Home Paper & Personal Email

July 17, 2023

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Personal email. Mail. Paper that just randomly shows up on your kitchen counter. 

It arrives constantly, and each sheet of paper/email contains decisions to be made and, likely, action steps that need to be taken. As a result, it can pile up and stress us out. 

Let’s talk practical strategies for dealing with it in a realistic way with the aim of reducing stress and freeing up most of our time from having to manage it. 

To learn more about and sign up for the Bright Method 8-week program, click here: https://kellynolan.com/the-bright-method-time-management-course-with-kelly-nolan

Full Transcript

Episode 12. Dealing with the Home Paper Personal Email

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey! So today, we are diving into personal admin time, and I am really excited to talk about this stuff. The reason for that is that often we don’t really think about it. What I mean by that is a lot of times when women come to work with me, they want to dig into the professional time and task management stuff, and that’s understandable. Work takes up so much of our waking hours. We have so much that we’re managing there that it makes sense to think, “If I can just get a handle on work tasks and time and all of that, then my life will feel a lot better,” and it probably would. That’s fair. But I really believe that to get the peace of mind and the clarity about how we’re gonna get everything done and be able to really take a break, we have to address both personal and professional because it all draws on the same bank of time. Even though we kind of can divvy it up in our heads that way, the way we feel about how we manage our time and our tasks relates to how we manage it personally and professionally.

They also have ripple effects on each other, and I think you know this in the sense that if you’re neglecting your personal life to some degree or it just feels like a mess over there or you feel unsure about how you’re handling something on the personal front, you think about it when you’re at work. It kind of interrupts your focus. It weighs on you and things like that, and vice versa. When we’ve had a tough day at the office, when we come home we obviously feel not so great, and it affects our relationships with the people in our house or even just our ability to relax by ourselves.

So we’ve got to get a bearing on both, and so I want to talk about the personal side of things as well, even if it’s not what you think of as the number one time management challenge that you might have. Even getting a handle on this part of it will have ripple effects on your professional life as well.

Personal Admin Time – 2:20

So what do I mean by personal admin time? You can define this however you want, but to me it’s kind of that day-to-day administrative stuff that happens in our homes. And I don’t mean everything from washing dishes and creating meals, but I do mean things like handling the mail, handling the paper that just randomly shows up in the kitchen, and we don’t really know how it gets there but we have to handle it, personal email as well. I really kind of think of this as paper and email, and it’s just kind of that administrative stuff that you have to deal with in your personal life, and it never really ends. Mail has a funny way of showing up most days, and email keeps coming in. And so, it’s that flow of personal administrative stuff that we have to deal with.

I think what makes it daunting is two things. One, we often don’t have a system for dealing with it, so we just are kind of either neglecting it like I used to do. When I was a new attorney, I think I kind of forgot about my personal email inbox. So neglecting it is one option, or we try and stay on top of it, but because it’s always coming in it’s just consistently there and it’s consistently interrupting our time, and it’s always weighing on us because it’s always there. And so, whether you’re neglecting it, intentionally or not, or kind of consistently trying to stay on top of it, it’s stressful. It’s stressful, and it hangs on us, and it really stresses us out.

The second reason, which relates to that, is that I think it’s intimidating because each email or each piece of paper represents probably a fair amount of work. Sometimes it’s just a decision of whether to keep it or not, but often there’s some action step you need to take. You have to think about what action you need to take. You have to figure out when you’re gonna do it. Then you actually have to do it. And so, each thin, thin piece of paper comes with a fair amount of work. And so, when it quickly stacks up on your kitchen counter or wherever it does, it’s daunting because there’s stuff to do. It requires our brain, and we’re typically tired when we see it. And so, it’s just a little bit daunting.

So it’s understandable that this is an issue, and what I like to do when I kind of have issues like this come up in my personal life, is try and take a step back and think about what could I do, what action steps could I take to solve this, and if I can systematize it, then that’s great. I like to come up with systems for things when it’s something I’m gonna see a lot. If it’s just a one-off thing or even something that I’m gonna see, like, once a month, I might not even come up with a system for it because, candidly, it’s just not worth the effort. But when it’s something like personal email or personal mail or papers that come home from school kids or things like that, it’s worth coming up with a system even though it seems so rigid and formal because it frees you up from the stress of thinking you have to do it all the time or the intimidation of not having a system and letting it all pile up, and then by the time you roll around to deal with it it’s like five hours of work, versus if you had stayed on top of it to some degree then it would be less work each time.

Creating a System – 5:27

So when it comes to creating a system, I think system can sound very, very formal and intimidating. I don’t mean for it to. What I like to think of it as is really corralling when I have to deal with something and creating a game plan around what that looks like. Why I like doing that is when I can corral it and get clarity on what do I have to do with this, how often do I have to do it, and things like that, then I can kind of create a system — which I’m getting ahead of myself, and we’re gonna talk about. Then the rest of my time is freed up from having to deal with it because once I have a system and I’m like, “I deal with this at this time on this date, and this is what I do,” then the rest of the time, the rest of those days, the rest of the hours, all of that type of stuff, I don’t have to think about it because I know it’s handled at a later time.

That’s really why I do this stuff. It’s not because I like having a system and I’m overly rigid and things like that. I think if you knew me in real life you’d understand that that’s not really what I’m going for. But by, again, creating that system and kind of being like this is when I do it. The corollary to that is the rest of the time I don’t do that, and therefore, I’m freed up to really focus on the fun stuff and not have that constantly looming feeling in my life.

When you’re creating your system, what I want you to think about is how frequently do you need to deal with that personal admin stuff (the mail, the email, that kind of stuff). How long will it take you if you do it at that frequency? When, ideally, do you want to do it (time of day or days of the week, that kind of thing). And what do you do during it? Give yourself a basic agenda for what you do during it. When you kind of answer that last question, that might reinform. You might have to kind of cycle back to those earlier questions. But the questions are: how frequent, how long is it gonna take, when do you want to do it, and what do you do during it.

Now, I wish I could say this is the perfect way to do it for every person out there, and that’ll be great. But the reality is we’re all different, we all have different things that we’re managing, and we go through different life phases. So when you have school-aged kids, you’re gonna maybe have to deal with paper more than you would if you don’t have any children in the house right now. Or if you’re doing a major house project, and you’re getting emails sent to you really frequently, then you’re gonna have to probably stay on top of email more often than you would when you’re not doing that type of house project. So just getting some clarity around what life phase am I in right now and kind of take that into consideration when you’re answering these questions, and know that it will shift. At some point, if you’re like, “Man, I feel like I’m checking my email a lot, but I don’t really see anything new,” then you can probably reduce the frequency in which you have to do it, versus if you’re like, “I’m checking it, and I just feel like I’m drowning in email,” you might have to up the frequency or the amount of time that you spend doing it.

So again, I want you to think about how frequently do I need to do it, how long is it gonna take, when do I do it, and what do I do during it. Just kind of circling back to that when, let’s pretend you have school-aged kids. I’m not actually there yet, so totally push back if this doesn’t make sense. But I feel like paperwork comes home relatively frequently, so you might want to do something like — I’m just gonna make this up. Let’s say on Sundays you spend an hour dealing with mail from the week and personal email. And then let’s also say each evening right after dinner you ask all of your kids for any paperwork that there is, and you’ve scheduled that 15 minutes of time where you go through, you collect all the paper that came home from school, and you process it. That might be every single night.

Now, you might not need that. If you’re like, “She’s crazy and doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” then just adjust that. So if it’s three days a week, could you do that, or things like that, so that throughout the week you’re kind of peppering in at a frequency that makes sense and is needed with your kids on how often you’re collecting paper and that kind of stuff and processing it, where the rest of the stuff and the bulk of the heavy lifting of the personal admin stuff happens on the weekend on a day and a time that makes sense to you. You might have to pick a time that works for kids’ schedules or not.

Now, if you don’t have kids, same type of thing. You might think, well, actually, if I just really protected an hour of time on Saturday mornings so that I could enjoy the rest of my weekend and not have to think about email and paper and all of that, then let me just protect an hour of time where I sit by myself, maybe play some nice music, if you can listen to music while you work, have a nice cup of coffee, and just really crank through mail, any paper that’s shown up, and also my personal email. I feel like I get on top of that and feel good during it, that would be enough for me.

Or if it’s not, you might be like let me add in a Thursday evening or a Wednesday evening touch-up for 30 minutes on that night, then also similarly go through personal email and the mail. Anything that can wait until the weekend, I just let it wait until then, but it’s a good check up time for me. I’m just kind of giving you any examples. These are not gospel. Feel free to take them in any direction you want, but I think it’s really helpful to think about what does success look like. What does my practical reality — not picture perfect, not Pinterest anything. What does success for me that would make me feel good look like for me, and let me think about the frequency, how long I would need, and things like that.

Now, if you get to just that one hour. Let’s say you think. “I just need one hour a weekend,” you get there, and an hour goes by and you haven’t made a dent, then maybe what you want to do is a two-hour window for a month. You might have to work through some backlog or one hour each weekend day or you can play with it from there. But you just might need a little bit more time, and so playing with what makes sense for you.

I want to throw out there that if you schedule it for a time and you never do it, the time rolls around and you’re like, “I don’t want to do it,” there might be a couple issues in play. One is that you’re not time blocking everything, which I think I’ve talked about on a prior episode. But just to take this on a little bit of a caveat, I really believe that for time blocking to work in the way that we’re talking about here, we’re talking about time blocking when you’ll do your personal admin time, you do need to time block 95% of everything you’re doing. The reason for that is you need to trust the system because sometimes if you’ve time blocked something and then you don’t do it it’s because you’re like, “Well, what if something on these five other to-do lists is more important than what I time blocked,” and that’s a very fair thought because it might be. Those other things might be more important, and so, what we need to do is also take those other things on the five other to-do lists and put them in the calendar at a future time so that you know you can trust your calendar and your system and play out the thing that you have time blocked on.

Now, I know that can be overwhelming to think about, time blocking 95% of everything on your plate. I teach strategies to help it not be so overwhelming. I walk you through it step by step. But I just wanted to address that because that’s just one issue for you.

The second issue though that I really wanted to talk about is that be flexible with this in the sense that — and I should say more open minded to this in the sense that if you thought you could do this at 8:00 AM on Fridays but that would require you to wake up early, and it’s just not happening, and you’re not doing it, and you’re beating yourself up for not doing it and things like that, just move it. Just move it to a different time. For all of them just say, “You know what? That’s not really working. Maybe Sundays at three o’clock before I go out, that would make me feel good to get this done. I’ll be motivated because I have something fun to do, and from now on out, I’ll do that at three o’clock. I’ll move it occasionally on the weekends as plans shake out, but that’s my ideal plan.” So just be open to it. Understand that this is new. You might not know exactly when you want to do it, but be flexible with it and move it around.

Recap Thus Far – 13:24

So, to recap where we are so far, and we’re gonna keep going a little bit, is just really getting clear on let me think about my personal email and all the papers that land on my kitchen counter (mail and other) and how frequently do I want to process those, how long would that take, when would I ideally like to do it, and what do I want to do during that time. Calendar it based on what makes sense for you in this life phase. Know that it will change, and know that you can experiment with it from a general standpoint of when you do it and then also on a one-off basis as your weeks shake out.

What that processing looks like will also vary by people, and what I would love for you to do and what I give my clients inside The Bright Method is really a little agenda of what you do during that time. I think, one, it’s kind of funny how we just expect ourselves to know what to do during that time, and I just think, one, why waste the brain space on it, and two, we don’t naturally know what to do with this stuff. And so, really help yourself know, “When I process email, I first do this and then I do this and then I do this. When I process mail I first do this, and then I do this, and then I do this,” and it will help give you a framework to work within, give you clarity about what you’re doing, and also give you clarity about when you are done. It will give you a lot more peace of mind and confidence around this process because you’ll know what to do.

Inside The Bright Method program I give you some home paper management lessons where I kind of walk you through what I do with the time and give you an agenda and things like that, but you can make this what you want it to be as well. But really give yourself that agenda because it is so important to have clarity so when you sit down you know what to do and you’re not like past me who was kind of awkwardly bumbling around being almost embarrassed for myself because I didn’t know what to do when it came to managing mail, managing email and things like that.

System for Storing Until Processing Time – 15:21

One last thing I want to say about this whole topic is also have — system might even be too fancy of a word for this — but have a system, for lack of a better word, of what you do with that paper and that email and things like that until that time.

So what I like to do is if I have a three-tier paper management tiered thing (I can’t even think of the word) where anything incoming goes on the top tray. It’s like a three-trayed thing. And my husband knows that. My kids aren’t old enough to know that yet, but one day they will. But anything that needs my attention goes on that top tray. I will deal with it during my personal admin time.

It’s really, really nice, as I’m tidying up the house every night, that I can gather all those little scraps of paper, all that kind of stuff that has notes on it or mail or things like that. I can quickly flip through it, and I know that if it can wait until my next processing time, it can wait, and I just put it on top of the tray, and I can let it go until then. My calendar will tell me when I have to process it.

Similarly, on the email side of things, I will sometimes snooze emails until that time. If I’m in my personal email inbox, I do have to keep an eye on my personal email more frequently than I would like to just because that’s how schools or camps or things like that will communicate with me about kids. So I can’t totally let go of personal email until that processing time, but if I see something come in and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna deal with that until my next processing time,” I’ll just snooze it until that date and time so that I can get it out of my email inbox, I’m not looking at it all the time, and then it’ll circle back when I need it. In both cases, essentially what I’m doing is snoozing the thing, getting it out of my eyesight, line of sight, things like that, until the time is right, and then it comes back.

More to the point of what I’m trying to say is have a place where email or physical things go that wait for you until it’s time. That will free you up from seeing it 50 times and constantly having to think, “Oh, it can wait. Oh, it can wait. Do I have to deal with that? Nope, nope. It can wait.” Instead, just put it somewhere where it’s waiting for you out of the way, and then you’ll pull it out when that time comes.

What I really like about this system is that I think I’m naturally one of those people who are like, “Let me leave it out so it reminds me to do the thing,” and I sometimes still do that if I have to do the thing that next hour, but I don’t do that for all of the things that can wait and I can deal with during that personal admin time.

All right! I hope that gave you a couple things to think about that might help you on that front. I would love to hear if you have any good tips and tricks on that front. I love learning about this stuff always. Even sometimes things won’t work for me, but they will work for another client, so I love having things in my back pocket that I can share that might apply to her.

So if you are interested in learning more about this personal side of things, whether it’s the paper and the email and all of that kind of stuff or it’s dealing with mornings and getting out the door, to what things to outsource (what are the options), to managing kids’ schedules and sharing the load with a partner and things like that, this is all stuff that we deal with inside of The Bright Method program. In addition, I have an email mini course that you also get if you jump into The Bright Method program.

So know that that’s in there as well because I know that email, while I’m talking about it at a high level of when we deal with it, the actual processing of it can be pretty daunting in and of itself. And so, I do have a two-hour short and sweet email mini course that also comes within The Bright Method program.

So if you’re interested in jumping in, enrollment opens on August first! You can jump on the waitlist at www.kellynolan.com/bright, and I hope to see you in there!

More importantly, in these last 30 seconds, I want to leave you with this: getting a handle on your personal admin stuff, the personal time- and task-management stuff, will have ripple effects on your professional life as well. It will help give you the peace of mind that you’re looking for, so don’t neglect it. Don’t only focus on the professional. Use the system that helps you address your personal and your professional life holistically. All right, I’ll see you in the next episode! Talk to you soon!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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