I wrote about how I managed emails and tasks in 2015, and a lot of that is still true.
My work environment
I have two older monitors: an old 32″ QHD primary, and a 24″ 1080p secondary with Slack and Google Analytics:
In our company Slack #general room, we get notifications for stuff like new blog posts, relevant DBA.StackExchange.com questions, and new PasteThePlan entries. We have a separate #development room for stuff like First Responder Kit Github issue changes, check-ins, and Richie’s
failed always successful builds.
Slack has pretty much replaced Twitter for me. I have Twitter notifications turned on, so I can reply when someone asks for me, but otherwise I leave it closed except when I’m surfing the web – exclusively for the purpose of building our weekly links, of course. The work I do for you, dear reader.
For background music, I leave one set of (preferably vocal-free) music on endless repeat for hours. Sometimes it’s a single song, and sometimes it’s an album or playlist. I’ve been using Amazon Prime Music because it’s free with my Prime membership. (iTunes is a flaming poop bag on the porch that is my Mac.) Current rotation:
- Serial Hodgebodge by Lusine – 11 songs, 54 minutes, mellow, slow electronica
- Awake by Tycho – 8 songs, 36 minutes, a little more upbeat than Lusine
- Deadmau5’s iTunes Festival 2014 set – 70+ minutes, has nice ebbs and flows between high speed and chill
- Playlists: Electronic Beats for Work and Electronic for Creativity
- I Will Possess Your Heart by Death Cab for Cutie – 1 song, 8 minutes, with a driving, droning beat. (Does have lyrics, but they’re so minimal, and I’ve known them by heart for years, so I don’t even notice them.)
How I triage incoming emails & task requests
The biggest change is that I stopped giving out my own email address, and I give out Help@BrentOzar.com instead. Erik, Erika, and Tara all have access to that account, and they’re all empowered to answer anything that lines up with their area of expertise. That helps us share the load, and we’re able to keep the company inbox at inbox zero. Our GMail processing rules and canned replies are down to an art form at this point.
My personal email is still rougher, especially since I spend days (or for example, the last two weeks straight) teaching classes. I still use the approach described in the 2015 post, sweeping most >5 minute tasks out into RememberTheMilk to handle later. If they’re project-related, I use Google Docs since it does a little better job of managing large amounts of documentation. I would have switched to something like OneNote or Evernote years ago, but the Mac’s Spotlight search works really well (and quickly) for me.
When I put a task into RememberTheMilk, I put it into one of the lists shown here. (The lists map up to higher-level GTD strategies.)
I used to block out windows in my calendar to work on specific lists, but over time, it’s become so natural that I no longer have to reserve time. Saturday & Sunday mornings are for the Blog and Marketing lists, weekdays 3PM-5PM is for the Recurring and Shopping lists (which is really mislabeled – Shopping includes stuff I need to do around the house), etc.
This way, I know what list I’m going to be working on Saturday morning (and thus the kind of work I’ll be doing), but I just don’t know the specific tasks I’ll be working on in that list.
What “stress-free productivity” means to me
The book Getting Things Done is subtitled “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” and one of the big takeaways in the book is that you’re always going to be behind. You have to be at peace with that – your creative mind and your demanding environment will always come up with more tasks than you could possibly accomplish.
I’ve got tasks in RTM that have been in there for years. It’d be nice if I got to ’em someday, but if I don’t, that’s perfectly okay – because I understand that there’s higher-priority items in the list for today.