6 Hacks for Work-Life Balance

Image from Huffington Post

How to find more time for sanity while still getting a handle on your email and staying current on news you actually care about. (Really.)

I don’t know about you, but I can lose Rip Van Winkle kind of time to email and browsing the web.

But I work from home, so I rely on email and Internet tools for work. And like everyone else, being online is how I stay current on my sports teams, the news, popular topics and trends, and — well — cool and interesting stuff.

But Rip Van Winkle kind of time… So I knew I had to find better ways to manage my multifaceted relationship with the web and all of its things if I had any hope of staying sane.

Email

1. Declare email bankruptcy.

I have a personal email address that I’ve used for a long time, and it’s been my go-to address for subscriptions and online account usernames. But it got out of control.

Out. Of. Control.

I tried all kind of tips and tricks to manhandle my personal email address into being manageable again. Nope.

Like a bad mortgage circa 2008, the ratio between subscription junk and actual email was so upside down that it made much more sense to just walk away.

Don’t delete the account, though. Instead, think of it as an archive.

2. Get a new email address, and use it strategically.

So Gmail has a relatively new feature of the Inbox — it automatically sorts incoming mail into categories so that all of your Groupon emails, retail store sales, and shopping receipts are grouped together in one tab and your daily digest emails from forums and Google Groups get grouped in another, while your Twitter emails about new followers get grouped in a separate tab with any other social network notifications.

I let Gmail sort my mail for me in my old, archive email. And I removed that account from my (primary) mail client on both my computer and phone.

I still check it — like before I get an oil change or buy a pair of shoes — but I check it on my terms, when I feel like it.

But now, those “20% Off at Bed Bath & Beyond” emails aren’t filling up my inbox or distracting from the emails that require my attention.

And now that I set up a new email address for personal use, I abide by a strict rule: Real people only.

Real correspondence from real people. Not mailing lists from people I know personally. Not the address I give my daughter’s school directory. But people. Who correspond with me.

(There isn’t much in there. And it’s awesome.)

3. Ohmygod Evernote.

Sometimes there are emails that I don’t want to delete, but I’m just sick of staring at them. Or I’m tired of them taking up space in my inbox.

Yeah, I feel like I need that student loan receipt just in case they try to pretend like they didn’t get my payment on time, but does it really need to live in my inbox forever? No.

Luckily, Evernote has a nifty feature where you can forward an email to your Evernote account, and even tag it and automatically route it to a specific notebook.

Put the notebook name (@Notebook Name) and tags (#tag) in the Subject line, and Evernote will do the rest!

I find this feature of Evernote indispensible to managing my inbox.

But I also think it would be fair to call me an Evernote evangelist, so I’m not exactly the most objective source.

4. Use a new mail client. Maybe.

I am still transitioning to my new personal email address, so I want to monitor my archive account without it bothering me.

So I downloaded a tool (as a supplement to my primary mail client) called MailTab for Gmail to help me out.

So far, my only complaint about the free version is that it has limited functionality for composing emails, but it’s great for reading emails and keeping tabs on the account with minimal distraction.

And since my goal is to get away from using that email address for much more than monitoring and reading anyway, I haven’t bothered to upgrade the MailTab app.

(Having limited functionality to respond or compose new emails is a bit like having a great set of training wheels.)

All of that to say, though, the jury is still out on whether or not this will turn out to be helpful for the long haul.

Internet Browsing

I started feeling like viral content was determining what I saw and read online, rather than me browsing for and seeking out information that interests me.

The information and media I care about didn’t match up with what I was consuming.

What information do I want?

What websites do I love but forget to visit because I get sucked into a social media black hole where time is lost forever?

How do I want to spend my time online?

5. Be smart with your bookmarks.

I wiped mine clean and started over.

And I approached the creation of my new bookmarks like I would approach organizing documents into Folders.

But the key is to avoid bloat and visual clutter.

I have five categories of bookmarks that stay in the toolbar of my browser:

Bills & Finances
Work Links
Hockey
Reading
Community

When I have a minute to browse online, or just need a quick break from what I’m doing, I can easily access my favorite blogs and news sites, and the latest about my hockey team. Or I can quickly check an account balance or pay bills.

Yes, I’m nerdy, and this is what I read for fun when I need a mental break. Just let it go.

Pages that I have bookmarked but don’t want cluttering the mainstays on my toolbar? These I keep in folders in my menu bar.

So, for example, I have a folder for my daughter’s school that includes her classroom wiki, Media Center resources, PTO website, online pay sites for field trips and lunch money, etc.

I still need those sites to be bookmarked, but I don’t want them to clutter my everyday browsing space, and I don’t mind navigating up to my menu bar to get them when I need to.

This strategy has worked fabulously.

And yes, even with this new approach to my browser’s bookmarks, it’s still easy to fall into the Facebook trap, or lose 30 minutes scrolling mindlessly through Instagram.

But the Internet is a big place, so if we’re not consuming content that we think is meaningful, it’s not the Internet’s fault.

Make the Internet and its tools work for you. Personalize your online infrastructure to make your life easier — because you can!

6. Use Paper.li to stay current in a time crunch.

This one is my favorite.

Paper.li is a tool that allows users to curate an online publication with basically no effort at all.

Let’s face it.

Most days, there’s just no way I will ever read all the blogs I like, keep up with all the current events I find important, watch all the interesting videos, flip through that new poignant photography project, and stay abreast of trade rumors in the offseason.

If I have only enough time to glance at one website’s landing page, I want to make sure I’m getting the most out of those brief minutes.

When it comes to all the content that is of unique importance to me, no other publication, blog, or website can possibly curate that content in one place. Because it is, by definition, unique to me.

So the only viable solution I found was to do it myself.

The Paper.li tool creates an online publication by curating content from a list of sources that I define.

After putting in minimal work creating my source list, I ended up with a newspaper that only publishes content I want, and it updates automatically.

The header of my Paper.li publication
It’s a one-stop shop for headlines I’m guaranteed to care about.

Recap

  1. Declare email bankruptcy.
  2. Get a new, personal email address and give it out for almost nothing.
  3. Forward “keepers” to an Evernote account, and delete from your email.
  4. Consider separating that account that gets all the subscription emails into a separate mail client.
  5. Be smart with your bookmarks.
  6. Set up a Paper.li publication for content you care about.