January 13, 2015

A woman of emails


Maybe the abundance of snow played a little roll, perhaps it was that busy days of the holiday season caught up with me on the health front (which they did – big time!), or it might have been the million and one other things - those various elements that make up life and are often points of worry for many of us - but last week was a bit of "one of those weeks" for me.

Nothing epically bad, thank the universe, but certainly enough to pull my mood down and result in rather little productivity, compared to how I'd (admittedly, very optimistically) imagined the first few days of the year kicking off. There was a strong juxtaposition between the energy and excitement that raced through mind regarding this year and how my body actually felt, and it for each minor step I took forward, I rolled - proverbially, of course - down a mountain.

I have not come even remotely close yet to winning the battle - not just in theory, but in actual practise - of owning my own time, and I know that fact also contributed in part to my mood and mindset as 2015 came barreling through the door.

For years now I've noticed that both the start of the week and the start of each new month bring with their arrival, a higher than usual level of emails for me (which make senses, as folks are back at their desks and/or feeling like they want to start things off on a very productive note). The beginning of this year seemed to magnify that exponentially and in the first few days of 2015 alone, I replied to over 300 emails (the actual number I received and will eventually reply to was/is far higher still), as well as a host of Facebook and Instagram private messages.

Running, humbly, a successful and popular vintage blog, I've been getting scores of emails for years now, most of which are questions from readers or the general public who find my blog (a good many of which are folks seeking information on vintage items they’ve acquired), offers or inquires from companies who want to work together, back and forths between blog sponsors, folks wanting to interview me, and of course those from friends, acquaintances, and family members.

This latter group however makes ups the smallest percentage of my email pie (yet are usually my very favourite). I am not alone in the high volume of emails I receive by any means and I know that there are people out there in countless fields, who receive a hundred times more email than I get in a given week. Still, when one is already blogging and running an Etsy shop full-time, there are only so many hours in the day and it can quickly feel like you've buried under and avalanche of emails.


 photo 14510841778_eb7281f037_o_zpsdcfda1ee.jpg

{Emails, the 21st century version of the telephone call in many ways, arriving by the boatload to inboxes everywhere each day - mine very much included! Image source.}


In centuries past it was common to call men (and women, though the term was traditionally applied more to chaps) who were known for being smart folks that were prolific letter writers, diarists, scholars, and/or authors "men of letters". I've always adored this title which derives from the French term "belletrist" and was historically first used to differentiate between someone who was literate or illiterate, though quickly came to be associated simply more with those who were seen as being quite intellectual.

In the midst of writing some of those many email replies last week, it struck me that no shortage of us have become men and women of letters in our own right as bloggers and, yes, even microbloggers. Our worlds are filled with words of the digital type, but still they are words all the same that spring from our minds and fingertips and fill our waking hours. Thus we have become the men and women of emails and blogs. Twenty-first century intellectuals who love our work, but do readily admit that it can swallow us whole sometimes - if we let it.

I want to clarify that I am not bemoaning my bustling inbox. I am grateful for the opportunities and connections that my blog affords me, but I am also acutely aware of the finite amount of time we all have and how short the days can seem if you need, or opt, to devote several hours a day to replying to emails, be they professional, personal or both (naturally, personal ones are usually lovely and rarely feel like "work" in the slightest).

There I sat, typing and hopping like a bee swirling around from bloom to bloom in a spring garden, and knowing that for each message I sent, at least two more would arrive to take its place. Inbox zero is an impossibility for many of us these days and while steps can be taken to help manage your email workflow and assist to some degree when it comes to the feeling that you never get ahead on that front, for me personally the realization came that the best approach would probably be to devote one or two days (or chunks of days) solely to replying to emails each week.

I will continue to check my inbox multiple times a day as I typically do and address any message that are truly pressing, important or of a highly time sensitive nature right away. However, I can no longer sit down to do just that and unintentionally end up there for, say, seven hours, when I had indented to use that time to write blog posts, take photos for my shop, pen Etsy listings, or any of the myriad other things that fill my work days.

In fact, though it is an approach I've taken to a degree for quite some time now, I've firmly decided that I need to really, really devote whole days to specific tasks (like those just mentioned) and not flit from activity to activity. I find that doing so is a perfect recipe for not actually being anywhere near as productive as I'd ideally like on those fabulous days when my health allows me to even be productive at all.

I have decided - and of course this will always be an area with a great deal of flexibility - that I will break down my week, in an ideal world (aka, this assumes that my health is cooperating and that life isn't throwing more curveballs my way than there are minutes in an hour), as follows:


-1 to 2 days a week, write blog posts (at least one, but ideally two, posts on each of these days). This will also include editing photos for outfit posts, gathering images for posts, doing post related research, etc - basically anything related to posting here on my blog.

-1 to 2 days a week, take photos for my Etsy shop, then sort (select) and do any minor editing needed to those photos.

-1 to 2 days a week, list new items in my Etsy shop.

-1 day a week where I focus primarily on replying to emails, FB private messages and the like. If the amount of time needed for this is less than a full day, it can be combined with one of the activates mentioned above.

-Devote at least one day a week to not working at all. Even lifelong workaholics like me need time off. It's incredibly important to our health (including one's mental health), stress levels, productivity, and happiness that we distance ourselves from our jobs. Working from home, as I do, this can be all the more tricky, but it something I truly must accomplish this year and hopefully for all those that follow, too.



{Being a full-time blogger and Etsy shop owner, just like any job, takes work, stamina, perseverance, and (ideally!) a love of what you're doing. It involves super long hours, no shortage of elbow grease, the ability to change your course of action when needed, and a massive amount of drive. I cherish the career that I have and count it amongst my blessings every day, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a massive amount of work that can wear me down something fierce at times. My hope is that the schedule above will help me be more productive and less tired/stressed/worried/etc when comes to completing all the jobs I want to get done in a given week. 1940s female war worker image source.}


Of course, amongst these things I will do others like reply to blog comments, visit other people's blogs/stay at least quasi on top of the new posts in my feed reader, do outfit shoots with Tony, brainstorm ideas for future posts, be present on social media, source items for my shop, ship out Etsy orders, and plenty of other activities that fall under the header of work for me, but as those things do not generally call for whole days unto themselves, they're easier to fit in around other larger jobs.

Again, and I can't possibly stress this enough, this workflow schedule assumes that the circumstances of my life accommodate such and that everything is running like clockwork. Frequently, it will not, and I fully understand and accept this. However, just having this ideal sort of workweek in place helps me to feel less anxiety, worry and stress about how I spend each day and thus leads to greater productivity levels.

You may have noticed that I haven't assigned specific days of the week (say for example, Wednesdays for replying to emails) to each of these jobs. That is 100% intentional, because I know that they'll vary from week-to-week, what my medical situation is like on a given day (some days for example, I may feel well enough to write posts in bed, but not to stand up and take listing photos), the weather (say for outfit photos), and scores of other circumstance. It matters far less what day of the week such things happen on and more that they do indeed transpire.

Another reason why I didn't partner jobs with dates is that most weeks, I spend several hours on Tuesday and Wednesday doing work that absolutely must be done, no questions about it, for some of the other websites (such as Any New Books) that Tony and I run. Due to the nature of when the new content for such sites is posted, it has to be done on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I only get fragments of those days to work on things pertaining to world of Chronically Vintage.

I share these inner workings of my mind (and schedule) with you all here today in the hopes that taking such an approach, if you're not already doing so, may be of substantial assistance to you and your own productivity as well.

Life and work are a perpetual balance and no one can get it right all the time, but we can certainly take a moment to step back and intentionally see if what we're currently doing is right for us in the here and now and try to adjust things if they're not.

That's my plan and goal. With dedicated task days in place, I feel a renewed since of love for both my blog and shop (not that I didn't adore them both before, I did so dearly, of course!), less anxiety/stress, and like I'm better able to tackle the world - or at least my inbox, blog and Etsy shop one exciting day at time.

32 comments:

  1. Like you, I have a tendency to work too hard. But being exhausted is counterproductive. We need to manage our work and your ideas above are smart. Being constantly distracted pulls us away from hard tasks that require focus and concentration, so we shouldn't allow other chores to do that. Good luck in achieving a balance that works for you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. to have a plan like yours is the best one can do!
    and if the plan is flexible enough to take some curveballs smoothly it´s even better. i know for myself that this works out not always - but it takes away a lot of pressure. a healthy work/life balance is very necessary especially for us self employees!
    please organize yourself enough relax time - because we need you healthy and happy!
    love! xxxxx

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have no doubt you can do it! Planning is the first step. I do my work in "days" too...it just makes more sense to focus that way.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Do you know why I only have mailed you very few times? Because I guessed your situation was like you have just described. Ooh, dear, you sound like you are drowning and something must be done. I suggest you to have another e-mail address (if you don't already have so) for private mails, those from near friends and family. Keep it secret for the public. And on your public e-mail you should have an automatic friendly reply stating that you do read all mails and that you don't necessarily reply to all. It could also say that you don't give private advice on vintage style or items, and if people are interested in such things they can read and search your blog. And one more advice for you from a friend - try to keep it short, dear. I know you are bubbling over with words, and I LOVE it, but no one expects so much as you give. You are a master of words, but you have to practice short replies. I know you can, so I challenge you. ;) You are the most thoughtful, polite and best mannered person I know. I want you to talk with Tony about my auto reply. I have worked with IT for many years, and he is a clever boy, both technically and personally. Something has to be done, dear, and I am glad you have made a plan, but there's more to do. lots of hugs from Denmark

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My endlessly lovely friend, thank you very much for your caring message. I want to start by saying that you can always email me 24/7 - friends rarely fall into the work camp and it's a true joy to converse with you anytime.

      I do have two email addresses (actually more, some stemming from earlier times in my life, like when I was a commercial photographer in my mid-twenties), but I redirect them all to the same inbox (which sort of defeats the angle that you were coming from, I know :)). It's just easier that way for me. :) I do keep my personal one personal though, but my work (CV) one can be found in a second, which is how I want it to be (especially for potential sponsors, company looking to have me review their items, online friends, etc). I've thought about having an auto reply in place. It's a good idea and something I can recall at least a couple of the vintage bloggers who were really popular in the earlier days of this blogging niche doing a few years ago. If email levels keep up anywhere near this, I likely will put such a message in place and sincerely appreciate your advice regarding it.

      I had to smile ear-to-ear, Tony is always telling me the same thing about emails. I have gotten quite good at keeping most (work) ones short and sweet and to the point, which helps a lot, but sometimes, old habits being hard to break, I will still write a good sized reply to a complete stranger. :)

      I readily take up your challenge and will continue to aim to keep things short as frequently as possible. I also agree that more can be done and now is the year to do it!

      Really and truly, thank you for everything. You are by far one of the most caring and sweet people I've ever had the great joy of knowing, dear Sanne.

      Huge hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

      *PS* Enjoy your wonderful day off today!

      Delete
  5. Oh, my dear friend, I have been feeling just awful that we haven't communicated lately as I have been either busy with holidays or vacation or suffering from anxiety/depression following the return home. On top of which I am dealing with a hellacious back flare up. I have been physically and mentally paralyzed lately leaving me absent (for the most part) from my on-line life. Now that I see that you have been overwhelmed yourself and dealing with your own physical conditions, I will try to forgive myself a little. Although, these are some of the times when communication may be the most cathartic, it is nothing for you or I to stress about. I love that you are developing a schedule to help you out. I am looking forward to doing the same, but must hold off until school starts. Only then will I know what the weekly workload will be and am then able to organize my work times. I will email you soon, just as soon as I am mentally able to organize my thoughts well enough to communicate effectively and not sound like a babbling unorganized idiot. Love you, my friend. You continue to be such an amazing inspiration in my life. Thank you.
    She Knits in Pearls

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweet gal, please don't worry or feel bad in the slightest (promise me you won't ever when it comes to my blog and I, okay?). No one understands more than me and I love hearing from you anytime - be it in the comments on each new post or once in a blue moon or anytime in between. I'm deeply sorry to hear that you've been going though a rather tough time on the health front as well. I swear, winter is especially hard on us chronic illness/pain/disability warriors.

      Please feel free to "babble" away anytime. I'll know what you meant and be there with an understanding heart and plenty of words to hopefully help bolster your spirits at least a little.

      Rest, try to take things easy, and know that I'm sending countless feel better wishes your way!
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  6. One day at a time indeed, Jessica, and looking at the photos on this post has reminded me how much things have evolved. Telephones and appliances are getting so much smaller and weigh much less than back in the earlier days. Hope you continue to have less stress, and that all your days will be happy and productive, yet minimally stressed.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Good luck with sticking to your plan! My eyes were getting wide just reading this - I don't know how you manage to remember all of these things, much less actually get them done! It doesn't seem like there could be enough hours in the day for all of that. Maybe you could get an intern or something. I'm sure there's a college out there that might let a student help you with your emails for a little credit! :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There really isn't - especially when you consider that I have a husband, pets, family, social commitments and the like to make time for as well. That's why dedicated days are so important to having things run at least quasi-smoothly week after week.

      I love the idea of having an intern or assistant. A lot of what I do comes from my own head or hands though and needs to do that in order to exist the way that it does, so unfortunately it's not easy to just hand off many tasks that I do to someone else. That said, someone could theoretically do things like pack and ship Etsy orders and perhaps reply to some of my emails. It's a nice thought for sure, but for now I'm a one woman show (with Tony's invaluable help in certain areas).

      I love that you thought about that idea - I'm all for creative solutions to time management!

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  8. You have an amazing way with words, an incredible outlook on life, and one of the most positive attitudes I know. And this post is very inspirational on how to deal with the 21st century methods of communication and trials of being a person in constant communication, as well as a blogger and shop owner.

    I admire your goals for the weeks and you remind myself that I need to get back to a good routine! As well as reply to your delightful letter!

    xoxo
    -Janey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are incredibly kind, dear Janey, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

      Huge hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  9. that sounds like a great plan! wishing you all the best this new year and with his new plan. i can't even begin to imagine how busy you are and how taxing this must be, especially without good heath. sending new years blessings your way :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you deeply, my caring friend. I really love what I do and feel blessed to be able to have a career that is focused around vintage, but the sheer number of hours involved can be taxing for sure and if I burn the candle at both ends too much, I always, without fail, pay dearly on the health front. As such managing my time (and energy) as effectively as possible is truly important and really is going to be my biggest goal for 2015.

      Hugs, blessings & joyful January wishes coming right back at you,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  10. A schedule is always helpful and I am very impressed by all you accomplish. As you know I had a very rough start to 2015 but Im determined to move forward in a positive way

    retro rover

    ReplyDelete
  11. 300 messages… that sure sounds like fan mail my dear Jessica.
    I am sorry to hear you have not been able to continue as energetically as you started the year I certainly hope you are back in full throttle soon.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Jessica,
    Once again you really hit home with this post. Just today I spent half my day responding and writing emails. I have 4 primary email accounts that must be checked and responded to frequently. I often read articles about how you should allow yourself 15-minutes for one task and then move on to the next. But I've never been able to do that. How can I spend 15-minutes on email when I have so many messages to respond to, most of which are student questions, which as the instructor must respond to ASAP.

    You solution of setting aside days, instead of meager minutes, to complete tasks, I think is brilliant !
    I think I shall follow your lead and set aside one evening a night and devote it entirely to one task. I also will try (my hardest) to have one day off a week, (though I make no guarantees).

    Thanks for the post and the inspiring words.
    Wish you the best of luck and good health.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, sweet dear. I hear you loud and clear. Unless said task was completely finished in 15 minutes (or whatever small allotment of time), there's no way I would want to walk away from it move on to something else, then another job and another and so on. I'd feel like I was a chicken running around with its head cut off, never fully completing anything in a day (in all likelihood). I have zero qualms with doing more than one thing a day (and almost always do, even on "dedicated days"), but abandoning a task that could be completed in a reasonable amount of time sounds counterproductive to me.

      It really sounds like we're in similar boots on the email front. I hope that they aren't weighing you down too much. I often feel that those of us who constantly have a heavy stream of emails coming in are akin to a very busy switchboard operator in decades past - only we have to not only direct, but take, the call (so to speak), which said operators rarely did.

      Isn't it nuts in a way that for many of us these days taking a single day off in a give seven day period is genuinely challenging because of our workloads? Of all the dedicated days I highlighted here, it will be (assuming my health doesn't take some utterly massive, unexpected nose dive) the most challenging for me to adhere to. Here's to the hope that we're both able to set aside a true day off each week - our health and happiness deserve it.

      Big hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  13. Hello woman of emails!
    What a lovely post and also very helpful friend!
    Despite my blog be small and relatively new, I think important to organize, I was already doing it. I printed the entire calendar year 1 month per sheet where I entering the commitments, but I have to follow to the letter. I want blogging smoothly, with joy and passion, no pressure! My goal is at least one post a week and during the other days I will updating social networks, answering emails and comments also shoot if necessary. With everything organized and planned so everything is easier. The key is to have pleasure by doing and doing what you love.
    Tons of hugs to dear friend have a good Wednesday. How about a cup of hot chocolate?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A big cup of hot cocoa and chat would be heavily, dear Cris. If only we didn't live on different sides of the equator.

      I agree with you completely regarding the importance of blogging being fun and able to bring you happiness. Mine does so for me big time, but it's also a ton of work, as is my Etsy shop. I think that dedicated days and not pushing myself to the (physical) breaking point are the best things I can do to help try and ensure that they always continue to be pleasurable endeavors.

      I wish you tons of luck with your own blogging schedule and can truly see your passion for what you're doing shining through in both your comments here and on your lovely site itself.

      Big hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  14. Take it easy, Jessica. I hear you!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. It's forever a battle dear heart. I hear you and good for you for putting some structure in to help you make the load easier. The trouble is that when we work with our passion it's hard to stop! As I write this I'm contemplating taking a bath at 3pm in the afternoon as my whole body is aching so badly from a flare, but I MUST get some work done first. Of course, I ought to make the bath a priority but my brain JUST DOESN'T WANT TO! Urgh to chronic illness but YAY to working with passion and loving what we do. Much love xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay indeed!!! I didn't delve into this in my post, but I know you'll understand 100% - this schedule doesn't really fit in days to recoup from the ones on which I'm doing all of this work. It's not uncommon for one highly active day to result in a week or two or three (etc) of being pretty much bed/bathroom ridden and for these plans to be on temporary hiatus. Oh well! We must do what we can, try to take breathers (and afternoon baths), and just plug ahead with our passions as best as life and our health as chronic illness fighters will allow.

      Thank you very much for your understanding and wonderfully nice comment,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  16. Sorry to hear you haven't been feeling your best :( that's never nice, although at least it didn't interfere with your Christmas celebrations. There's a part of me in disbelief at how much you have on your plate! No wonder you have so many emails. I think the way you've suggested tackling them and your wider workload sounds good. I always wish I could be this structured in how I approach things but I never seem to get it to work! In awe of you and your positive outlook as ever x

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am sorry you have been feeling sick. I like how you have organised things. I am v. like that - I always set targets for myself!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you sweetly, dear Holly. Things are slowly improving on that front this week and I've actually been able to get in a massive amount of shooting (photos for future listings). Well, massive by my personal standards at least. :) Now it's time to sort and edit and start listing more things in the coming days, which I'm really looking forward to.

      Big hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  18. Writing blog posts is a big one for me. While i enjoy writing blog posts and have many ideas, I have a little difficulty getting that idea to come across. I also tend to forget how fast time travels and notice only a week later that I probably should update my blog. Hopefully this year will be more productive than the last one!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I was going to email you with a few bits of personal news but after reading this, it will definitely wait a while! In the meantime, read this http://www.slowyourhome.com/i-for-inbox-zero/
    Hope you get a breather soon! X X

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello my sweet friend, please email away anytime you like. Messages from dear online friends like yourself do not fall under the work (et al) header. I always adore hearing from you and do hope you'll write soon.

      Thank you for sharing that great link. Tony is huge on inbox zero (he gets far more work related emails than I do, so I have little right to harp about my own inbox!) and we've both been using a lot of same techniques for a while now and they definitely help a bit. It's so thoughtful of you to send that along! (Tags/keywords and folders are email organizing godsends - I really rely on them and feel they help streamline things somewhat for sure.)


      Oodles of (gentle) hugs & happy weekend wishes,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  20. I am sorry that you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, it is not a nice place to be. Your plan of organising your work into days sounds very sensible and workable. Having a proper day off is also important, as is learning not to feel guilty for having that time to yourself. I hope very much that it all smooths out a bit soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you sweetly, dear Kate. I'm delighted to report that after putting this plan of super dedicated days into action this week, things have picked up quite a bit (yay!). I feel more in control and have accomplished a ton in the past five days. I didn't take a day off, but will try extra hard to in the coming week - don't want to burn out right off the bat!

      Tons of hugs & happy Sunday wishes,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  21. From one "Woman of Emails" to another, I think your plan is just sensational. It's a great idea to have the flexibility to suit your schedule to your needs, and to be able to work on certain tasks as your mood and health allow. I am wholeheartedly in favour of devoting one day a week to not working at all. For me, Sunday is a strict no-work day. Having a full day to just be and relax is so important. Good on you for coming up with such a great plan.

    ReplyDelete