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Highly recommended: 5 years of All Over Coffee at SFPL 2009

All Over Coffee image copyright Paul Madonna
"Everything is its own reward"

- Paul Madonna

There's a free show downstairs at San Francisco Public Library through August 23rd, 2009, and I strongly encourage you to visit. This work is lovely to see full-size and up close, plus there's lots of good insight into the artist's process and philosophy.

After spending time with his art and listening to him speak in an older KQED video in the exhibit, I am fairly certain that Paul Madonna might understand better than most people my motivation for and pleasure in my project to walk every street in San Francisco, every block.

Beautiful city.

Additional resources:
SFPL exhibits page
Paul Madonna's website
All Over Coffee in the San Francisco Chronicle
Artist Talk event from June 25th is among the content here (but SFPL has unfortunately not caught on to the idea of permalinks for the videos. Sigh.)

Posted on July 31, 2009 at 08:38 PM in creativity, San Francisco | Permalink | Comments (0)

Improving your relationship with your email inbox, part 2 2009

[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]


Sorting incoming email faster is one of the critical ingredients of email mastery. You need to be able to process the contents without getting bogged down in doing everything.

First, know what you have. Second, do the right next thing.

Taking as few seconds per message as possible whip through your inbox and delete, file or label everything as appropriate.

If you don't already have labels set up for your mail, do that quickly now. You need very few:

1) "active project support" (or "task support" if you need a shorter term)
These are emails which you need in order to perform tasks for a current active project. If the task won't be done in the next 48 hours and the information in the email can be easily copied to your to-do list entry for that task, don't keep the email. If the task is coming up quickly, just apply the label and spare yourself the extra effort; strike a good balance between the pleasure of an empty inbox and busywork copying information around more than is necessary.

2) "waiting for"
Use this label as a reminder of something you may need to nudge someone else for or which is queued up behind another task you want to finish quickly.

3) "to read"
You will probably want more than one of these, for example, "to read: business" and "to read: personal". This label goes on anything you can tell from the subject line you don't need to read right now, but will need to look through at some point. Catching up on these categories can be a good task for when you are feeling braindead or have only a few minutes before you go into a meeting.

Bloggers may also find it handy to have a "to post" label for email to which they want to respond publicly or which inspires a post, but in general the 3 labels above should be sufficient to cover anything worth keeping in the inbox temporarily.

Use color for your labels to help you quickly recognize the categories of the past decisions the labels represent. I like to use a moderately dark color I'm fond of for "active project support" and a pleasing but limbo-implying color for "waiting for" (which for me are forest green and light purple, respectively). For tasks you need to draw yourself to more often than you might otherwise do them, use your favorite, most energizing color (in my case, bright spring green on my "to read: business" label to keep those newsletters from getting stale).

If your mail program allows you to list the label in a dark color with light text (e.g. Gmail) or otherwise make labeled messages really stand out from new or 'read but unlabeled' ones, do it. This approach makes it incredibly easy to tell at a glance - without needing to read the text itself and be distracted by it - what's in your inbox and that no processing action is currently required.

Why label instead of move to folders? It avoids the risk of "out of sight, out of mind" while allowing you to tell at a glance that you've already handled everything that currently needs handling. You get the benefit of inbox zero without wasting a lot of time or having to establish new rituals to check special folders.

For categories that you don't want to be reminded of until you're performing a round of that activity (e.g. something like "to read: professional development"), folders are helpful. In Gmail you can keep those pending things labeled appropriately but archived, ready to be retrieved by selecting all messages with that label (which you just remove after reading). Gmail users are also encouraged to take advantage of the latest controls for showing & hiding the list of labels to keep only these primary ones in view in your sidebar.

Remember, when processing new email you want to be incredibly quick, spending as few seconds on each message as is necessary to answer the questions "does this require any action on my part?" and "if so, what?"

Most email can be immediately deleted (or thrown into a single archive). My approach (using Gmail) is to scan over the unread subject lines checking the boxes beside any spam and then clicking "Report Spam" to clear that out of my way. Then I scan down again - faster this time because I've already read the subjects once - checking the boxes for anything that can be archived without opening (e.g. "John Doe is now following you on Twitter") and click "Archive". What's left can be dealt with one by one: reading, forwarding with brief comments and usually an improved subject line to someone else if appropriate (delegate), noting a task or event for the future by copying information to my calendar or OmniFocus (defer), replying if it will take less than 2 minutes (do), and/or labeling if the email needs to be kept for the moment to support a future task (including any responses which would take more than 2 minutes).

The goal of the 2 minute limit on doing is to avoid duplicating effort on low-return tasks; you've just spent enough energy and time to decide the necessary action, so rather than having to remind yourself of that again later, do the fast actions now. Beware though; any "it'll just take 5 or 10 minute" emails really add up. Be firm with yourself about the 2 minute limit and come back to the longer tasks after you've finished processing. Remember: first, know what you have; second, do the right next thing - as opposed to the one that just happens to be next in the inbox.

Building this habit into your daily routine will change your relationship with email. Instead of a murky pit of unknown obligations, your inbox will be a functional space. Repeatedly throughout your day you will know exactly what's there, if anything, and what commitments it represents when it isn't empty.

Posted on July 31, 2009 at 07:00 PM in work | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dinner with Joe's friend Bobak 2009


Posted on July 22, 2009 at 12:00 PM in friends & family | Permalink | Comments (0)

Albany is the Martinez of Berkeley.

- Paul Nordstrand, in 1980

Posted on July 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM in quotes | Permalink | Comments (2)

walking with Joe 2009

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Posted on July 18, 2009 at 12:00 PM in relationships, San Francisco, the big room with the blue ceiling | Permalink | Comments (0)

To live is like to love - all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct is for it.

            --Samuel Butler

Posted on July 14, 2009 at 11:49 AM in quotes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mail changes shouldn't but may result in communication turbulence 2009

I'm changing domain servers and mail hosts soon moving away from some current frustrations causing me to miss email messages. In theory, all communication should switch over without problems, but you know how it goes.

You can still reach me as my nom du web @gmail.com or through my work contact info over at my business site (fortunately so far unaffected) DinahSanders.com

My apologies for any inconvenience!

Posted on July 13, 2009 at 01:25 PM in warnings & kvetches | Permalink | Comments (1)

art in our absence 2009

Photo by my dad Paul, housesitting for us while we were at Tales of the Cocktail.

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Posted on July 9, 2009 at 12:00 PM in friends & family, San Francisco | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I'm having trouble characterizing God."

- Professor S. Paul Kashap (in the early 1980s)

Posted on July 1, 2009 at 01:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Improving your relationship with your email inbox, part 1 2009

[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]


Is your inbox a source of despair? Fear not! You can conquer it and develop good habits which will reduce its negative impact on you in the future.

First, a few basic principles:

1. Discard the idea that every email you get deserves some of your time. Make a quick evaluation and then delete, do any less than 2 minute task, or add the appropriate task to your to-do list.

2. Be brief, if you need to answer at all. Not every email you get deserves to be answered with a correspondingly lengthy reply or, in many cases, any reply at all. Mail templates which you can use to auto-insert frequently used responses are huge time savers; learn how to do them in your mail program.

3. Don't file, archive. Mail programs have search functions; unless its a category where you regularly need to retrieve the last action on it (& you don't have that status in a more trusted system) or something that would be hard to capture in a search, just throw it in one big Archive folder.

4. Trash is your friend. Delete anything which requires no action on your part and isn't something you need to reference soon or in the future.

5. Give up your job as unnecessary archivist. If this email isn't the very first place you'd look for this information, don't save it for future reference. Put the information where you will look if it isn't already there.

6. Stop the distraction machine. Turn off ALL new mail alerts. No sounds, no counts, no pop-ups. Check email on your terms, as needed, and only between doing other actions.

7. Filter where possible. If you know that mail fitting a particular pattern belongs to a particular task - for example, email newsletters which fit within your recurring professional reading activities - then automatically route it to a folder for that task and remove its "unread mail" status on the way there, so that you aren't tempted to pay it more attention than it deserves. In your to-do's and/or calendar is where you'll track the need to do the recurring activity of examining those folders.

Finally, and most importantly:

8. Don't use your inbox as your to-do list. It is ill-suited to that purpose because it doesn't help you focus on doing. It is poor at distinguishing between things you want to pay attention to today and things you may not need to act on for days or even weeks. Think of your inbox instead as your hand, reaching out to someone passing you a piece of paper. You can glance at the paper to see if it's urgent, but what really needs to happen is not that you stand there with hundreds of pages in your hand, rather that you put the pages where they need to be. They represent actions you should do now or add to your to-do list or else they can be archived. A small percentage may need to spend time in an Active Project Support or Waiting For folder, but pretty much everything can be deleted or archived. 

In my next post, I'll share tips for quickly processing what's in your inbox so you know exactly what's there, if anything, and what commitments it represents when it isn't empty.

Posted on July 1, 2009 at 01:12 PM in work | Permalink | Comments (0)

Elixir with Rice, Jason, et al. 2009

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Posted on July 1, 2009 at 12:00 PM in Food and Drink, friends & family | Permalink | Comments (0)

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