01 Jun

5 Rules to Maintain Balance Between Your Personal and Professional Identities

How do teachers get past the challenges of their early classroom years? What accounts for whether or not a teacher remains in the profession beyond the first several years? Is it mentoring, knowledge, skills, or ability? 

Perhaps these do play a role, but what if it’s something more?elephant

While teachers remain in, and leave, the profession for a variety of reasons in the early years of their career, ultimately balancing the professional and personal identities that all educators must juggle is key to success throughout the career continuum.

After the Michigan New Teacher Conference, we started to reflect on what it was that helped us to remain in the teaching profession beyond the five-year mark. A sound piece of wisdom we received early on was to ‘be present in all that you do.’ This helped us to identify five main areas of our lives that needed equal attention.

We consider these five areas of life the ‘pillars’ that hold us up in life. Keeping each pillar strong and supportive is essential to success. The five pillars of balance for us were: physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual.

Having an equitable dedication to developing and strengthening each of these aspects of life helped us to be balanced individuals and successful professionals. New teachers and pre-service teachers can benefit from developing personal balance early on in their careers, but doing a check-in on your personal-professional balance at any point in your teaching tenure can be of benefit.

We wish we knew earlier on what we know now about balance. This has led us to try and enumerate the ways in which we have found success in achieving and maintaining balance. Now, we offer the following ideas for consideration to our fellow educators, especially those who are in the early part of their careers, as a way to guide you to the balanced and in-the-present life.


Five Pillars of Life Balance In the teaching profession, your main focus should be students; however, you must take care of yourself before all else. If you are out of balance in your life, your teaching will be out of balance. If any one of these five pillars is out of synchronicity with the others, you will feel out of balance in your career and life.

Consider these tips that we’ve picked up over the years to help us strengthen and maintain each of the five pillars of personal-professional life:

PHYSICAL: You can’t be at your best unless you’re feeling your best

  • Eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day
  • Drink plenty of water and limit the caffeine
  • Watch your sugar intake (both sweets and processed carbohydrates)
  • Bring your own food to work to control how and when you eat
  • Get plenty of sleep (4 hours is not plenty…talking to you midnight-oil-burning paper-graders!)
  • Keep your recreation in check – don’t go heavy on pub catharsis; do go heavy on fitness
  • Manage stress by tracking your moods vs. your foods
  • Plan meals (and pack your lunch) ahead of time – the night before, or even meal prep on Sundays for the week

INTELLECTUAL: “Learn like you’ll live forever.” ~Ghandi

  • Don’t forget the education and training that you’ve received; and, don’t let learning stop there
  • Join professional networks and associations in your discipline
  • Read for fun and to learn more about what’s current in your discipline
  • Engage in scholarly work, meaningful projects, and share ideas with others

SOCIAL: Learning is a social endeavor; make sure to practice

  • Maximize positive relationships and minimize the toxic ones
  • Keep in touch with old friends and strive to make new ones
  • Associate with people in and outside of your career field
  • Attend events in your community and at your school
  • Make time for socializing, e.g., date night, bowling leagues, Saturdays at Jeff’s to watch the game, etc.

EMOTIONAL: Being self-aware helps you empathize with those who need it most.

  • Don’t let anyone stomp on your heart, especially your students
  • Keep empathy close and apathy far away
  • Notice your own thought patterns
  • Beware the “psychic vampires” of teaching, and carry plenty of ‘garlic
  • Keep your work and personal life matters separate as much as possible

SPIRITUAL: It’s not about religion, but it is about mindfulness

  • Feed your spirit, find your purpose, and support others in doing the same
  • Find what works for you, whether meditation, yoga, or prayer and actively keep this up in your life – it fuels emotional health
  • No matter what you believe, keep in mind that we all coexist together and essentially are the same
  • Practicing mindfulness helps center you, bring you into the present, and help you feel more connected to the world around you
  • Stop and smell the roses, gaze at the stars, and notice new things around you every day
Though we cannot tell anyone how to live their life, we do get asked frequently what are some “secrets” to the success we have seen in our careers here at the SAGA Educators Network. For us, there are not any secrets. Achieving balance in your professional career as a teacher and, more importantly, in your life as a friend, spouse, parent, family member, and more, is a foremost obligation you owe to yourself and others.
Hopefully, these quips of wisdom will mean something to you in some way. If you have others, feel free to get in touch with us and let us know your tips to achieving professional-personal balance as an educator.
31 May

Why Your School Needs a Stuffed Penguin

How often do others get to witness the great things that happen in your classroom, school, or district? Well, of course, the students see it regularly, but how about the adults?

Likely, it’s not that often. This could be for a variety of reasons, but often we in education are not able to share the great things that we are doing, because we are so busy doing them! Recognition can even seem sporadic, at best, but we don’t enter this profession to be thanked or recognized; rather, we enter the field of education as a calling to serve others. So many educators all over the world are doing amazing things in their classrooms, but some of it is going unnoticed.

Here’s a simple project that can have profound and lasting changes on the culture of a classroom, school, district, or educational organization. It’s called ‘Operation Fred’ and it is incredible!

IcebergOperation Fred is a project to recognize educators for the great things happening in classrooms and schools everywhere. It is inspired by Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter, a story of effecting successful change in any environmental challenge. After reading the book and thinking about its implications for schools, you’ll likely agree that all educators should know the story of Fred the penguin.

Fred is the main character in John Kotter’s fable about the actionable steps necessary to effect and lead change in the face of adversity. Fred succeeded in effecting change through his own and others’ actions, and all of those actions represent the actions we in education are doing on a daily basis. From the classroom to larger level, educators can learn a lot from this tenacious penguin.

We live in a changing environment of education, where the complexities facing classrooms and schools are ever increasing. While it can sometimes feel like our individual actions as educators don’t make any impact, it is important to realize that we collectively influence significant success for students everywhere.

IcebergOperation Fred is a project that helps to communicate that message to all educators to encourage everyone to reflect on the great things that are already happening and perhaps facilitate necessary change in areas where things could be even better. Effecting change in education occurs best through educators acknowledging their strengths, sharing success, and collaborating around what works in education. Entire organizations are dedicated to making this happen, such as ours, but we often neglect the resource of our own classrooms and schools to acknowledge and share success.

So what’s the first step in leading change?

You’ll have to read the book to find out, but what we can tell you is that leading change involves acknowledging the inspirations for change that exist in our organizations. That’s where Operation Fred comes in. This school culture project is an ongoing, regularly-occurring, approach to identifying and recognizing the great things that are happening in schools and the people who are doing them.

By taking on Operation Fred, you’ll crowd-source the points of pride for your school, recognize well-deserving staff, and learn new great ideas from colleagues.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A copy of Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter
  2. stuffed penguin
  3. A copy of Fred the Penguin’s open letter to educators (or your own variation of it)

Here’s how the project works:

  • Obtain the items you’ll need for the project
  • Deliver the items to a deserving educator in your school, but attempt to do this in a top-secret manner
  • Let the penguin do the rest!

You can customize Fred’s letter to fit your school or organization. To capture Fred’s adventures, much like a Flat Stanley project, you might consider asking recipients of Fred to send a postcard along with Fred to his next destination, setting up a moderated email-to-post blog where educators can share their experiences with Fred during their visit, post pictures or video of what Fred get’s to see while he visits classrooms, or Fred can have an online journal to inspire other educators. Alternatively, if doing this project secretively isn’t possible, the exchange of Fred the Penguin can be done at a staff meeting and report-outs from those who got to host Fred can be shared at subsequent staff meetings.

It’s an easy-to-implement way to recognize the great things educators are doing in your schools and to help facilitate the sharing of those stories among colleagues. You can customize the concept of Operation Fred in any way you want to fit your school!

If all goes well, Fred the penguin will make his rounds to many classrooms or buildings to witness many great things. Fred’s visit should encourage us as educators to focus on our strengths–the things that we are doing in our classrooms that are great–and share them.

Others will then come to know more of the great things happening in your school. Many educators will read come to know Fred’s story and be inspired as to how their actions can have a significant impact in their schools and the greater education community.

You can download a PDF of Fred’s letter here to distribute with a copy of the book and a stuffed penguin to an educator near you! You can purchase a copy of the book at the author’s site.

ImageFred the Penguin by Peter Mueller, courtesy of Kotter International

31 May

Avoid Summer Learning Slide in Just 10 Minutes Per Week

This summer, how will you prevent summer slide from impacting you as an educator?

icon_512As the temperature rises in the U.S., often learning cools off. For students who have a traditional summer recess from school, this impact on academics is known as the ‘summer slide,’ but did you know it affects educators too?

Teachers who disengage completely from professional learning throughout the summer might also find themselves experiencing a degree of slide when they return in the fall.

While it’s critically important to get ‘off the grid’ so-to-speak, and recharge the batteries by engaging in non-career activities, it’s just as important to fuel your continued learning during the summer and power up your idea toolkit for the start of the next school year.

Don’t worry, though. You are covered…and, in only 10 minutes a week! Last month, a new radio program launched, which will serve as a source of easily-consumable and quickly-accessible professional learning, for educators throughout the summer and beyond! It’s a new radio show co-hosted by our very own Gary Abud with another inspiring educator Steve Perkins, a Latin teacher from Indiana, and the 2014 Indiana Teacher of the Year.

What’s the show, you ask?

Teachers of the Year Radio: 10-Minute Conversations With the Nation’s Top Educators

Also referred to fondly by its network call name, WTOY, Teachers of the Year Radio is a weekly radio program for educators, which serves as a source of high-quality professional development for teachers everywhere: for teachers, by teachers.

Summer (1)Want to keep current, get inspired, and gain some great new ideas for your professional practice? Of course you do! But what if you wanted the learning to come to you? Then plan to commit just 10 minutes per week, subscribe to the show, and get actionable strategies to advance your learning and impact your professional practice.

One word that describes every teacher today is “busy.” All teachers want to advance their craft, but don’t always have the opportunity or time to do so. They need access to tried-and-true resources and ideas for their teaching that don’t take lots of time away from their practice.

That’s why WTOY Radio is bringing some of the best ideas in education from around the country to you in 10 minutes or less.

About the Program

Teachers of the Year Radio: Ten Minute Conversations With the Nation’s Top Educators is a weekly education talk radio program on the BAM! Radio Network that seeks to bring together people with ideas in order to better serve education across the nation.

The program taps into the expertise of nationally-recognized teacher leaders from across the U.S. and its territories to inform listeners about the latest and greatest in teaching, leading, and learning from around the country. Each week you will find a new episode where one of the State Teachers of the Year shares ideas and practices that will inform and inspire you to think differently about education. But what’s more is that every episode will give you actionable strategies for mobilizing the ideas you hear right away.

You’ll hear from teachers across the P-20 spectrum and from all regions of the U.S. From authentic assessment to competency-based education, this program will not only keep you up-to-speed on what’s happening around the country, but empower you with new ideas that you can use in your career.

Subscribe. Listen. Share.

  • Listen online BAM! Radio Network is the producer of Teachers of the Year Radio, and as such they make the program freely available for listening on the go. BAM! is “the largest education radio network in the world, offering programming from the nation’s top education organizations and thought leaders and reaching a wide audience of people passionately committed to quality education.” You can subscribe and listen to the program on the Teachers of the Year Radio educator channel on BAM! Radio Network.
  • Subscribe via iTunes Each episode of Teachers of the Year Radio is also available to for free on iTunes. Subscribe to the show to get each episode delivered right to you every week. Listen to the program on your favorite device and enjoy quality professional learning anywhere and any time!
  • Follow on Twitter Follow Teachers of the Year Radio on Twitter and stay up to date on upcoming episodes, as well as the topics and resources shared by our guests.
  • Read up on the blog The Teachers of the Year Radio blog posts a synopsis of each weekly episode along with links to listen, subscribe, and share. You can add the blog to your RSS feed to keep up with the program and weekly topics.

So tell your colleagues and friends about the show, follow it on Twitter, and get ready to tune in for the best ten minutes of your week! It’s the easiest way to keep your professional learning hot throughout the summer and school year.

01 May

Reflect on the School Year With Students Using Paint Swatches

Paint-SwatchesFrom field trips and field days in some places to state-level or Advanced Placement (AP) testing in others, May is a time for us to culminate the school year and reflect on what we learned.

It’s springtime, and that means another school year is coming to a close. For some, the time flew by while for others the wrap-up couldn’t come soon enough. What did you learn? What were the best parts? What challenges did you face, and how did you respond to them?

Whether this was the best year ever, just an okay one, or a school year that challenged you in ways you couldn’t imagine, reflecting on what took places is key to moving forward and improving as educators. Come to think of it, it’s not just important for educators to reflect, it can be quite valuable for students to look back on all that happened as well.

paint swatch 2With so many different ways and opportunities to reflect, what can give you the best feedback as an educator and also help students celebrate what was memorable about the school year? Chances are, you reflect regularly throughout the year on how things are going, but In addition to the quiet internal conversations or journaling you might do, engaging students in an open discussion about the school year can benefit everyone and provide you key ideas to inform your preparations for the next year.

That’s why we recommend the paint swatch feedback loop. It’s fun, easy, organized, and generates great conversations! As a bonus, it provides an artifact for teachers to use student feedback to develop action steps going forward.

Here’s how it works:

Get some four-color paint swatches from your local painting supply store. The samples are free from the paint companies, but it can feel funny grabbing enough for all your students; so, if you let them know you’re a teacher using them for class, they typically won’t call security on you when you take several of each color!

Distribute the paint swatches to students, either randomly, or let them choose their own colors. Provide your students with a template (modeled after the one below) for reflecting on the school year. As they look back on class, It asks them to write a little about four different aspects of what they recall:

  • Oooh! – something that was interesting or stood out to them about class
  • Aaah! – something that cemented in their understanding about the class
  • Hmmm… – something that left them thinking or sparked a lingering curiosity
  • Huh? – a question that remains for them or something they are still wondering

Paint Swatch Reflection

Note: You can choose to focus this on the content of your class, the way your class was organized or run, or some combination of process and content.

After students write down their ideas, have them form groups with other students whose swatches are in the same color family, e.g., all the reddish swatches together, and discuss their responses. Bring the activity home with a whole class discussion that summarizes some of the most stand-out comments that arose during the activity. You can collect the swatches (anonymously created, of course) to review more thoroughly on your own later to inform your own further reflection on the year.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the things that students notice about your class and the conversation that stems from this activity. We all want to reflect, and this is a great way to close the school year and help everyone look back in a productive manner on class.

01 May

Get to the Root Cause of an Issue With The 5 Why Method


Have you ever been totally stumped by a persistent problem or issue that you couldn’t resolve? Besides overcoming the fixed mindset that it will never be solved, getting at the heart of the matter is critical to moving past these kinds of barriers in our work and lives.

Think, think, and think some more. When an issue presents itself in the form of an immediate or persistent problem, you might feel compelled to ask “why is this happening?” But how often do you get an answer to that question? Sometimes, the “why” question doesn’t produce results for solving problems. It can leave us periled with uncertainty and frustration.

A single why question is often insufficient for solving big problems, especially those that take place within systems or organizations. However, when at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Or, in this case, “why” and “why” again.

Why Logo White copy

That’s right, if the answer to your first “why” question didn’t produce results, it’s likely because it hasn’t reached a sufficient enough level of depth to find a root cause, or at least an underlying situation that will leverage a solution to the problem.

Here’s where the Six Sigma Method of Asking 5 Why Questions can come to the rescue:

Once you reach an answer to your first “why” question, or at least some speculation at an answer, you then ask “why” that answer is the case. The resulting second “why” question should get its own answer, which digs deeper into the underlying cause behind the surface-level problem. That answer, in turn, gets questioned with “why is this the case?” and subsequently answered. This problem-solving method continues until you get to five why questions asked and five resulting responses to them.

At the fifth level, you might just find the underlying cause of the main issue at hand. And, if this cause is something within your control, you target addressing that cause in order to effect change with the initial problem.

"WHY" 3D text surrounded by question marks. Part of a series.It kind of reminds you of the idea of six degrees of separation. You know, the notion that everyone in the world is connected somehow about six relationships away? The 5 Why approach gets at the relational connection between issues and their causes to about the fifth degree. Some issues don’t go all the way to the fifth why before the root cause is identified, and some land on an underlying issue that is out of the sphere of control of the questioner. In either case, you can always scour through all of your “whys” in order to find something that’s within your control to address.

Okay, you’d probably like a better example now. So, here goes:

Brittney, an adolescent female, is passing tests in class but failing U.S. History as a grade 7 student. They want to know how to fix the situation, so they ask this question: “Why is Brittney failing?” Thus begins the 5 Why process.

  • Why is Brittney failing U.S. History as a grade 7 student?
    • Because Brittney’s course grade is a 52%
  • Why is Brittney’s course grade a 52%?
    • Because Brittney has passed some tests, but has done no homework all year.
  • Why has Brittney passed some tests, but done no homework all year?
    • Because Brittney engages in classroom learning activities, but prioritizes other outside-school activities over doing her U.S. History homework
  • Why does Brittney engage in learning in class, but prioritize other activities over homework?
    • Because Brittney doesn’t see the value in doing homework assignments when she already understands the content
  • Why doesn’t Brittney see the value in doing homework assignments when she already understands the content?
    • Because she disagrees with the class policy that every student has to do homework, which has strong weight in the course grade, whether they need the extra practice or not

The conclusion of this example is that Brittney is failing the class because she disagrees with a class policy about homework. So, the intervention that might help Brittney here is outside of Brittney’s control and has everything to do with examining the class homework and grading policies. That is something in the sphere of control of the teacher and or school. Now, addressing that root cause can help resolve the issue identified with Brittney, and perhaps other students as well.

So, where will you apply the 5 Why Method to solving issues or problems in your work?

01 May

How to Tame Your Apple TV

image003Apple TV is an amazing (and inexpensive) little device, used in many classrooms and homes, which lets you access content from a variety of web sources and display the mirror image of your iOS device (called “mirroring”) screen wirelessly using AirPlay to your display. But sometimes there can be too much content, and that can distract from the main goal.

IMG_1281Are you using an Apple TV in your classroom to stream online multimedia content or mirror your classroom’s mobile devices? If so, then chances are you already know how much great content is available using your Apple TV to stream right in your classroom. You probably have also noticed that there is some content available on Apple TV that isn’t age-appropriate and can be downright distracting.

But did you know that you can control what content and apps appear on the main menu of your Apple TV when you turn it on?

image108Regardless of whether you’re streaming content or mirroring your iPad to the screen, when the Apple TV starts up in a classroom you don’t know what content (from the iTunes Store) will appear.
To help you have more control over what apps and content appear on your Apple TV home screen menu, a couple of handy settings, including Restrictions, will allow you to limit the movies, TV shows, music, and apps that show up when your Apple TV is on in the classroom. That way, you can focus on the content you’re teaching and activities you want to with your students without having to worry about distractions or age-inappropriate content appearing.
This short video tutorial, SAGA Educators own Gary Abud** will show you exactly how to enable restrictions, restrict content, and hide apps on your Apple TV:
Once you’ve customized your Apple TV, you’ll breathe easier when you call up its home screen each day, because you won’t have to worry about the movie covers of films like Frozen catching students’ eyes and derailing their attention as they all simultaneously begin singing Let It Go.
**Our very own Gary Abud has been nominated for a Bammy Award for his teaching and leadership activity around the country teaching kids and adults! We’re very of this proud nomination by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and wish him the best in the selection process! If you’d like to provide a review of Gary’s work or vote, you can do that here.
06 Apr

Five Inspiring Thoughts to Spark Your Self Efficacy


This month, my personal leadership inspiration comes to from Don Miguel Ruiz and his book The Fifth Agreement. In this “practical guide to self mastery,” Ruiz offers an essential list of five agreements we should have with ourselves to help improve how we operate in our work, love, and play.

The Five Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.
  5. Be skeptical, but learn to listen.

Ruiz speaks some truths here that might seem familiar. In reflecting on what these mean for you in your own personal and professional identities, you might find that while these five agreements appear to be common sense, they are not always common practice.

This month, challenge yourself to put these agreements on your desk, up on the wall, or in your view somehow so that you can reflect on them, use them, and grow because of them.

02 Apr

How to Make Your Bellringers Slightly More EPIC This Spring

Anyone Can DJ
Interesting photo, eh? We think so too. What do you think is happening in it? 
If you want to mix it up this spring with your bellringers, then you’ve got to leverage the EPIC (experiential, participatory, image-rich, connected) teaching power of photos and give the New York Times’ What’s Going on in This Picture? a try!
Here’s how it works: Each Friday, the NYT posts a news photo in their series, and then the following Tuesday reveals more information about the image. After you’ve selected an image from their weekly archives, display the image for students to see. Then, ask them to think-pair-share on the prompts below:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?
Next, dovetail into a whole-class discussion about the responses. Finally, push the class to back their claim up with evidence and reasoning. If your students have a writing journal, they can do some jotting along with this activity.
Click here to see all the images in the series. There are enough images to use this bellringer as often as you want!
01 Apr

How to Achieve a #InboxZero With These Four Steps

A special report by Gary Abud, Jr.

How do you feel when your inbox is overflowing, cluttered, or overwhelming? Stressful, isn’t it? When things are cluttered or piled in your physical life, it can stifle productivity and create barriers for you to be at your best. Email is no different. The Inbox Zero philosophy can be a major step to improving that in your digital life.

image3Last month was MACUL 2015, the biggest educational technology conference in Michigan. One the first day of the conference, I was on the bus with some other educators heading over to the opening ceremonies. Within five minutes of being on the bus, I struck up a conversation with an educator from west Michigan who was telling me about his presentation at the conference on email productivity.

I was intrigued and asked for more. In a matter of moments, another educator from the same area of the state sat down by us and joined the conversation. They both were evangelizing “Inbox Zero” and all these productivity tools and techniques to help achieve it. Being mostly unfamiliar, I requested the biggest idea of the topic, and that’s when everything changed.

“Archive everything.”

Our conversation progressed on the short transit to the conference from the parking deck and I learned so much about Inbox Zero before even entering the conference, that I had to put it to use immediately. I did just that, and my inbox hasn’t been the same ever since. I’ve shared it with some others and now, I’d like to pass on what I learned to you.

Shall we?

What’s Inbox Zero?
In “real life,” some people are pilers. Mail, bills, and documents pile up and get pushed to the side as an ever-present reminder of things that need attention. Waiting patiently for “that day” where there will be enough time to go through the pile and process everything seems to never workout the way it should. Funny, huh? Well, in digital life those same habits result in cluttered inboxes with ignored messages, disorganized file folders, and bookmark lists that are never-ending.

image11This month, we are tackling the email monster that can consume educators’ lives with a philosophy and practice known as “Inbox Zero.” The philosophy is to always end the day with nothing left in your email inbox. This doesn’t mean you simply ignore your inbox as a rule or delete everything, but rather you commit to process every message in some way as it comes in before the day closes.

There are many different great apps to help you manage email on the go, including Microsoft’s new, including Microsoft’s new Outlook app. And all of these are great to manage email, but getting to a point where you can manage means first digging out of the email pit, if you’re in one. That’s where Inbox Zero is really helpful.

You can find a variety of approaches out there, including this one from LifeHacker, but we’ll get you the Cliffs Notes of what we found to work well. The first principle of achieving Inbox Zero is the mindset shift from hoard-and-protect your messages to hoard-and-protect your sanity!

image6Step 1: Empty your inbox!
No, seriously. Empty. Your. Inbox.

The easiest way we found to do this was to move every message that’s currently in your inbox into your email archive. With the robust searching features of email nowadays, you can easily find a message you need later anyway. And it’s likely that, if you can’t remember enough about it to search it, then it wasn’t that important maybe. If the thought of doing this brings your blood pressure up, then, like we did, you might want to give the first page or two of your most recent emails a quick scan for anything crucial that could require special processing into email folders. The folks at MooMooMath explain folders for this purpose well here.

Step 2: Create processing routines.
Once things are out of your digital way and your previously cluttered inbox content has been archived, you can start dealing with messages as they come in. It’s like spring cleaning your house. Get the piles out of your main living space and into your closets, storage boxes, or other out-of-sight place. Now, focus on how you will process the messages as they start to come in. You’ll want to have some parameters for yourself, and set limits that are attainable for you. We like these:

  1. If you can respond in under 2 minutes (and you have those 2 minutes,) respond now. Next, archive it. If the recipient responds back, it’ll return to your inbox anyway.
  2. Delete, unsubscribe, or archive “junk” email. Some email is totally junk that you’ll never use, so why keep getting it? Take the 90 seconds and unsubscribe. Or, use a free service like Unroll Me to do the dirty work for you en masse. For the pseudo-junk that you’d like to still get and use every so often, either create a new folder (or filter rule, courtesy of Vicki Davis.)
  3. If the email is a “need to know” (f.k.a. “memo”) then read and archive it.
  4. If the message requires more than 2 minutes of attention, then schedule it to come back to your inbox (using one of the apps linked above) at a time where you can dig in more.

Step 3: Make a game out of it.
image15Challenge yourself each day to clear the inbox using your processing routines. You can block off a chunk of time for yourself to do this, like you would schedule exercise or TV time. Limit yourself to 10-15 minutes max, and stick with it. While you’ll tackle email in an ongoing fashion, this set time will be your failsafe to get to Inbox Zero each day. There’s even a handy email game, which times you, to accomplish this.

Once you achieve your first day or so of Inbox Zero, you’ll probably question the legitimacy of the silence. You’ll think you’ve missed a message, that someone is trying to contact you and you’ve prevented them from doing so, or even reflect on whether people still care about you. All of these feelings are completely natural and will go away after a short time. Breaking any habit requires time and replacement of the dopamine-inducing rush created by the habit with something else. So, try doing something else you love with your new found freedom and inbox-liberated time. Go for a walk, play with the kids, get a coffee, or just meditate on how awesome you are for achieving Inbox Zero!

image16After a while, the practice of executing the Inbox Zero will feel like a game that’s well worth winning, and that winning will create the dopamine-induced feeling of reward that begins to drive you to make yourself more email productive. Others will find out you have accomplished the unachievable and beg you to share your secrets.

Step 4: Make it your own.

These steps and ideas listed here are a framework for achieving Inbox Zero that I’ve found successful along with others with whom I work. You’ll ultimately want to make your own process for this, but these steps are a great place to start.

So go forward to the promise land of Inbox Zero. Be proud of arriving there once you reach the destination, but then don’t forget to pay it forward by sharing your techniques with others!