Toad and Frog Teach Dave a Lesson

Image from Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel – used without permission, arrrr!

My girls love stories at bedtime, so this week, I borrowed a digital collection of Frog and Toad stories from the library to read to them. One of these stories in particular felt personally applicable. I felt seen, as they say.

In a story called “Tomorrow,” Toad (shown in pajamas) has decided that today is going to be for Taking Life Easy, and all of his necessary tasks will be done Tomorrow. When his friend Frog asks about the dirty dishes, clothes on the floor, and general disarray of his house, Toad insists that it will all be done Tomorrow.

Suddenly, Toad is distressed (as pictured). Why? Because he’s worried, thinking about all his many tasks that await tomorrow. Frog replies that, yes, “tomorrow will be a very hard day for you.”

What if, Toad asks, I go ahead and wash my dishes now? And perhaps pick up my clothes? And so on, and so on, until all the tasks are done. Finally, he collapses back into bed, weary but now unworried, and decides that Tomorrow he will take life easy.

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For the record: I’m writing this post from a very messy home office, on the last day of a week of vacation spent at home doing many, MANY projects, with many still yet undone. But I do so while still at ease.

I have too often been Toad, wanting to take life easy, postponing necessary tasks to Tomorrow. My never-ending work queue or home project list has stood stacked against me for weeks on end, things being added as quickly as things are taken off, so that any break of longer than a day or two is tinged with low-grade worry about what is yet undone. This all rings very true. That picture of Toad above? That has too often been me (except I don’t have such snazzy jammies).

What’s important to realize is that during the course of this story, nothing materially changes. Whether it’s today or tomorrow, Toad completes his necessary tasks and he still gets time to rest. But there is one change that makes all the difference; leave it to a simple children’s story to hit you with such an obvious truth! The difference Toad experiences between the moment pictured above and the end of the story is now that his tasks are completed, his rest is untroubled by the worry of what’s undone.

Before taking this past week off of work, I spent a week or so working extra hours at night and on the weekends with one clear goal: empty the inboxes. If I could log off at the end of it all with all emails responded and all tasks moved out of my hands, I could shut down my computer and enjoy a week of not just no work, but no worry.

I gotta tell you, friends: it was worth it. No matter how many dozens of emails and tasks are waiting for me when I log on in about 17 hours, at this moment, I’m not anxious. I have barely thought about my emails for days. Feels good, bro.

Hopefully this feeling persists for the rest of the day. And hopefully, as I jump back onto the task-list treadmill in the morning, I will work harder and smarter to stay on top of things, so that my tomorrow’s don’t worry me quite as much.

“Could this have been an email?”

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

Here’s a quick plea to folks who work in a “knowledge-work” industry or even just in an office environment: Recognize and try to minimize the time-cost of Zoom chats, in-person meetings, and phone calls.

Obviously I’m not the first to talk about this; I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve read from productivity and systems analyst types who address this idea. But I was reminded last week of how gallingly frustrating it is to be on the short-end of this situation.

In my line of work, I edit documents to meet certain specs and then send them back to “clients” to get feedback before finalization. Usually it’s pretty straightforward. Tracked-changes, in-line comments, easy. I was trying to finalize a project that needed to be expedited, and I sent the document to the client team, expecting a quick turnaround. When I didn’t hear from them for a couple of hours, I followed up by email and was told, “Oh, didn’t such-and-such reach out yet? She said she was going to call you. She said that it would probably be quicker than an email.

Somehow, I doubted that.

Her colleague assured me she’d call me back directly, so I sat for a few minutes with the document open on my desktop, waiting for her to call. I knew that as soon as I started something else, I’d have to stop and change gears to deal with this. After 5 minutes, I sighed and opened a different document to pick up working on another task, only to hear my phone ring 30 seconds later.

Now that she had me on the line, my contact then proceeded to open up the document I had sent the day before and read over it, line by line, making occasional comments–including a five-minute excursis in which she realized she was confusing this document with another project and had to check her email to confirm she was thinking of the right one. As I sat on the line with her.

Just to be clear: there were maybe 10 questions in this document to answer, most of which required a YES/NO response.

It took us 15 minutes to work through the short document so I could get the information I needed from her. Information that she could have typed up in-line in the document and emailed to me, adding little to no additional time on her end but possibly saving me about 10 minutes on mine.

That doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that 5 or 6 such events burn an hour of work time.

I know I’ve done things like this in the past, so I’m trying to be mindful not to do this myself because I don’t want to be the guy whose name gets muttered through gritted teeth. No one wants to be that guy.

So here’s my plea, on behalf of the people you work with or interact with professionally: If that phone call or Zoom meeting or in-person meeting (if you are so blessed) is merely an information check-in that can be summarized by a 3-paragraph email or a notated document providing feedback, just send that to them and give those people back their time.

(Of course, then there’s the whole discussion about whether or not email itself is all that it’s cracked up to be, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)

Do you have any “quick phone call / meeting” horror stories? Leave them in the comments!

The Life-changing Magic of Deleting 200 Emails

black and gray digital device
Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

On the way home from an out-of-state roadtrip (family obligations, stop glaring at me, I’m quarantining now), I listened to a discussion Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness podcast had with Scott Soneshein about his book Joy at Work, which he cowrote with the Queen of Sparked Joy herself, Marie Kondo.

One of Soneshein’s suggestions for decluttering your digital life is to clean out your email inbox of things you keep around but don’t need. I don’t know about you, but this is an area where my pack-rat tendencies flare up.

I have a few different email accounts for personal use, including one just for advertisements, mailing lists, and newsletters–non-vital email, in other words. I subscribed to several newsletters, which may arrive every day to every month or so. They range from political analysis to creative advice to theology. I think they’re all pretty neat, and I’ve enjoyed reading them from time to time in the past. However, several months ago, I started collecting a backlog of emails I promised myself I’d get around to reading. The news-commentary emails are easier to delete in a more timely manner, but some of the other less-time-locked material was just sitting there in my inbox, like it was a little digital to-be-read shelf full of bite-sized goodness. If only I had the time!

Well, I took the time today–but used it to clear the deck. I pulled up the 250-300 emails, and went screen by screen, highlighted all 50 emails on each screen and selectively saving only the ones I decided I could read TODAY. And then hit “delete” at the bottom of each page, removing all the rest.

That inbox now has 36 emails in it. And I’m about to go through, read or skim each of the survivors, and file or delete as needed.┬áThe crazy thing is: I don’t even miss the 200+ other emails, because I have no idea what was in them. I’m sure they included good and useful content (I’m pretty selective about newsletter mailing lists), but that doesn’t matter.

Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to accept that I don’t have the time or ability to read everything or learn everything. I am finite. And that’s okay.

So here’s my suggestion, reader: if you’re collecting hundreds of emails that would be nice to go through if you had the time, but just aren’t vital to your life, perhaps consider flipping the script. Rather than asking whether or not you should delete each of those emails, assume you are going to, click that “select all” box, and then make each of those emails justify why they deserve your attention.

Be merciless. Be demanding. Don’t linger. Hit delete.

You probably* won’t miss them.

(*And if you do realize you just deleted something valuable, dig that one thing out of your “Trash” folder–but don’t go email dumpster diving!)

 

Friday Feed (7/23/2020)

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, readers! Here are some interesting finds from the last week:

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Happy weekend, friends. Do me a favor, if you will: take a moment over the next few days, and tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. They need to hear it more often, and it’s good for us to say it more often.

Also: remember that every day is a gift from God; remind yourself to receive it with thanksgiving and put it to good use.

I’ll be back next week with another Twilight Zone commentary (because I enjoy them, even if none of y’all read them!) and a few other fun things. See you then!