I don't have a personal assistant (my wife offered to help, but she's starting a business of her own and needs her own personal assistant!) but I do have a computer. A computer is only as useful as you make it though. You know the old saying, "Garbage In, Garbage Out". I used to work for the government in Sacramento doing system admin and desktop support long ago, and I met many high level executives who had a computer and no idea how to use it. Fortunately, I am computer savvy and can make my computer my b.. er, personal assistant. :)
Most of my communication is done through e-mail - licensing, bug reports, employee coordination, TODO notes to myself, social events, etc. Up until now I haven't had time to organize my e-mail, so I just have a giant pile of messages where things easily get lost or left to sit forever.
This is bad. Not only does it mean that important things are left untended to, but that I always have a low level of stress about not getting everything that I need to do done. Worse, it means I don't even know what those things are, so I can't compartmentalize them and know that I'll get to them later.
So here are my goals:
- Respond in a timely fashion to people
- Know what needs to be done
- Know when things need to be done
- Make sure that everything has been addressed, either by trashing it or replying to it or prioritizing it on a TODO list.
- Feel good because I'm organized and responsible.
People are important. They tend to view their importance to you directly in proportion to your responsiveness. If you respond quickly, you look professional and caring. You can develop good relationships and get help with what you're doing. If you don't respond, you often look like a jerk and people will look elsewhere for friendship or business.
Organization is important. There's always more to do than time to do it in, and the only way you can find out what the important things are and prioritize them is if you have a good understanding of what all needs to be done. In my case, I can only guarantee that I've handled and organized everything if I keep my inbox clear.
So I know what I want to do, but how do I get there?
Gmail to the rescue!
Gmail has a really powerful message labeling feature. I spent a good amount of time this morning creating a set of labels that are intuitive and really helpful. With too many labels I can't remember what label things go in or how I'm going to handle it. With too few labels then things get clumped together and I don't get any organizational benefit. Labels can have "/" in them and I use that to do logical groupings, which conveniently turn into folders on my iPhone mail program. I also set up some message filtering rules to automatically add labels to certain types of messages, optionally bypassing my inbox entirely!
Gmail also has the ability to show and hide different labels in the sidebar, and I used that to keep categories of mail that bypass my inbox or that I need to deal with frequently available at a glance.
Gmail also has a "star" flag, which I use to mark messages for followup. I can then click a link to bring up all my starred messages, and they show up in a list, along with their labels so I can quickly go through them and address them.
Finally, Gmail comes with a little task list. I haven't used that much yet, but I'll give it a little spin and see if it's useful.
All of this organization takes some time up front, but the payoff is that I know what needs to be done, can do it more efficiently, and have peace of mind at the end of the day.
Suggestions welcome! :)