How to Manage Email When Traveling for Business

Checking email on phoneHaving just returned from a two-week vacation “off the grid,” I wasn’t surprised to find over 700 emails waiting for me. Some waited more patiently than others, as some senders re-emailed me, apparently having missed the auto-reply indicating I wouldn’t be responding to messages for a while. Although I had a good “excuse” not to check messages because I was in a wilderness area with no cell phone coverage (please get in touch if you’d like to hear more about my trip!), I wouldn’t have checked messages anyway since I prefer vacation to be a time fully disengaged from work. However, it’s a different story when I travel for business. Here’s how I manage emails when I’m traveling for business – I hope you’ll find some ideas you can use as well:

Manage expectations. I enable an automated out-of-office reply to let senders know I’ll have limited access to emails and will get back to them when I return on a given date (which is usually one day after my planned return date so I have time to recover). I let my existing clients know I’ll be gone, and give them my cell phone number for emergencies. They have been incredibly respectful of not calling it unless something is truly urgent.

Create focused time. Whether it’s for 15 minutes during a lunch break, or 30 minutes at the end of the workday, I make time to do nothing but process email. I also grab otherwise wasted moments (e.g., in a taxi, waiting at the airport, etc.). I don’t check a few emails, then check Facebook, then jump back to email. I simply focus on email – it’s amazing how much I can accomplish in a short period of time with this sense of focus. Yes, I do check emails in the evening, but 30 minutes of focused time each evening while I’m out of the office allows me to hit the ground running when I return, and it gives me a sense of relief to know I won’t be facing an avalanche of email upon my return.

Create rules. I’ve created rules so that newsletters, messages from vendors, social media updates, and messages from other senders I know won’t require an immediate response go to a “Read Later” folder for my leisurely review.

Scan for urgency. I use the subject line or sender to guide me on which emails get the most immediate attention. I’ll eventually get to all my messages, but when time is tight during work hours, I prioritize who and what get my attention during my limited time. And since many non-urgent messages are automatically routed to my Read Later folder, it’s fairly easy to prioritize what actually lands in my inbox.

Process with a purpose. Rather than taking a “skim and delay” approach of reading a message and vowing to get back to it later, I do something purposeful with each message as I read it – I respond, forward, delete, etc. If I don’t have the time or resources to respond in a meaningful way while I’m out of the office, I’ll flag the message to follow up once I return from my travels.

Have remote access to files. I use SugarSync to automatically store my files in the cloud, so if I don’t have access to files on my computer, I can still get to them from my smartphone and carry on with business as usual.

I’d love to hear how you manage email while you travel, whether it be for business or pleasure.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

How I Got Over Being Overwhelmed and Moved Forward

Family VacationAlthough I love to update my photo albums (yes, old school physical photo albums), a busy schedule and inertia had kept me from updating them for the last 2 years. The piles of unsorted photos were intimidating, and knowing that I’d only have bits of time here and there to work on getting them into albums made it seem useless to even get started. Determined to get over the hump, I asked myself a number of key questions to help me move this endeavor forward. Maybe some of these questions will help you make progress on things that are otherwise holding you back:

“Is this important enough to spend time on?” It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing something because you’ve always done it that way. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t loading myself with unnecessary guilt and stress about not completing my albums, so I asked myself if it was an important enough project to spend time and energy on it. Travel and family are important to me, and looking at my photos in albums is the best way for me to remember important events in those areas. And putting them into physical albums is a fun creative outlet for me. Therefore, I confirmed to myself that yes, updating the albums was important enough to spend time on

 “What’s the very next action I need to take on this?” Slightly modified from Getting Things Done guru David Alan’s key question, I focused on just the very next thing I needed to do to move forward on updating my albums: First, gather the Snapfish envelopes of printed photos; next, review the digital photos on my computer and order prints of anything I don’t already have copies of; next, sort the envelopes and their contents into chronological order; and so on. Identifying each step of the process helped me focus and not worry about how long it would take.

“When will I do it?” it’s easy to intend to do something, but a commitment improves one’s chances of actually doing something. Rather than telling myself I’d work on the albums when I have time, I committed to working on them every evening right after dinner. Although dinnertime was different each evening, I knew exactly when I’d be working on my albums. I also told my husband of my plan, and he helped hold me to it (at my request).

“How can I make this easier?” One of the biggest hurdles for me was the set-up required – pull out the albums, pull out the supplies, spread things out on the dining room table, etc. All that set-up work added to my sense of overwhelm. To get over this hurdle, I determined it would be easiest for me to just leave the project out on my dining room table, so I could just jump right into the project each evening with minimal set-up time. To keep the table, which is in a highly visible part of my home, from looking cluttered and feeling embarrassed of the mess when people stopped by, I covered it with an easily removed tablecloth whenever I wasn’t working on the albums. When it was time to work, I just removed the cloth.

Voila! In just one month, I got the albums up to date. Inch by inch, it was a cinch!

What questions will help you get over the things that are holding you back from getting organized?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Time Management Tips for Everybody

timeNo matter what role you play in life – stay-at-home parent, CEO, student, entrepreneur, retiree, etc. – managing your time has an impact on your quality of life. Well actually, managing yourself with respect to time has an impact, since we can’t manage time itself. It’s not my role to tell you what you should be doing with your time, but I can help you find ways to use time in ways that will make you successful, in whatever way you define success. Here are a few ideas to consider:

Say “no” more often.  I’ve previously written about the power of saying “no.” Evaluate what’s important to you and only take on new roles and tasks that will help you meet your goals. Consider what saying “yes” will cost you in terms of time away from other things you may prefer to do.

Plan your day. It may sound elemental, or it may sound confining, but I’ve found that daily planning is the most prevalent and powerful habit of successful people with whom I work. If you were going to go on a road trip to a specific destination, you’d most likely plan your route, right? Do the same with your day – figure out what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the day and plan your route to success.

Make time for self-care. Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and physical activity all have a positive impact on our ability to focus and work efficiently. Busy people often sacrifice sleep to get more done, but studies show that inadequate sleep leads to workplace errors and reduced productivity. Even when you’re feeling the crunch of a deadline, your best option may be to get some rest and recharge your brain, rather than spin your wheels when you’re tired.

Focus on one thing at a time. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from finishing what you start, but if you bounce from task to task due to distractions, it may be hard to achieve that satisfaction. Eliminate the sources of distraction by choosing times during the day to ignore your phone and email and focus on the task at hand. If it’s helpful, jot down on a sticky note what you want to be working on at the moment so you can refer to it when you find yourself getting pulled off track. If you’re severely prone to distraction, set a timer to go off in frequent intervals to give yourself the opportunity to evaluate whether you’re still working on what you intended to be.

Find what works for you. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to time management – just what does or doesn’t work for you. Pay attention to how you spend your time and look for opportunities to take control in areas that could benefit.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Tips for Planning an International Trip

travelSummer is almost here – hurray! Now’s the time many of us will be heading out of town, or even out of the country, for vacation. To make sure you experience smooth sailing (or flying as the case may be), here are some tips for planning an international trip.

Make sure your passport is still valid – many countries require your passport to be valid at least six months past your departure date. Make two copies of your passport and photo ID – leave one at home and pack one in your luggage. This will make it easier to get another passport if your passport is lost or stolen. Check out the US Department of State’s travel website for foreign entry requirements and travel warnings.

Use Kayak to find the best airfares. You can set alerts so that if fares go down you will be notified via email. Once you find the fare you are comfortable with, I suggest you go directly to that airline’s website to book your ticket. Make sure you get an email confirmation with the ticket numbers on it.

For hotels you’ve booked online, reconfirm your reservations via email prior to your departure. Print out your reservation with the address and have it handy when you arrive at your destination so that you can let your driver know where you are going.

Go to your bank prior to departure and order a small amount of the local currency for taxis and small purchases. While there are ATM’s in most airports, you may not have time to access them upon arrival.

Check with your credit card company to see if they charge an additional fee for currency conversions on your purchases. Many credit card companies are eliminating that fee. Capital One credit cards are an example. Advise your credit card company beforehand that you will be traveling out of the country so they know your card has not been compromised. An additional consideration is to have a credit card with chip technology embedded in it. Here’s what Rick Steves has to say about such cards. The most economical way to change additional money while traveling is with your debit card – ATMs are plentiful in most major cities. Leave the travelers’ checks at home – they are very expensive to change for cash and many establishments do not accept them.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about preparing for international travel.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog


Productivity Tools Alone Can’t Save You

computerThere are loads of electronic gadgets and online tools to help track your to-dos and appointments (Outlook, Google Calendar, Wunderlist, etc.), capture information (Evernote, OneNote, etc.), manage your grocery list (e.g., GroceryIQ), and help with a myriad of other things that are part of surviving modern life. However, whether you use the latest electronic gadget or go old school and use paper and pencil, it’s important to have good productivity habits in place in order to make the most of your productivity tools.

For example, I’ve worked with plenty of folks who use an electronic task list to capture to-dos and break down projects into individual tasks. However, some of these people failed to identify when they were actually going to do each task, so deadlines got missed and opportunities were lost. The productivity habit I helped them establish was to move their intentions (the to-dos) into a commitments by scheduling them on their calendar. The electronic task list was certainly helpful for them to get to-dos out of their head and into a place they trusted they’d be able to find them again, but it didn’t help them actually get the tasks completed. Whether using an electronic device or a simple paper list, the habit of assigning a “when” to tasks will improve your productivity.

As another example, some of my clients use Evernote to capture and organize information and ideas, including notes from meetings. However, sometimes the meeting notes include action items for which the person is responsible. Without a system for moving these action items into their task or calendar system, they would miss key assignments that others were relying on them to complete. Make sure your system of capturing information includes the habit of reviewing that information and identifying when action is required.

Keep in mind that although tools and technology can help refine your productivity skills, good productivity habits are the key to being most successful.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

So Much Media, So Little Time

Movie TicketsI was interviewed in the Chicago Tribune by a journalist who was grappling with his desire to enjoy more leisure time by watching more movies & television and reading more books. He was concerned that his lists of must-watch TV, books to read, and movies to experience kept growing, but his available media consumption time was not keeping pace. You can read the full article by finding the link in my newsletter, but I’ve summarized it here in the interest of giving you more leisure time. You’re welcome!

Adding new items to your media consumption wish list without removing anything, comes at a cost. It might be sleep; it might be time with friends; whatever it is, be sure you’re willing to pay the price of adding more. Otherwise, use the four Ds to help you pare down:

  • Delete – Wouldn’t it feel great to reduce your guilt by getting rid of something from your queue of obligations? Can you live with the outcome of not watching or reading everything? Rather than hope that illness or injury will give you a reason to spend a month on the couch catching up on the shows you’ve recorded, give yourself permission to enjoy the best of what’s there guilt-free, and let the rest go.
  • Diminish – Fast forward on TiVo. Accept that you already have a good foundation of knowledge on a subject from other sources. For example, do you have to watch the entire six-hour Ken Burns cancer documentary, or is your current knowledge good enough? Can you just watch the final hour to hear a summary of the latest findings?
  • Delay – If you don’t get to it now, it will still be out there when you have more time to take it in. Put it on a list for future enjoyment.
  • Delegate – Do you have to watch it or read it, or would reading a review or synopsis be good enough?

Go with the flow. Setting a pattern, like reading one old book after reading two new ones, may be helpful. But it can also be confining. If you’re in the mood to read another new book after already reading two new ones, by golly, read another new book. This is for your enjoyment, right?

Be true to yourself. Enjoy the media because you want to, not because you think you should. So what if you haven’t seen the latest movie everyone’s talking about – welcome to my life! Even if I’m not always part of the cultural conversation, I’m ok with it and I still find plenty of things to talk about with friends and colleagues.

Here’s to more enjoyable leisure time and less guilt.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

“Busy” is Not a Badge of Honor

busy badgeI’m surprised that I’m still surprised how often people answer “busy” when I ask them how they are. Sometimes it seems as though people view being busy as a badge of honor to be respected, and maybe even worthy of sympathy.

Well I’m proudly taking off my busy badge and doing all I can to resist putting it on, even when others insist. The chaos, urgency and difficulty of being in the moment caused by being busy are just not what I want my life to be about. Sure, there are unforeseen events, like a friend’s hospitalization, that require life to be more hectic, but I resolve not to make that my normal state of being.

Part of my ability to achieve success in this arena is making the state of being un-busy a comfortable place to be. Rather than thinking about all the things on my to-do list, I focus on what I’m doing right now. There’s peace in knowing that whether I’m buying groceries, working with a client, or talking on the phone to a family member, that’s all I need to focus on now. I’m where I need to be doing what I need to do in this moment. And when I finish doing this thing, I’ll move on to the next thing. No need to panic or feel frazzled – just face what’s before me now and focus on that one thing until I need to do something else. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t try to squeeze in just one more phone call before I need to head out the door; don’t try squeeze in an errand before hopping on the often traffic-clogged expressway to get to an appointment; don’t add one more thing to this weekend’s activities that will leave me feeling exhausted rather than replenished.

Sure being un-busy can be easier said than done, but to me, it’s a way of being that’s worth pursuing. We certainly can’t control everything, but if we look hard, we have control over more situations than we may realize. Saying “no” in the right moments can help you say “yes” to a life you love. Read my prior blog post to give you some ideas on how to say “no”. I’d love to hear that you’ve been able to take off that busy badge.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Get Unstuck and Be Productive

stuck carSome days, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to get anything worthwhile accomplished. And to make things more frustrating, new tasks keep coming our way. Although it might be tempting to just go back to bed, a better solution might be to hit the reset button on your day.

You’ll want to examine what’s causing your lack of productivity: Are you just not in the mood to do what you should be? Are you unsure of what to do next? Are you overwhelmed by how much there is to do? The first thing I suggest you do after making this examination is to take a short break and recharge your mental batteries.

Next, re-examine the items on your to-do list and evaluate their importance and urgency. Apply the 4 Ds to distill things down to what’s essential to be working on right now. Then break your commitments into individual tasks that you can complete in a single step. Look for the top three priority tasks you can accomplish today, get focused, and dig in.

This process of starting over when you’re feeling stuck helps you get an accurate view of what’s causing your frustration and allows you to realistically identify what you can do today. Breaking things down into their simplest form makes it easy to identify tasks that will fit into the time you have available and that match your energy level.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Taking a Break Can Improve Productivity

As you zoom through your day, you may be so focused on crossing everything off your to-do list that you fail to enjoy the benefits of taking periodic breaks. In case you haven’t already taken the advice I’ve offered previously on this subject, here’s a video that offers some perspective on the paradox of taking a break for improved productivity:

I encourage you to periodically give your mind and body a chance to rest and refresh to help refocus your attention, boost your energy, relieve stress, and sharpen your brain power.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Make Space for the New Year

New Year ToastHere are some tips are about de-cluttering various areas of your life so you can create physical and mental space for something new and exciting in the year ahead. I hope they inspire you to make this your best year yet.

If you want to eat more healthily, de-clutter your kitchen. Clear out food items that don’t align with your new eating habits. Let go of small appliances, utensils, etc. that aren’t in sync with your new healthy lifestyle. For example, say goodbye to the deep fryer or cookbooks that the new, healthier you won’t need. You can donate unopened foods that are still within the freshness date to your local food pantry, and find charitable organizations who will appreciate your other unneeded items. When you let go of items that represent or enable unhealthy eating habits, you create space for new, healthier eating practices to come into your home and life.

If you want to lose weight, de-clutter your closet. To help you keep your eye on your goal, create space in your closet for the size you intend to become. Let go of a few items in the size you are right now, as well as larger sizes, to create space for the new, slimmer you. Of course you won’t want to let go of everything in your current size, but if you clear out a few items, your closet will remind you that you intend to lose weight and fill it with items in a smaller size.

If you want to spend more time with your family, de-clutter your calendar. It’s hard to spend meaningful time with family if your calendar is packed with commitments that have you constantly on the go. Scrutinize your current commitments and let go of activities that no longer energize or inspire you. Say “no” to volunteer responsibilities that leave you drained and resentful of the time they require. Consider replacing these obligations with family-centered activities or free time that can be used for family events.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about making space in your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog