account, I got caught up in the minutiae. I spent too much time emailing about things that could wait.

I soon realized that if I wanted to get real work done, I had to log off and focus on my priorities. If my immediate attention was needed, someone from the office would call.

With the rise in social media, IM, texting and the like, some say email is dead. But take a look at your inbox and you’ll see that email is still alive and well.

No need to walk down the hall to see your colleague, pick up the phone to talk to your supplier, or pay postage to send forms to your client. Within nanoseconds, you can exchange messages and documents electronically with a person sitting a cubicle away or across the globe.

Handheld devices like iPhones and Blackberrys make it easier to check emails any time, anywhere, even when you’re on vacation or lying in bed.

When email overload becomes a problem, here are 5 steps to manage it: 

1)  Stop the influx at its source.  Get yourself removed from email newsletters and group lists that don’t add value for you, personally or professionally. Set up a spam filter if you don’t have one. This will help reduce the amount of junk email that lands in your inbox.

2)  Process your email.  Don’t just check, scan or read your email. Take action with your messages instead of hoard them for days, months or years.

I regret to say that the number of emails in my inbox is in the five-figure range. I have tons of email clutter because I am horrible at processing.

Treat your email differently. Use the Do, Delegate, Delete or Defer method. Or the File, Act or Trash method.

Deleting or trashing is a quick, easy way to reduce your email bulk. Glance at the “subject” and “from” lines and delete emails that aren’t worth reading. Once you read an email, decide what to do with it. Respond to it, delete it, or file it in a clearly-labeled folder that you can readily access later. Trash it if you haven’t touched it in months.

3)   Block time for email. You could set aside 30 to 45 minutes – once in the morning, in the middle of the day, in the afternoon, and at the end of the day – to process your email. Or you could block 15 minutes of every hour for email.

Play with your time slots to see what works for you. Block time to focus on sending emails and replying to emails. If an email contains useful links or attachments that may be read later, file it. When your time is up, move on to your top projects.

Don’t feel pressured to reply within minutes when it’s okay to respond within a few hours. If someone needs an immediate answer, he or she can (and will) call you.  You need email-free times during the day to get big things done.

4)  Switch off your auto-notification.  If you hear a ding or see a visual alert every time an email comes in, you’ll be tempted to stop what you’re doing to check your inbox.

You and I are addicted to this distraction. But most of the stuff that comes in daily is worthless junk and kills output.

Turning off the ding or visual alert will help you stay in the flow and avoid unnecessary distractions. If you block time for email, you don’t need the auto-notification. Attend to email when you’re ready to process it – don’t let it control you or your agenda.  

5)  Use proper email etiquette. Provide a clear subject line and keep your email as short as possible. Use headings, subheadings, and numbered bullet points to make your message easier to digest.

Know that email in not effective for back-and-forth chatting. If you need to arrange a meeting, choose an exact time and place or make a suggestion (e.g., “Let’s meet at 9 a.m. in the conference room”) instead of ask open-ended questions (e.g. “When should we meet?”).

Use “reply to all” or “forward” sparingly. Don’t send a response if the email doesn’t call for it. Pause before you hit “send.”

Meet face to face or use the phone to discuss sensitive or complicated issues. Email does not capture tone and is often misinterpreted. If you find yourself going back and forth on email, it’s probably time to see or call the person.

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I have a long way to go with practicing all five steps. I am on email group lists that have nothing to do with me or my work. Despite lots of deleting and trashing, I still have monstrous email clutter. I send and reply to way too many emails.

But I have switched off my auto-notification and I am getting better at blocking time for email.

I am noticing that these steps are great for managing email overload.  Try them and experience the difference for yourself.

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Photo by: RambergMediaImages