Archive for the ‘Organization’ Category

Strategies for Managing Your E-mail

I know I’m not the first person to say this, but e-mail has gotten out of hand for a lot of us. E-mail is here to stay, and it’s not going away anytime soon. It can be great, but it can be annoying. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by it, since a lot of people get too much of it too quickly. There are many people who get hundreds of real e-mail messages a day, not counting spam or junk mail.

So what to do about this onslaught of mail? Well, the number one key is to empty the Inbox as often as possible, dealing with everything appropriately. Avoid leaving loose ends. Don’t leave anything in your inbox that you’ve already touched — you only want to touch it once. That will make you efficient, productive, and confident. It can be a little scary at first, but it’s well worth it.

Several Strategies to Choose From

There are a number of strategies available, depending on your style of working. You might be an organizer with an elaborate system of folders within folders, or you might be a searcher with everything all in one big searchable folder. Here are some of the strategies I’ve come across.

File everything immediately into designated folders, categorized by project or sender

Some people like to use a folder for everything. You can automate this with Rules or Filters, depending on what your mail service/software calls it. (Same thing, different name.)

  • Set filters to check subject lines for certain words or phrases, and put those messages in a specific folder
  • Filter by sender, whether by specific address or domain (everything after the @ symbol) and file accordingly

Flag items for follow-up at a future date using the Flag feature

This is a feature I haven’t really used before since I usually act on e-mail right away (or otherwise file it for reference) but I can see how it would be useful to remind yourself to follow up on something.

Keep everything in one huge, honkin’ folder

Some people like to dump everything into one enormous folder, applying tags or categories to everything. These categories can be color coded. If you’re disciplined and specific with your tags/categories, messages can be easy to find, since you don’t have to go through five different folders to find that one e-mail. The no-folders approach is the one that Gmail has had from the start, and it takes some getting used to at first.

The GTD “Three-Mailbox System”

Use three folders (“Mailboxes” if you’re using Apple’s Mail.app) to sort things into one of three broad but concise categories:

  • Act On Contains e-mails that require action, but you can’t act on them immediately. (The ones that required immediate action were acted upon as soon as you got the e-mails, right?)
  • Waiting For This folder contains e-mails that you can’t act on without some sort of additional information
  • Read & Review For lower-priority messages that aren’t necessarily actionable or that you can read when time permits — perfect for newsletters and the like

Gina Trapani has discussed a similar system at great length on Lifehacker in her post Empty Your Inbox with the Trusted Trio.

What’s Your Strategy?

So how do you cope with e-mail overload? Feel free to share your own strategy for dealing with e-mail in the comments.

Keeping the Inbox the Inbox

Ikea desk accessories At my day job as a graphic designer for a small marketing/design firm, I’m the only person who uses GTD. It’s been hard trying to implement some sort of GTD-based system when nobody else you work with does it. However, I’ve tried to set an example by actually writing things down and asking questions that make the Next Action clear and obvious (at least to me.)

When we moved into our new office last summer we got some nifty “Dokument” inbox trays from Ikea, with three tiers. At home I just use two trays: one to hold the Inbox and one to hold the Tickler folders. But at work I don’t need a Tickler, since my job is usually to deal with things as they come up (or as my creative director gives them to me) and I work my way through the stack of project folders in the inbox.

Inbox Tray Labels

I decided to use these three trays for three specific things, and I created business-card-sized labels for them:

  • Inbox - Place new and returned projects here
  • Waiting On - Projects where I’m waiting for something so I can move forward
  • On Hold - Projects that have been put on hold

So it should be pretty clear what is in each tray so that I or someone else can find project folders, given what sort of state they’re in. While “on hold” and “waiting on” seem similar, in my line of work there’s a bit of a difference. “Waiting on” projects are usually missing one or two things, usually some text to lay out, or some images from a photo shoot. The projects that have been put on hold usually stay in limbo a bit longer, sometimes for months, and I don’t need to keep worrying about them if they’re in the inbox.

Now, if only I could get people to put new things in the inbox instead of my chair, which to be honest I think of as an inbox for my rear end.

Useful Lists for Artists to Keep

David Allen has a great collection of Cool/conevenient lists to have, and it’s a great jumping-off point for many people, especially those that are new to the whole idea of writing down everything that’s in your head.

While most of us probably maintain at least a few of these lists categories regardless of if they practice GTDeveryone has a wishlist and a list of important phone numbers somewhere — none of these really apply to artists, per se. So I’ve compiled a brief and by no means comprehensive list of some lists that might be useful for artists to maintain.

  • Photos to take
  • Materials to try/experiment with
  • Themes to explore in a series
  • Single subjects to explore
  • Techniques to try out
  • Classes/workshops/lectures/seminars to look into or sign up for
  • Art books to read
  • Galleries/museums/exhibits/shows to visit/see
  • Supplies to get (can go into an @context list such as “@art-store”)

Again, while this list is not comprehensive, it is a start to a nice variety of lists to keep. In fact, some of these are jumping off points for the more business-oriented aspects of the artist’s life. The galleries you visit might become galleries you want to pitch your work to and build relationships with. Taped to the inside cover of my sketchbook is an index card with a list of themes and subjects to experiment with, and my OmniOutliner Pro + Kinkless GTD file has a context list of photographs I want to take, along with a list of art books I want to read.

I’d love to hear other artist’s lists. Feel free to share in the comments.

Some quick color links

Following up on yesterday’s post about organizing color palettes, here’s a quick list of some pages and sites dealing with color:

  • Old Masters Techniques and Palettes: How to Paint Like the Old Masters - Good reference material for a number of Old Masters palettes
  • Color Inspiration from the Masters of Painting - Color samples drawn from various paintings. The rest of the site is pretty nice, too.
  • [Improve your photography with classical art](http://www.unfocusedbrain.com/projects/match_color/] - Examples of using Photoshop’s Match Color tool to apply colors from classical artwork to your photographs. (via Lifehacker)
  • According to a post on Laughing Squid it looks like you can apply the swatches found on Colour Lovers to the Match Color feature in Photoshop in the same manner talked about on the page previously linked.
  • kuler - (rhymes with “ruler”) Adobe’s site with downloadable color swatches that work with Creative Suite 3. A good jumping-off point for color palette ideas.

While these links are great resources (in my opinion, at least) I’m still interested to hear about how everyone actually arranges their palettes and how that affects their work. Share in the comments!

Organizing your palette

Photo of how I arrange my palette

For a long time, I never paid much attention to the way my palette was organized when I painted. The only thing that was consistent was that white wound up in the same spot. I typically only used the colors I needed for that session, which isn’t a bad idea since it minimizes waste. (Paint can be expensive.) Gradually, I began organizing similar colors next to each other, such as yellows next to white, and warm and cool browns next to each other on the palette. Cobalt had a tendency to sit next to raw umber since I often mixed those to make a blackish color (and still do.)

Mixing more colors up front to save time later

In the past few months, however, I have consistently organized my palette in a chromatic fashion, mixing pretty much the entire range so that if I need a color, I can easily add it to whatever I’m working with at the moment. I’m no longer interrupted by the problem of finding a tube of paint, squeezing it out and mixing linseed oil into it, before adding it to whatever I’m mixing. My motive was to make myself more efficient and save time in the long run.

Then I began to wonder how other artists arranged their palettes.

The colors the masters used

While I haven’t found out a tremendous amount about the way various Masters have organized their palettes, I have discovered a bit about the colors they used and their techniques. It turns out that Gaugin just put his paints on his palette all willy-nilly, never really doing the same thing twice, and never cleaned his palette off. He just went for the purest colors possible, using more or less raw color. Leonardo da Vinci started his paintings in grayscale or sepiatone and used transparent glazes of color to bring out that famous smoky effect he called sfumato.

Some neat sample palettes

Gamblin's Basic High Key Palette

My Google search brought me to the Exploring Color Palettes page on the Gamblin Artists Colors website. It has some fantastic basic palettes that are a great jumping-off point for formulating your own. Painting landscapes or floral still lifes? Try the landscape palette. If you like to use lots of glazes like daVinci, try the Transparent Glazes palette, which utilizes paints that are more transparent, making them ideal for glazing. It turns out that the palette I use is most similar to that of the Old Masters.

What colors do you use and how do you arrange them as you’re working? Share in the comments, posting photos if you like.