Keeping up with Your Inbox: A Few Tips

Posted September 11, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: Email, Folders, Inbox, Outlook, Random Thoughts, Rules, Time management

So I’ve developed a few processes to help me stay on top of my Inbox.  Hopefully, you’ll find at least one of them helpful.  First of all, if you don’t receive a lot of mail, this might not be the blog entry for you. If you receive dozens of email per hour, like I do, you might find these tips useful.

Unread Email Search Folder

I created a search folder named Today’s Unread Messages. This allows me to, several times a day, focus the unread messages I received today.  Because this is but a small portion of the ginormity that is my Outlook’s Inbox, it makes it easier for me to take care of these items.  Breaking down the day’s email into small, easy-to-digest chunks really makes a big difference.  For one thing, it’s easier to take care of a mail message folder when you’re looking at twenty items vs hundreds (or in my case thousands).  I delete, file, reply to, forward or print the items as necessary.  Before I return to my Inbox, however, my daily unread messages folder was empty.  I found that by doing this several times a day, I had a more manageable grasp on my Inbox.  Now, I just started employing this process last week, but, wow, what a difference it’s made so far!

Create Rules, but Run Them Manually

I’ve created a few rules to move items from my Inbox to the Deleted Items or other folders.  I don’t enable the rules, however, because if an email is directed to a folder other than my Inbox, the odds of me reading it in a timely fashion decrease significantly.  I still want to automate moving or deleting items to a degree though.  My solution was to create the rule and, periodically throughout the day, run it.  It makes it easier to keep my Inbox clear of clutter, while at the same time minimizing email items that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.  I came up with this process before the unread mail search folder, so there may not be a need to run the rules as often as I do now, which is to the tune of a few times a day.

Search Folder for Mail from My Boss

I created a search folder that will find email items from my boss sent within the last seven days. While most of my projects are long-term, quite a few of them have a short life cycle.  Even if they’re not short, per se, he’s usually emailed me about them within the past seven days.  This allows me to easily see what items still need action, on what I need to update him and ensure I haven’t forgotten anything pressing.  I realize I can flag messages, but, unfortunately, I misuse, to the point of abuse, the flag feature in Outlook.  I flag too many items, too few items and neglect to revisit flagged items to see what can be de-flagged or flagged as complete.  So the built-in For Follow-up search folder (with finds flagged items) isn’t always very helpful to me.  I may revisit this method and decide if I need to modify this search folder to include mail I’ve sent to him within the last seven days, too.

Printing Action Items

It seem silly and smack of the doings of a Luddite, but I’ve found if I print email messages I need to act on or refer to often and quickly, things get taken care of in a more timely and efficient manner.  Because there’s so much going on with my computer–incoming email, calendar reminders, follow-up reminders, Nordstrom.com, etc, I find I easily lose focus on important or time-sensitive items.  When I first conceived the idea of printing email items so they could get taken care of, I poo-pooed it.  I mean, why print them when all you have to do is open and, you know, read them?  Surprisingly, I found I really got more things done and in a more timely fashion when I did this.  Yes, it is a waste, but I’m sure you could repurpose the paper by flipping it over and using the back for scratch paper-whatever floats your boat.  I personally just toss them in my recycling box, as the goal is to get paper OFF my desk. 

What I do is I print the items that need to be taken care of and arrange them on my desk as if I were playing Solitaire. At a glance, I can get a rough idea of how much stuff I have to do.  If I get more information about a particular task or if I get an idea about a task, I write it right on the email I printed.  If the task can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time and without any other input from my colleagues, I do it.  If the task needs to be delegated, I farm it out.  Once it’s done, I recycle it.  The pack-rat in me is tempted to file it.  But, if it’s done, it’s done.  Why hold onto it?

This process has really helped me focus on short-term tasks and projects.  If there’s an item I printed towards the end of the day and time doesn’t permit me to complete it, I put it on my keyboard before I go home for the day.  That way, it’s the first thing I see in the morning and I know I have to take care of it before I even start taking on new tasks.

Again, this is a method I just started last week, so I’m not sure how it will work out for me.  For this method to work, however, you really have reclaim real estate on your desk, assuming your desk was a messy as mine.  Because your desk is now clean, it’s actually a little easier to toss items once you’ve completed them because you want to continue to keep your desk free of clutter.

Good luck and happy taking care of things from a random broad.

**Update-September 13, 2006** Here’s an interesting post from a blogger who shares his email and task management strategies.

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Public Rasterbation

Posted September 9, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: Adobe Acrobat, Mosaic, Posters, Random Thoughts, Rasterbator, Rasterizing

Have you ever wondered how you could make those cool mosaic (well, mosaic-like) pictures?  You know the ones–a single image spanned over several sheets of paper arranged in such a fashion so that when viewed from afar it looks like one big picture.  Enter The Rasterbator

The Rasterbator allows you enlarge an image so that it can be printed spanning several pages.  This free, online rasterizer is one of the niftier web-based services out there.  With the Rasterbator, you can create ‘posters’ as large as a little over 21 yards, or 20 meters.

The Rasterbator is very easy to use. You can either upload a file from your computer or use any file that is publicly available in the Internet. After you have cropped the image and selected a desired size, the rasterbated image will be sent to you as an easily printable pdf file.

Using The Rasterbator requires that you have Macromedia Flash Player 7 and Adobe Reader(or other pdf viewer).

When you’re configuring your image to be rasterized, you can crop it and enlarge or shrink it to fit a specified number or pages or measurements.  Once your image has been created, pay close attention to the printing instructions–you’ll need to make sure certain printing options are enabled.

The Rasterbator online version is limited to images 1 MB or smaller.  You can, however, download a stand-alone version that allows you to rasterize images regardless of size.  Click here to download the stand-alone version.

Be sure to check out the galleryfor user-submitted pictures of their rasterized images.  There are some pretty spiffy entries, and it’s a great source for ideas, too.

Happy rasterbating from a random broad.

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Changing Your Style after You Return: A Step-by-Step Guide

Posted September 3, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: Documents, Editing, How to, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word, Random Thoughts, Styles, Templates, Word

No, this isn’t about reinventing yourself after you get released for doing a nickel in Sing Sing.  Rather, we’ll learn how to, in Word, change the style in use when you press Enter after having used a title or heading style. 

Usually, when you’re creating or editing a document, you don’t still want to use a title style for the next paragraph.  If you manually change the style to Body Text or, even worse, format the text so that it looks the way you want it–still leaving it in the Title style–this blog entry’s for you.

To control what style is in play after you press Enter, follow these easy steps:

  1. Display the Styles and Formatting Pane by clicking the Format menu and selecting Styles and Formatting.
  2. In the formatting list, scroll to and hover over (don’t click yet) the style named Title. 
  3. Click the down-arrow that appears to the right of the style name.
  4. Select Modify. . . from the Menu.
  5. Use the pull-down menu for Style for the following paragraph to select the desired style (Body Text, perhaps).
  6. Click OK.

You can follow the same steps above to change the style of the next paragraph after you use the Heading styles, too.  At step two, select Heading 1 instead of Title.  If you made modifications to and prefer to use Body Text, change the style for the following paragraph from Normal to Body Text. 

If you’d like the modification you made to be available to all documents you create from now on, be sure to check Add to Template before clicking OK.  This will update your normal.dot file to reflect the change.

Happy editing from a random broad.

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Need a Free Online Photo Editor?

Posted September 3, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: Flickr, Online Photo Editor, Photo Editing, Random Thoughts, Snipshot.com

Snipshot.com to the rescue!  This nifty site allows you to edit your digital pictures online without having to download and install any software.  Got a big picture?  No problem.  Snipshot can handle pictures up to 10 MB (about 5000 x 5000 pixels).

You can edit pictures that are on stored on your computer or that you keep on online.  Just provide Snipshot with the URL or browse to the file on your hard drive.

One of the cooler features of Snipshot is their Bookmarklet tool.  Say you’re on a site and you really dig a picture, but it’s too big for your needs.  You can import the image right into Snipshot using the Bookmarklet you’ve added to your browser’s toolbar and resize it as necessary.  The Bookmarklet feature works with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

So, just what can you do at Snipshot.com?  You can import PDF (first page only), EPS, and SVG files, import pictures from any web site, including Flickr, use basic editing tools such as crop, rotate, resize and save your image in a variety of file types (GIF, JPG, PDF, PNG or TIF).

Happy photo-editing from a random broad.

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There’s Never a Ruler Around When You Need One

Posted August 31, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: Lo-Fi, Low-Tech, Paper Ruler, Printable Ruler, Random Thoughts, Ruler

I needed to measure something the other day and could not find my ruler. Of course, it doesn’t help that I have way too many stacks of papers on my desk and I never put the ruler away in, say, a drawer.  Either way, I was quite frustrated.

This site came to my rescue.  Therein lies a bevy of printable rulers.  They have your standard 1 foot ruler, metric rulers, large-print rulers, yardsticks and even numberless rulers for you masochists out there. They’re available in PDF and PS formats.  If you opt for the PDF format, be sure you have no page scaling options enabled.

Printable paper rulers are great even if you’re organized and keep your ruler in its proper place.  I printed one on cardstock, used a paper cutter to trim away the excess paper, folded it and placed it in my messenger bag.  Now I can measure things with my paper ruler while I’m out and about.  I’ll admit the times I’ve needed a ruler while, say, commuting to work have been rare, but I when I needed one, it would have been really nice to have it. 

Happy measuring from a random broad.

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A Random Broad Gives up Her PDA for a Week: The Aftermath

Posted August 28, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: BlackBerry, Hipster PDA, PAA, PDA

hpdasm.JPG  The great Office Survivalist experiment culminated Friday, close of business.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  That’s not to say it was great, but there was no loss of life, limb or liberty.  So, all things considered, I guess the project went OK.

Monday

I copied all my appointments from my Outlook calendar and our departmental calendar into my Hipster PDA (or PAA, if you like).  I also entered a few key contacts whose telephone numbers I can’t ever seem to recall.  Finally, I wrote down a few items from my Notes folder in Outlook—some codes, etc. to which I refer often.  Having downloaded what I thought I’d need for the week—or at least the day—I was ready to embark on my new analog project.

Fortunately, it was an unusually light day.  I did have two rather important meetings that I would have done well not to have forgotten.  I easily committed them to memory and also flipped to the calendar section of my PAA often, while checking the time as if my life depended on it.  Suffice it to say, I was early to one appointment and right on time to another.

Tuesday

Nothing much happened this day.  I made a few appointments for the project that was slated to start the next day.  I entered them in my Outlook calendar and then copied them into my PAA.  Even though I was only two business days into the Experiment, I could see this entering in appointments twice getting real old, real quick.  On one hand, it did make it easier to remember meetings and what not because I had to recall the details twice.  On the other hand, entering something into Outlook and knowing within seconds the meeting, including the reminder option,  will wirelessly sync to my BlackBerry is clearly the way to go. 

So far, I haven’t had to enter an appointment on the go, as it were.  I did have to check my Hipster PDA’s calendar to see if I was available for a meeting on Thursday, but the person for whom I was checking was going to send an invitation later that day, so there was no need to write down the meeting details at the time.  I mentally blocked off the time and, when I received the invite, copied the meeting information into my PAA.

Wednesday

I have to confirm several appointments for a major project we’ve got slated for tomorrow and Friday.  I needed to call someone while I was away from my desk.  It was a person who wouldn’t have been in my Outlook Contacts folder, so therefore was not in my PAA.  If I were using my BlackBerry, I would have performed a Lookup while in the Address Book, obtained the person’s number and called.  I improvised by using my mobile phone to call the main number and asking to be transferred to the person.  All in all, it was actually quicker than what I usually would have done.

Thursday

The  Awfully Big Project started today.  As I was contemplating what shoes to wear with my kick-ass ensemble I had picked out the evening before, the thought of cheating crossed my mind.  It would be so much easier if I used my BlackBerry, relying on its precious, precious reminders to keep all my appointments.  Seeking solace in its cold, digital bosom never felt so tempting.

I had seven mission-critical, time-sensitive appointments today.  I kept all but one.  I failed to copy it into my Hipster PDA, as it wasn’t confirmed until late Wednesday afternoon.  This wouldn’t have happened if I had been using my BlackBerry.  Of course, this wouldn’t have happened if I had been diligent about confirming the data in both places were in sync at the end of each business day as was the plan when the details of this silly experiment were being hashed out.  Oh well, the dude was totally cool about it and we rescheduled for Friday.  Until now, I had been transcribing entries into my PAA in pencil.  I wrote this one in red ink, and used a Post-it note to flag the page so it would stand out as something that required my attention.

Friday

I checked my PAA’s calendar page today.  I was greeted with a sentence I forgot I wrote Monday: It’s almost over; today’s the last day.  Yay!  I reviewed my appointments.  As the day trudged along, I kept all my meetings, missing nary a one. 

At the end of the experiment, I wasn’t sure what to do with the Hipster PDA.  I mean, I was really looking forward to going back to using my BlackBerry.  It’s not as though I wished my PAA any ill will.  I just, well, didn’t like it.  Copying things twice just seemed so inefficient.  Clearly there was margin for error.  If the details of a meeting changed, updating it in Outlook is as easy as opening it and editing it or dragging and dropping it to a new timeslot.  Updating items in the PAA meant erasing and rewriting it.  That part sucked.  On more than one occasion, I opted to print a new calendar page and re-write the appointments so that the page looked neater.  Yes, I’m a wee bit particular—what of it?

I decided to archive my PAA.  It’s in my desk drawer, binder clip, stylus (read: pencil) and all.  It’s a reminder that, if I put my mind to it, I can rely on my memory and a few 3 x 5” index cards for work.  Of course, I’d rather not, but at least I know I can.

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Good luck and happy taking care of things from a random broad.

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How to Sort Sheets in Excel

Posted August 11, 2006 by a random broad
Categories: Excel, How to, Microsoft, Microsoft Knowledge Base, Random Thoughts, Sorting, Templates

You’re plowing through a project in Excel.  You’re averaging and adding and dividing and returning depreciations like nobody’s business.  You’re inserting new sheets and naming the tabs without even thinking about it.  Suddenly, it occurs to you that maybe, just maybe, it would be cool if those tabs were in alphabetical order.  No sweat, you think to yourself.  I’ll just mosey on over to the Data menu, select Sort and. . .hmmm.  It has to be in here somewhere.  Well, I AM working with sheets, you remind yourself.  Maybe if I just right-click one of these here tabs. . .  Nope, not there either.  You head on over to the Help section, I mean, one can’t be expected to know everything in Excel, right?  Hmmm.  No answer there, either. 

Annoyance starts to set in at this point.  Why on earth, you ask yourself, is it so #&@$ing hard to sort my worksheets?

Newsflash: Excel does not provide an option to sort sheets alphanumerically!  I don’t know what manner of insanity this is, but there is hope.  You can create a macro and sort sheets in ascending or descending or until your heart’s content.

1.  Click Tools –> Macro –> Macros.

2.  Name the Macro (Remember, no spaces! Try SortSheets as a name).

3.  Click the Create button.  This will open the Visual Basic editor.

4.  Highlight the text in the code window.  It should read ‘Sub SortSheets() End Sub’

5.  Copy and replace the highlighted text with the following code:

Sub Sort_Active_Book()  
Dim i As Integer  
Dim j As Integer  
Dim iAnswer As VbMsgBoxResult  
'  
' Prompt the user as which direction they wish to  
' sort the worksheets.  
'  
   iAnswer = MsgBox("Sort Sheets in Ascending Order?" & Chr(10) _  
     & "Clicking No will sort in Descending Order", _  
     vbYesNoCancel + vbQuestion + vbDefaultButton1, "Sort Worksheets")  
   For i = 1 To Sheets.Count  
      For j = 1 To Sheets.Count - 1  
'  
' If the answer is Yes, then sort in ascending order.  
'  
         If iAnswer = vbYes Then  
            If UCase$(Sheets(j).Name) > UCase$(Sheets(j + 1).Name) Then  
               Sheets(j).Move After:=Sheets(j + 1)  
            End If  
'  
' If the answer is No, then sort in descending order.  
'  
         ElseIf iAnswer = vbNo Then  
            If UCase$(Sheets(j).Name) < UCase$(Sheets(j + 1).Name) Then  
               Sheets(j).Move After:=Sheets(j + 1)  
            End If  
         End If  
      Next j  
   Next i  
End Sub

5.  Click File --> Close and return to Microsoft Excel.

Now run your macro by clicking Tools –> Macro –> Macros.  Highlight Sort_Active_Book and click Run.  When prompted, select Yes or No to sort your sheets in ascending or descending order. 

Nifty, huh?

The macro will only be available in the active workbook.  There are ways to create a template, save it to the XLStart menu and have the macro be available for all your workbooks, but you’d have to lower your macro security level or digitally sign your macro.

See the following Microsoft Office Assistance and Knowledge Base (MS KB) articles for my sources and more information:

How to Sort Sheets in a Workbook

How to run the sample code for the Office XP programs from Knowledge Base articles

About Excel templates

Happy sorting from a random broad.

Good luck and happy taking care of things from a random broad.

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