This appears to be the year that I get my administrative ducks in a row. “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” as they say.
You’re probably sick of hearing my sob story about how things went the last time I was Department Chair (2014-2018). Here’s the short story: it was stupid busy and I hated it. Something had to change if I were to survive my second term.
I’ve spent the intervening years strategizing how to do this in order to protect my sanity and my family life. One of the interesting things about running a business on the side is being part of a community of people who are also really busy in their day jobs and trying to build something they love in their off–time.
This world of entrepreneurs is a really different animal than that of the busy, hustling creative musician, but there is so much in the business world that can benefit musicians. This is a world I never would have thought to peek into were it not for my dōTERRA business.
I’m always looking for ways to protect time to work on my business because that’s what fuels me. Weekly blog posts are just one small part of the whole picture, and I truly hope these posts bring people value. But to get them done means I need to have things figured out.
A couple of weeks ago a dropped a post about one of my new favourite productivity tools, my daily agenda habit.
Today is all about the elusive “Inbox Zero”: how I get there every single day, how that helps me get the important things done, and how I’m finally getting back to practicing. (Does anyone else have “Jukebox Hero” running through their mind now?)
Inbox “Management”: The Before
You get a lot of emails when you’re an administrator.
I used to practice late at night because that was the only time I didn’t feel guilty about my out-of-control inbox. No one expects you to be available on email at 11pm so that was the time I could turn things off and concentrate on notes.
Practicing at any other time of day was never an option, unless it became the priority. The threat of public humiliation is a great motivator, so the times when a performance was coming up and practicing became more important than email, I sat down and did what I had to do.
This is a recipe for disaster on so many levels, of course. I never felt on top of my practicing game, there was no pacing, no joy; it was always stress and performance deadlines and never enough time, and the constant pull of so many emails left unattended. I was always afraid I would forget something, so I could never really practice well.
The last time I was Chair there were tons of really late nights and weekends to catch up on emails, checking email to run my to-do list, answering emails during family time, spending holiday time getting ahead on emails… you get the picture.
Enter endless hours dealing with emails and setting up the expectation that people will get a response from me when they decide they want one. Forget practicing, my mind was always in my inbox.
Inbox Zero: The New Normal
Recently I discovered the holy grail of email management. I have reached the elusive “Inbox Zero” and I get there every day. Here is an actual screenshot of my work email inbox:
Right??? What? Can you believe it?
For those of you who want to get there too, the method I’m using to get there is called The Stack Method. It’s a great, free training on email management. I’m not an affiliate or anything, it’s just what I’m using and I really like it.
You can go through the method yourself to learn all about it, as I’ll only go through a quick overview here. It’s completely free and very detailed. There are other methods out there too so find what works for you.
What I want to talk about here is exactly what that has done for my ability to concentrate on the things that matter. The feeling of knowing that my email situation is completely under control is absolutely liberating.
Stack Your Way to Clear Your Inbox
In the Stack method you go through your inbox a few times a day and sort the messages into action folders of various degrees of urgency. The method gives suggested folders types but you can do whatever you want. Here’s the short explanation of how I do it:
The inbox is a temporary holding place. A real “inbox” (imagine!). From there, move messages out of the inbox and into different folders that are named for the action you’re supposed to take with its contents.
A few times a day you quickly sort stuff out of your inbox into the action folders. Then when you have time you can devote to email you sort through your folders. “Reply” gets most of my attention and those get answered within the workday.
“Do 5+” is where all those emails go that you don’t want to lose. I use the category function within this folder so when I have an hour to devote to “Recruitment” or “Budget” I can filter all the emails by category. Then I concentrate on only those items and my focus stays put.
The other folders are fairly obvious, and you can use whatever categories you want if these don’t work for you, but I spend most of my time in “Reply” and “Do 5+”.
Every day I get my inbox cleared out and into the folders where they belong. It’s a way to triage what’s coming in so the things that need attention get it, the things that you don’t want to lose don’t get lost, and when it’s time to work on the more complicated tasks everything is already sorted.
New Email Habits to Clear Your Inbox
My to-do list was driven by two things: 1) other people’s deadlines, and 2) action items sitting in my (ever growing) email inbox. I could never concentrate on practicing because of the constant pull of unfinished business.
Email used to feel like endlessly swatting flies away, just reacting to emails and working through the huge line of tasks sitting there. How many times did I get to the end of a busy workday and feel like I got nothing done?
Now I only open my email when I have time to deal with it, then I turn it off. You’ll notice in my screenshot that my “do not disturb” is on. I’m no longer responding to the endless pings. I get to emails when it works for me, not when it’s convenient for other people.
Before finding Stack I also made a point of telling everyone that I would be protecting email boundaries to weekday work hours. People could expect a reasonable email response time from me during business hours, and I would do my very best not to bother anyone on evenings and weekends.
As you might expect, it didn’t take long before I also stopped receiving as many emails during off-hours as well. Before this, I would pop into my email when I should have been focusing on family time, because if I wasn’t in my email all the time it would get away from me. That feeling is gone now. I can now confidently leave my email off all weekend, not check it, and not have anxiety about it either.
Back to the Bench
A few months ago, I did a blog post about setting habits to anchor practice time into your daily routine. You can find that here: https://theessentialmusician.ca/getting-back-into-the-music-practice-habit/
I tried to follow my own advice and it didn’t work well. That post came out four months ago, before getting my email under control. I’ll be honest, my own advice didn’t work well for me. It didn’t seem to matter how much good intention I brought to the day; the pull of email was always stronger than the need to practice in the absence of a deadline.
Before I realized what was happening, I started practicing again. Right now, I’m working on Chopin Etudes Op. 10 nos. 1 and 12 (a little right hand, a little left hand). I’m doing 25 minutes a day and that’s it.
Stay tuned for a future blog post about the 25-minute practice strategy to get the most out of your time on the bench.
Oils, Oils, Oils!
Use your oils to help you stay on track and clear your inbox!
Adaptiv is hands-down the best oil to help you tackle your raging inbox. If you’re finding yourself getting distracted, grab Adaptiv Touch and roll it onto your wrists, back of the neck, temples, and anywhere else. If I have that chest tightness that comes with overwhelm, I like to roll some onto my chest too. Take a big whiff, sit down and get ‘er done.
Here are a couple of older blog posts that you might find useful:
Use your diffuser to anchor the down-to-business atmosphere in your workspace. My favourites always come back to a combo of Peppermint, Rosemary and a citrus. Diffuse something similar every day in your workspace and you’ll find yourself able to settle quickly into work mode.
I wrote about this a while ago too: Use your diffuser for focus
Are you getting to clear your inbox too? How does it make you feel? Share below! Screenshots of empty inboxes are welcome!