Thursday, August 28, 2014

Organize My Life: Email & Electronic Calendars

{Organize My Life is a multi-post series all about (you guessed it) organization! Make sure you check out the other posts listed at the end of each entry (as most of these posts will reference one another), as well as the coinciding video*!}

By now you all are probably well aware that I'm a huge fan of the paper agenda, but that doesn't mean that I'm not tech savvy when it comes to tracking all of my to-do's! Juggling 3 jobs, school, and a personal life isn't easy, but we're a decade and a half into the 21st century and we have plenty of devices and programs that make staying on top of everything so much easier. I own a smart phone, tablet, and am constantly on the computer for work and school, so I definitely take advantage of everything that's in front of me in order to keep my ducks in a row. Keep reading for a look at how I stay organized electronically!


I currently have 4 email accounts: a student account for BSU, a GA account for BSU, an employee account for Dean, and my Gmail account which I use for personal matters. In the screenshot above, you'll only see 3 accounts, and that's because I get my student email forwarded to my GA account for BSU, so all of my emails from one institution are in one place. All of these accounts are tied to my phone and iPad so I can check and reply to emails on the fly, as I can easily receive upward of 100 emails a day across all 4 accounts.

This may seem overwhelming to the non-student affairs eye (and honestly it's overwhelming to me, too) but it is possible to stay on top of everything. Here are a few things that I do in order to keep my inboxes organized: sorting messages into folders, flagging emails that need action, and deleting, deleting, deleting. (Examples of each of these are shown through my iPhone's Mail app, but all devices have similar functions within their email program!)

(all names, beside my own, in the following screenshots have been crossed out for privacy)

Sorting Messages into Folders

On each of my email accounts, I have an assortment of inbox folders that pertain to various parts of my job or life. For example, in my work email I'll have a folder for a specific organization I work with, a specific event I'm working on, or a certain project that I'm working on. I tend to file these messages when the communication is over, and I only file them if I feel like I may need to reference them later for any reason. Here's an example of sorting a message from one of my work accounts:

1. Open the email you'd like to sort.
2. Tap the folder icon on the bottom left of the screen.
3. Select which folder you'd like to store the message in.
4. The message will move out of your inbox and into that folder.

Flagging Messages

I usually flag messages that need my attention in one way or another, whether it be a continuing important conversation that is still developing, a question from a student that I need to answer, or instructions for something on my to-do list. Flagging messages not only helps them stand out to me in my inbox, but also automatically adds them to my email's task list (which I'll get to later). Here's how to make sure your message is flagged:

1. Select the message you wish to flag.
2. Tap the flag icon on the bottom left corner.

3. Select "Flag".

4. A colored dot will appear next to the subject line when you're in the message. (If you use Outlook, a literal red flag will show up next to the message!)

5. The dot will appear next to the sender's name when you're in your inbox.

Delete, delete, delete!


I spend a lot of time going through my email and deleting what I genuinely won't need for any foreseeable purpose. Messages include out of date promotions, completed conversations, clarifying emails once they are answered ("I can't remember, are we meeting at 2 or 3 today?"), meeting request responses, and a slew of other messages. Generally, if I don't see a need for it, it goes in the virtual garbage. Making sure I stay on top of keeping all the old or junk messages out of my inbox makes navigating it so much easier.

 Email Well-being

I wouldn't be a good Student Affairsian (#makingitathing) if I didn't mention this along with my email segment. We live in a time where most of our lives are ruled by electronics. With our phones synced up to our emails and attached to our hands, we're more accessible than ever. Anyone can get to us at any time of day or night. It's important to set boundaries not only with your colleagues (and in the HESA world, students), but also with yourself about when you'll be dealing with all work related communications.

For me, when I'm in the office or on the clock, I am 100% attentive and ready to reply to any message. In the evening hours, it drops down to maybe 20% (if anything), and after 8PM I make it a habit to just flag the emails I need to reply to and get to them the next business day. There are some business days that I'm not in the office (all 3 of my jobs are part time), but I try to make it a habit to check my email periodically throughout the day and reply to anything urgent, especially if something important is going on.

Make sure you're setting up times that work for you, and remember that there once was a time where email and smartphones didn't exist. It's good to be off the clock when you're off the clock. Otherwise, how will you recharge to be the best you can be when you walk back into the office?

(End Student Affairsian tangent.)

Electronic Calendars

Even though I'm obsessed with my paper planner, my electronic calendar is there for me when I'm not looking at my paper one! Every one of my email accounts has a calendar of some type tied to it and I definitely take advantage of each one. I set each event on my calendar to have a reminder on which is sent to my phone and iPad so I'm sure not to miss a meeting or obligation. Honestly, it's been such a life saver when I'm so focused on something else and a meeting sneaks up on me!

The only downside to my electronic calendars is that I can't sync them all together across all email platforms (so if I'm looking at my BSU calendar while on my email at BSU, it won't show my Dean or Google calendars). The only time I can see all 3 calendars in one spot is on my iPad or phone. Here's an example of what my typical week during the school year looks like:

Disgusting, right?

From this image, you can tell that I color code. On my portable devices, it color codes by what account the event is coming from, but on each account's calendar (so when I'm looking at my BSU calendar through my BSU email), it will be color coded by what type of event (class is one color, office matters are one color, etc.). It's definitely handy to have everything in my paper planner coordinated electronically so I know that I'll be on top of my game regardless of where I am/what device I'm looking at.


If you have an Apple device and you don't use the Reminders app you definitely need to get on it! Similarly to meeting reminders on your calendar, this app alerts you on things that you need to remind yourself with without cluttering up your calendars. You can also create different lists, as you see in the image above, and you can tie those lists to different email accounts so your to-do's will appear right on your email's task list! You can see in the above screenshot that I have 6 different lists:

-Shopping (anything I need to buy)
-Homework (pretty self-explanatory)
-Tasks - Bridgewater (tied to my BSU email)
-Tasks - Dean (tied to my Dean email)
-Reminders (one time reminders that I can't really categorize)
-Personal To-Do (tend to be recurring items on my to-do list)

Here's a look at my Personal To-Do list

Solid use of Emojis, I know.

You can set your to-do's to give you a little reminder at a certain time, like you can see with my bills as well as my 365 Photo project that I recently started, or you can just make them a one-time occurrence. The other really cool feature to this app is that you can set an item to remind you at a certain location. For example, if you need to drop something off at the Post Office and you keep forgetting, your phone will alert you whenever you drive by. Or, if you need to make sure that you preheat the oven for dinner as soon as you get home, you just set your reminder to your address and it will alert you when you get there. How cool is that?!

Another good feature to know is if you have something on your list that you complete periodically (recurring chores, etc.), it actually saves the item so you don't have to constantly re-type it. Once you mark an item as completed, it will become hidden. All you have to do is hit "Show Completed" at the bottom of your screen again, and it will be there. Just un-mark the item that you want back on your list, and there it will appear again, waiting to be checked off! 

If you want to completely delete an item, that's a possibility, too! All you have to do is swipe left on an item and just hit "delete". Simple as that. Sometimes I forget about this function and when I open my hidden completed items there's a slew of to-do's from weeks ago!

I hope that some of these tips help you keep your electronic organization in order. I think that this is the hardest item in my life to keep in order because it's not tangible and it doesn't make a mess that takes up a ton of physical space. These techniques have helped me stay on top of it a bit better!

How do you stay electronically organized?
Leave your tips in the comments!

The next edition of Organize My Life will be a glimpse into my home office organization! 
Keep a look out for that in a few weeks!

*There's no video for this edition of OML. I tried really hard to edit one together but the filming did not come out the way I wanted, so I just stuck to the blog post. My next OML post will definitely have a video (I can't make it 3 in a row without one!) so look forward to that!

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