Thursday : 11-06-14

Confession: I’m addicted to Templates.

I’m not sure exactly how far back this goes so bare with me on this tale. I know that I got my first taste of the power I could wield with templates when I took my Microsoft Office User Specialist class in high school. I chose the program as a sophomore in high school because I liked computers a bit and thought I could be a Secretary. I had this weird fascination with watching the inner workings of offices wherever I went and I thought that meant I would make a good secretary. My parents were a little confused with why that was my goal, but were willing to support me any way that they could. Thus, I wound up learning about how businesses use Office 2003 to make their lives easier.

As a gamer, I was always trying to find ways to be more efficient of my time and applied that to homework often. With the knowledge I was picking up about Office, I created templates for the major types of assignments that I would get ( which was pretty limited at that point). Shaving off several minutes getting a template for certain class assignments or for note taking typically added up or made me happy to see what more I could do. I carried this habit through college and to my first Tech Support Jobs.

When I took on the role of Account Coordinator, which was basically a Team Leader, templates became a more central part of what I did. I made many templates because I hated typing things out and it typically ensured responses were accurate and followed procedure. I painstakingly made email templates, call recording templates, report templates, and more. I would spend hours tweaking them and coming up with new templates. There were even times I’d do this off hours staying wayy into Third Shift because I had learned a new technique.

The thrill of sharing them with my co-workers also drove me further in my pursuits. At first, I only shared them with a few people as shortcuts to help them out. After a while my templates became necessities as I found it ensured everyone followed the team procedures which needed to be very strictly adhered to per our customer’s request. I got a sense of joy however, when they were recognized as making someone’s life easier or being exactly what they needed. Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve worked there, I still hear tales of how they use my templates and it brings a sense of pride to me. My legacy will live on in a way.

Now, at my current job, my affair continues even more so. I’ve now branched out from simply just Office Templates and make any kind of form or documentation I can get my hands on. It’s an insatiable quest to perfect and create new templates to increase efficiency. I enjoy learning new software or techniques to improve on my methods. My current goal is to learn some automation software as well to enhance the templates I’ve created.

It’s a weird addiction and I’m still not even sure I get it, but there are certainly worse things. But now it feels good to confess about my weird fascination. Do any of you have any obsessions on par with templates? What drives them and how do you embrace them to be productive or better at your job?

Wednesday : 11-05-14

RE: I don’t know how to be a woman in tech

This is a response to a piece I read the other day several months back that I had a lot to say that a simple Social Media share was not adequate to express the level of feelings and thoughts that I have on this topic.

If you haven’t already done so, please check out Sandi MacPherson’s “I don’t know how to be a woman in tech”. Which is here.

Okay done? Welcome back. This is a topic that, even as she identifies that’s been getting a lot of thought space with recent news. As companies such as Google, VMware and smaller companies are disclosing their numbers of women in technical jobs within their companies. It’s great really to see that these companies are now willing to give people a peek about their numbers and also as a way to have conversations about how we can improve diversity. However, there’s also another side, it’s about how we are trying to have these conversations and how the media is trying to start them.

Everytime someone talks about this topic, the articles go a few familiar paths. We get Woman A who gets quoted in the article with her struggles being a woman in a very male dominated field. How she has been harassed, how she felt being the only girl asking where the ladies room was, etc. Then they zero in on how she grew up, as if putting these events under a microscope are going to provide an “AH, HA!” moment and finally reveal the perfect recipe to get women into STEM careers. If there is more than one woman we focus on, it’s now Woman B’s turn. Woman B either has to be very agreeable to the set of circumstances laid out or disagree entirely and say it’s not all women who live through this treatment. If she agrees, the comments fill with how one sided this all is with these women and their negative experiences. If she disagrees, the comments are now all about why she couldn’t support her fellow woman and how downright awful she is for dismissing other women for simply saying it doesn’t happen to her. There rarely is any middle grown, or other voices heard throughout the article. There’s some statistics sprinkled in for good measure. Then both groups of women are asked about what needs to be changed. I mean they suffered through all of this to be in the field, so clearly they now know what goes through the mind of every woman out there… Right? Yet, no thoughtful conversation is started from these. Our media acts like they moved mountains, but nothing has changed.

Is it because these women just failed and “didn’t know how to be a woman in tech”? Nope. Is it because the media was out to get all the women? Nope. It’s because it’s a complex issue that doesn’t have an easy button to address and it’s an issue that doesn’t exist for just women or just for the tech industry. We could probably be having a very similar conversation about male nurses, women welders, and any other field suffering diversity issues. And it also doesn’t just apply to gender but race too.

Sandi MacPherson feels useless because everytime one of these pieces comes out, it seems to focus in on these women as if they have the road map or insight to fix everything. If we’re always the one looked at, how else are we supposed to feel? I’m sure as women in the field we can share our experiences but all of it is anecdotal and as such there’s only so much to be gained from it.

You know how you fix this? Not knowing how to be a woman in tech.. Scribble that one word out there and become a person in tech. Because we as tech industry are a team. If we want to be a more diverse team then it will take management, recruitment, educational professionals, companies, employees, and consumers all together to make change. Men and Women, techs and non-techs. We need to be better human beings to one another first and foremost and use this to solve the rest of the issues. We need to listen to men and women both and talk more about it. We need to have tech events not cost more than what a college student pays for a credit hour at school so we can hear more of what people have to say. But most importantly none of these things should be the express burden of any woman in the field because it’s not our fault and not what we study. We are amazing technology professionals, let us be good at that. Let HR, psychology, and any other professional involved with identifying trends in industries the ability to study the issue and provide solutions based on their collective expertise.

Women should want to encourage other women to be there. And doing this does not always mean women have to give priority to other women. We should want to invest in startups, but we should never HAVE to just because it’s a woman lead startup. Putting these feelings of inadequacy on women for not doing X to fix this problem isn’t making the tech industry more innovative or more diverse. It will however start to make women feel inadequate, which is creates another problem while failing to resolve the original.

Let’s start making the field awesome regardless of gender while also helping fix the diversity issues. So, regardless of who you are, you want to work for a tech company because it gives your heart joy to walk into work each day. That’s a good starting place and then diversity becomes easier to make possible if everyone’s beating down the doors to work on these jobs.

Sandi MacPherson is a woman in tech, but she’s also a person. I’m glad she’s a fellow lady in the field, but I’m happier she’s another passionate person in the industry who loves what she’s doing. Lets worry about that and worry less about what eggshells we should walk on to fix a diversity issue that we did not cause. We just decided we liked doing this for a living, went to school for it, and worked entry level positions which ate our social lives to get to where we are now. Diversity can be addressed if we start to make women more comfortable in the industry instead of being the center for these discussions.

Wednesday : 07-16-14

Mailbox- Better Than Gmail

I’ve already previously spoken about Mailbox in my trials and tribulations with email.  However, it’s one of my favorite apps on my phone and I wanted to just delve into what makes it so awesome and why you really should be downloading it right now. It’s available for both Android and iPhone but since I’m an Android gal, your mileage in Apple Land could vary.

Mailbox is created by a team which later became part of Dropbox. This is not an email client, well at least not in the traditional sense.  The application’s cleverness is in the way you approach email; the main focus is to keep the inbox empty with emails scheduled for your convenience.  Anything you would want do with an email, is all managed depending on the way you swipe the email.  You can “snooze” an email  later( tomorrow, month, specific date, etc).  All of this can be done from a central inbox where you can manage multiple accounts. This is just the tip of the awesome iceberg that is Mailbox.

About Mailbox
Mailbox on Android
Mailbox on iOS
Additional Screenshots




Inbox of Mailbox App

Mailbox’s Main Screen


When you first open Mailbox, you’re welcomed by your inbox window with your menu available by hitting your menu window and/or swiping it over. Pretty standard functionality, but I think it looks much nicer in comparison to Gmail. My biggest complaint with Gmail is how cumbersome the menu becomes when I have to start scrolling and scrolling to navigate my labels. Mailbox’s Menu can scroll yet, it’s all very minimal leaving only the categories you need at hand and everything else available with just tapping a category.

The top of your Mailbox window is the always available quick buttons which will allow you to go to the menu, list your snoozed/inbox/archived emails, and compose emails.  Depending on your settings in the menu, this will display emails across all of your accounts ( this is how I use Mailbox) or you could be looking at one account at time.

Swiping Emails

The ease of swiping is a HUGE improvement over Gmail’s swiping of emails. One of the things that drove me nuts with Gmail was that after most updates to it, I would find that the default setting for whether the swipe deleted or archived emails would be changed, often causing me to delete emails that really needed to be archived or vice versa. It was difficult at best to know what had been done with your email until after you’d already done it and the message displayed.  Mailbox avoids this, using colors to represent each action and by showing a very friendly color/icon indication of the action being used. You can do the following just from swiping ( Right is archive/delete and Left is Snooze/Add to List):

1)Archive- Just like in Gmail.
2)Delete- Much the same in Gmail, goes to the trash before it’s permanently deleted.
3)Snooze- This takes the email out of your inbox for a specified amount of time, puts it in a snooze list, and later will reappear in the inbox again.
4)Add to List- You start off with  To Buy, To Watch, To Read and can add/delete/edit as needed. Will not Remind you on these ones.

Mailbox can also learn from what emails you delete, which they call Auto-Swipe.  The app will learn what emails you often delete/archive (via the sender or the subject, for example) and then it will prompt you to set an Auto Swipe Rule. For all emails which meet that criteria it will automatically take that action each time it comes into the inbox. This saves me so much time with the majority of the spam that I’ve accidentally picked up and makes it so I don’t necessarily have to unsubscribe entirely.  You can always check how many/what emails have had the auto swipe applied and you can always turn it off or clear out the rules learned right from the Menu.

Snoozing Emails

This functionality is probably the biggest draw for me. Often times, I’ll tell myself I’ll read or handle an email, only to forget I said I would and then it just becomes a resident of my inbox, that never pays it’s fair share of the rent. The snooze functionality gets it out of my email, so I’m only focused on what I need to be and then I’m easily reminded when I want to be of the emails I need to take care of. You can also easily tell what emails have been snoozed and brought back into your inbox by the yellow dot, unlike the blue one new emails get.

While you can swipe the email to set up a snooze, you can also open an email and choose to snooze it from there as well. You can snooze an email for Later Today, Tomorrow Eve, Tomorrow, Next Weekend, Next Week, In a Month, Someday, and a specific date.  Check out that dialog:

Mailbox's Snooze Options: Later Today, Tomorrow Eve, Tomorrow, Next Weekend, Next Week, In a Month, Someday, and Pick A Date.

Snooze Options

Better yet, these snoozes are driven by the Snooze options that you can control in the settings so that you can customize the snoozes to fit when you’re awake and functioning with the world to handle emails. You can always come back and change this at a later time and it’s flexible to what your needs are.  This is probably one of the best features for snooze as someone who was a second shifter for several years.  If you have also worked those shifts you know what your morning is versus others is completely different and the ability to control this in terms of your email is great!

While these emails are now gone from your inbox, they are never far from your view. The snooze list organizes your emails based on their snoozed till date, and you can easily swipe them to either delete them or place them back in your inbox. You can also easily change the emails if you need to snooze them for a later date.


While Snooze gives you a list of documents and provides you a reminder, Lists, are just categories to sort your emails with. They are glorified Gmail labels and require you to use them appropriately. I generally stick to slightly modified versions of the ones that come with Mailbox, as they are straight to the point and with the action verb, I’m more likely to take some sort of action with them. These actually correspond to labels which Mailbox will create for you and they can be accessed when logging into the web version of Gmail. To this end, I generally set up more permanent Gmail labels as sort of a filing cabinet for my emails  and use a Mailbox Label to store emails which need to be sorted. I find this system to work the best for me and keeps me from saving emails that are unnecessary.

So I’ve already told you why the app is awesome, but there are a few flaws which I’d like to point out. None of these flaws really take away from it enough to make it less suitable than using the Gmail app, but it might be something that hopefully the developers will consider in future versions.

Composing Email Functionality is Blah– It’s not bad, but it’s really just ….okay. It’s got the same functionality of every compose email out their on a mobile platform but it brings nothing else to the table. It may be less in fact than offerings such as Touchdown.  I would love to see a bit more functionality added to it like adding a snooze action to it ( if you’re expecting a response from the recipient) or other default action and maybe even some formatting and better attachment options. Really though, for what it is, I’m quite happy with it as I do not write many emails from my phone.

Google or iCloud Accounts only– This one bums me out probably the most. But, it’s more due to complexity of programming/designing Microsoft Exchange Interfaces/APIs  than I believe them purposely leaving other account offerings out. It bums me out the most though because I’d really love to use my work email through Mailbox because then I’d manage all of my email from Mailbox alone. Hopefully, if Mailbox gets popular enough we’ll see an Microsoft Exchange version or better yet other Email Clients implementing Mailbox like functionality.

Unable to Customize Swipe Directions– This one to me isn’t really something that phases me, but something I could see users in general requesting. It would be nice to have the app give you the option of determining which swipe action would do what.  This would probably nice for some users coming from other applications not having to unlearn previous application behaviors and being able to set it up for what works for them.

I really really love this app!  With every day that I use the app, I find more ways for it to change my email managing for the better. It helps me feel less overwhelmed and more successful at being able to maintain my digital life. It feels like it rewards me for keeping a clean inbox and gives me all of the tools necessary for achieving this. My favorite part of my day is getting to see this staring at me:
empty Mailbox
Please let me know what you think about Mailbox in the comments and share any email apps you think that I should check out. I’d love to hear from you and I’m always willing to check out new apps. If there’s something else you’d like me to write about, you can also feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday : 07-15-14

Email: How it Consumed My Soul and How I Took it Back

There are a million and one blogs, articles, and more that try to tell you how to not be consumed by your email and the perfect way to manage it. I find that trying to read all of that information can sometimes be as overwhelming as the overflowing email box I’m trying to address. All of these sources are trying to be helpful, but in the end, if you don’t try any of their suggestions it’s not working for you. So, instead of telling you what you should do, this blog post is going to tell you what I did that helped me overcome this issue and my experiences/struggles with it. I’m not perfect and do still have a hard time somedays, but overall, I’ve found that this works best for me. It’s my hopes that by sharing my experiences maybe I can help someone out.

I would like to start and by sharing that, although most people can get overwhelmed by things such as an overflowing inbox, that I have a disadvantage on top of these normal feelings. Although recently diagnosed, I’ve been dealing with ADD for my entire life. When I get to the point things get overwhelming I usually tune out and disappear. Which as we all know, certainly doesn’t help fix the situation. This in of itself has lead to some of the more difficult points I’ve had with addressing this issue.

How Email Began to Consume My Soul
Back in college, I used to have at least 4 or five email addresses, most of them barely received five emails a day ( not counting spam) and rarely did I have to check my email everyday. Of course, at that time I did. Most of them for fun projects, online gaming, college, “work”, or something else. I loved refreshing and constantly checking, and got  a rush from feeling important. As I moved into working for Help Desks, started pursuing my career, signing up for online accounts and managing self-made projects, checking email became less and less fun. It reminded me of how when you were little you loved getting mail because it was usually a card or a present and now when we see there’s mail we know it’s a bill or something else less fun.

On top of my job usually requiring I manage a personal email and the team’s email; checking my own email box was given less and less of a priority. I would get to the point that even managing my personal and professional email addresses was just too much. I’d sort things into folders, which were supposed to save me from this situation, and ultimately would get forgotten about. Important things were missed, unimportant emails would get a better priority and all the email did was hide in the folders. None of this was working.

It took several years before I finally got to a point, where I just couldn’t handle this anymore.  On top of going through some financial stress, I snapped when I missed an important email from a bill. It happened because I’d spent so much time fishing through subscribed emails that I got too overwhelmed to continue to find what I needed. I also wouldn’t respond back in a decent amount of time and I was frightened that this would eventually effect my new job as the frustration spilled over.

What Didn’t Work
My email avoidance was making matters worse for me financially and professionally. Being overwhelmed and not finding the best system to keep it from getting out of control was ultimately creating most of the headaches. Trying to stick to solutions was difficult and at best, I wasn’t consistent and at worst I never implemented them. Reading through all manners of How-To’s, also didn’t work.  I would spend hours saving articles and finding endless suggestions, and less time actually using these suggestions. I had to start with evaluating everything I was currently doing and understand why it was that it made things worse and not better.

Seriously, Folders sound like they will organize everything but all that happened is emails got lost, and forgotten about. “I’ll do this later,” turned into a series of emails forever lost to the abyss of a poorly designed folder structure, never to be seen again.The biggest issue with Folders is that they are nice to hide things away but there is almost no accountability on their usage alone within an email client. You could set a million reminders within something like Outlook or your favorite Calendar app, but none of that is easily done, requires commitment to sticking with it, and you’re hoping that you’ll do the thing you said you would do.

-Outlook/ Desktop Email Clients-
I already use an email client (Outlook) at work, and quite honestly, they aren’t things I enjoy using. For starters, they’re optimal on your desktop computer. I didn’t make time to login to GMail on a desktop before, what are the chances that I’m actually going to do this for use with an e-mail client? Answer: I won’t. Trying to go against your natural habits  is counter-productive, and so this method did not help. It required configuration and planning that I already knew I wouldn’t take the time to do.

-GMail’s Tabbed Email-
When this first  came out, I was excited to jump on in and try it. It sounded like it could be the answer to my email problems and I’d finally take control of the digital clutter.  Here was something that would automatically sort  based upon senders/subjects and I wouldn’t have to look at all of my email at once. In theory, I would have less to look at, but the lack of being able to customize the tabs and the awkward accessibility on the phone were not practical for everyday use.  I often found that I would forget which tab I placed an email, so I wouldn’t forget about it entirely or hold on to unnecessary emails.  Some of the emails from the same sender would get put into the wrong tab and I’d never realized I’d gotten responses on things. Ultimately, this created more feelings of being overwhelmed and did little to help my predicament.

What Worked/Has Been Working

-Reduced Email Accounts-
Seriously, who really needs 4 email accounts? I’m pretty sure there are the rare individual who’s handling a lot more than I am on a regular basis, but I feel those people are probably used to the chaos and have better systems anyway.  I really only need a personal email address and a professional one. I could probably get away with one, but I’ve had the personal email address since I was in middle school and GMail was in beta, so I’m pretty attached to the account. I of course have a work email address, but that’s for work purposes only and I can’t combine that with my professional account. But I try to keep both worlds separate and that helps me out dramatically.

Whenever I sign up for online accounts or provide an email, I think very hard on the content I’ll be receiving and to which email address it’s best suited for. This way, if I’m short on time one day, I know that as long as I check my professional email that day, that I should be okay.

I’d say a large chunk of my emails were blogs updates I was subscribed to and email lists. So essentially, the largest part of why I was feeling overwhelmed were emails that I had signed up to receive but had no time to actually read or enjoy.  I began to carefully consider each email as it arrived and thought about when the last time I’d read them and whether I actually paid attention to them.  This helped me think about what I actually needed versus the unnecessary and I began unsubscribing. I don’t do it all at once because it’s just too hard and I’ll never remember anything. This is the most flexible for me to personal review each thing to make sure I don’t need it.  ( which BTW, I don’t)

I also hold myself accountable for the email I do sign up for. I make sure to carefully read any website I make an account for to unchecked the subscribe button. If I’m making the account, chances are I don’t really need an email to tell me something, I could just access the site for the information. Most of the time, there is no coupon that is that amazing that I have to sign up for those emails. If they are, I make sure to unsubscribe afterwards.

Because I started doing this, I am no longer wasting my time with swiping a ton of emails to the trash.  Speaking of that time, I had discovered that before making these changes I had been wasting at least 30 minutes over the course of a day and more on busier email days. That’s at least a whole lunch break at work or a workout devoted to deleting emails!  In over a month and a half of implementing this, I’ve seen the huge decrease in the amount of emails I receive during the day and increase in time to do many other things.

-Make time to Prioritize-
I now have a specific window of time where I manage my email by prioritizing and reading/responding. I try to do this daily for my professional email and every other day for my personal email account unless otherwise needed. In the beginning, as I had so many emails piled up I needed a half hour or hour to do this, which seems like a lot. The payoff is that now it only takes five to ten minutes a day, if that really. The more you keep up with it, the less you’ll have to actually manage.

I start by finding email from any important senders ( family, bank, etc) and then these become Priority 1.  These ones must be dealt with today and I do not allow myself to respond or read any other mail beyond these until they’re all responded to. All other emails go into the other category to be prioritized after these are completed.

Once my Priority 1’s are done, I move on to organizing everything else. I quickly delete unnecessary emails and unsubscribing to those I don’t need. With that done, I’m guaranteed more time in the future and by not putting it off till another time, I know it’s done.  I prioritize everything else appropriate to the necessary response time. I mark in my calendar any event related events and make to do lists appropriate to any of the emails I’ve received. ( i.e. Sale on an item that’s already on the shopping list).

-Do the Things You Said You Would-
Once you decide something is important and you should do it, now it’s time to do it! If I say I’m going to address an email or set of emails over this weekend, I need to make sure that I stick to what I’ve planned. I schedule specific time during the week and weekend so that I always have the ability to manage these things. By putting it on the Calendar, I know I mean it and will stick to it.

To succeed at this,  I’ve been using a mail app that not only helps me manage multiple accounts and feel less cluttered with emails, but it also gives me reminders on following up with emails.  Mailbox, is an app available for Apple and Android to manage email made in part by some of the same team which created Dropbox. The thing that I love the most is the simple controls for managing emails ( archiving and deleting for instance are manage by long and short swipes) and how easily integrated lists and reminders are to the product.  This easily helps me set reminders of when I want to deal with emails and to make sure I actually do follow through. It will keep putting the email back into your inbox with a yellow indicator that’s hard to miss but not super annoying to the point where it gets ignored. I plan on doing a review post of Mailbox to further give you an idea of how I use it in the future, so look for it soon!

-Delete Emails-
Seriously, I don’t archive anything that’s not super duper important. Most of the time I saved these emails, where I could better document the information outside of email. Then later, when trying to find something where I did need to archive or document, I cannot locate it.

Email is meant to inform you of something, not to be a permanent storage. I suppose you could use it like that if its your personal preference, but I often find that my using it like that only causes me to hoard emails like some people hoard antiques.  I make it a regular habit to bookmark specific websites, add specific tasks to my to do lists, or even write down information in my various notebooks. Once documented elsewhere, I delete the email. This one I have the hardest time because this habit is one  I’ve been doing the longest, but I’m finding as time goes on I’m getting better at it.  It makes me feel better at the end of the day because I’m not holding on to everything.

Ultimately, I do not have it all figured out. There are times where my email stacks up again and I get those familiar pangs of worry or I CANNOT HANDLE THIS EMAIL. Guess what, no matter how awesome I get at this whole thing, I know I’m destined to go through this again. What I do find, is that I now have a way to keep it in control and to be able to handle it. No longer am I the victim with no way of being able to address it. So this often gets me past these feelings and keeps me going.  The other thing that helps is actually having a few days during the week when my email is empty. It’s not an every week occurrence but it’s more than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime before.  I’ll take it.  Now that I’ve shown myself how I can do it for my personal and professional emails, my goal is try to find a better way of managing my Work email as well. I haven’t quite found a system that works as well because I unfortunately have to use Outlook at work, but I’m sure I’ll get something that works better.

Please share any experiences you’ve had with either fighting the email pile or vanquishing the evil foe! If you have any suggestions for work email with Outlook you’d like to share I’d love to hear from you!

If you have any questions about my strategies, I’d be happy to clarify and show you as well.

Friday : 06-20-14

Why are Women Apologizing

This is a really interesting topic and I’d love to see this get discussed more. I’m in the apologize too much camp and it’s because I’ve always felt bad about things before anyone’s told me that I should. I get exhausted sometimes with how I get kicked around for being over sensitive. I’ve also seen where being more aggressive is favorited too and hated at others. It’s really not an easy road to walk and can cause a lot of conflicts professionally and socially.

My thoughts: Just be you and be the best you you can. You will not always communicate everything the way others would like and you may come off as pushy, but if it’s something you’re passionate about.. Find a way to talk about it and be less afraid of the what if’s.