peaceful landscape sunny sky

Why I Love Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is what happens when you have no unread messages in your email inbox.

Wait? That’s a thing?

Yep. Gmail even has a special happy blue background with a bright sun to celebrate the moment when you’ve reached that blissful point.

I have clients who have thousands of emails pending, and I’m continually having to help fight the fires of forgotten customers and misplaced reminders. (The classic nightmare is forgetting to renew anti-spam on a website. Add a free-for-all attack by spammers to an already over-full inbox and you might as well give up and revert to snail mail.)

I strive for Inbox Zero.

I’m not there every day, but I do see the happy sun peeking out from behind the clouds of email every few days.

Want to see it?

Here’s how:

Let things be done.

Are you afraid of losing things in your email archives? If so, switch to Gmail or another program that archives your completed email messages.

Learn to search those messages.

If it is done, mark it as completed and let the archives handle it. You’ll be able to find it whenever you need it, and as a bonus you’ll be able to find important active items when they aren’t hidden by these mountains of work you’ve already handled.

Answer everything you can right now.

If you have a bunch of emails that just need a “yes” or “no” or some bit of quick information, spend a few moments responding.

My extra father taught me most of what I know about business. He said, “Touch a thing once. Try to make it so you don’t need to touch it again.”

You’re already looking at your email. You’re already distracted.

Something you need to put on your calendar? Do it now and mark that email done.

If you need more than just a few moments to complete the task, it can stay until a later step.

Decide when you will do the rest.

Give each item a quick moment of consideration. Does this belong on a to-do list? Or is it just something that you need a few moments of peace to formulate a more thorough reply?

Gmail and many other mail programs offer you the ability to “snooze” or “schedule” an email. If this item is not something you can or will handle right now, decide when you want to see it, and schedule it for then.

I recently had a promo bit that I needed to do for a class I’m teaching. Some amazing graphics showed up in my inbox. They were perfect, but it was too soon to do the promo. I scheduled that email to reappear on the day I wanted to do the promo. When that day came, the email popped into my inbox and I quickly shared to social media. Promo done!

Set items to appear when you need them.

Store reference material.

Do you need that recipe to use later? Print it and put it in your recipe box. Or better yet, zap it into Evernote. (Note: I’m a partner with Evernote and that’s a tracking link. I love teaching folks how to use it to simplify their lives! When enough people click on my tracking links, Evernote will help me promote my classes.)

Having systems that you can trust to store your information where you can find it will eliminate piles of paper on the counter and avalanches of email in your inbox.

Create automated tools to filter your email.

This may take you 15 minutes to learn to do well. It will save you hours.

In your email program, learn how to filter emails into folders.

For example, all of my NaNoWriMo emails go into a folder automatically. Purchase receipts are another good thing to filter.

Once you have the filters set up, decide how to handle that folder.

Many of my folders are things that I need to see, but don’t need to save. I open the folder once a day, skip the content, and then delete the entire folder.

Learn what tools your chosen email system offers, and then take a few moments to learn to use them well.

Consider email bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy is never our first choice, but if you’ve got more than 3000 unread emails, you’re probably in trouble.

Perform the steps above on the most recent hundred or so emails, and then archive everything.

Poof: instant happy email box.

Now, after you recover from the trauma of that moment, take a deep breath and commit to going through your email at least once a day with the goal of hitting Inbox Zero.

Yes, you will have misplaced some important things.

The good news is that everyone already expected you to have lost their email, so they’ll probably email you again. Anything truly urgent will surface, and everything is archived.

Reap the rewards.

People are frequently stunned by how quickly I respond to an email.

Of course I respond quickly! It is between me and my happy sunshine!

Once you’ve lived with Inbox Zero for a few days, you’ll begin to see how much more productive and efficient you are. You’ll see how much less time you’re wasting staring at ALL those emails. You’ll also learn that your inbox is no longer a source of fear and stress. Fear and stress lead to procrastination. Procrastination leads to an inbox full of unread messages.

When you can see all of your inbox at one glance, you’ll be less likely to miss important messages.

Have you tried Inbox Zero? What has your experience been? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Shattered American Flag

What’s Wrong with American Democracy

Right now, do an exercise:

Pick one hot topic that you feel strongly about. Pick something you feel so strongly about that you are willing to fight for it.

Now, describe someone who holds the opposing view.

Did you come up with words like stupid or idiot? How about the more intellectually appropriate word: uninformed?

If so, then I want to be rude and say that you don’t actually understand your topic at all.

If you are willing to die on that hill, you should probably know what is on the other side of it.

What’s wrong with democracy is that we have lost our empathy.

Deleyna Marr

I’ve just made many of my good friends mad, and I apologize for that. But I’m sick of this bi-partisan bickering. I’m tired of watching my friends insult each other and behave like schoolhouse bullies.

A friend recently said that we needed to fight for a specific cause or else we’d all be living in Nazi Germany. Another friend pointed out that at the heart of Nazi Germany was the belief that there was an “us” and a “them” and that the “them” were somehow less than human. That exterminating “them” would somehow make “us” more safe.

While none of my friends have voted for extermination, many have disenfranchised others by calling their beliefs stupid and unfounded. I have heard respected friends suggest that the other side (pick an issue) is just too stupid to be allowed to vote.

You know what? I don’t have stupid friends.

My friends are passionate people who want the best for their families and their communities. My friends are strong, good, moral people. They just disagree on the polarizing issues that have riddled the American public solidarity.

I’ve seen the same issues affecting other countries as well.

I’ve quietly watched on the sidelines since before the 2016 election as friends cruelly posted insulting memes they thought were cute and hilarious. It is hard to respect someone who will happily insult half of the population as a joke…and yet we’ve all seen it done over the last couple of years by both sides of any argument you want to use as an example.

No. That isn’t funny.

I thought about posting samples in this commentary, but there are no safe topics. Anything I might point at and say, “See — there?” would have half of my friends ganging up on the other half. We’d devolve into insulting each other.


A friend recently said that she’d damaged her online platform by posting political commentary. She’d watched her subscription rates falling and only recently realized that it was her political commentary that was causing the issue. She thought she was in the majority, so she felt safe to insult the other side. She was wrong: on both counts.

(In Nazi Germany) early victims were easy targets, people whom other Germans did little or nothing to protect, and whose disappearance from the public scene they often welcomed.

Germany and the Camp System

Facebook blames the Russians.

The US Government blames Facebook.

This isn’t a Facebook problem. This isn’t a Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, or Green problem. This is a human problem.

Nazis specialized in pitting people against each other, as a way to ease the processes of subjugation and destruction. Within Germany, this approach meant picking on the least popular elements of the population first, so as to maximize public support, or at least indifference.

Germany and the Camp System

This isn’t “us” or “them.”

As a country, as a people, we must have enough confidence in our own beliefs to allow others to hold opposing views. To devalue others is to devalue ourselves.

We can continue to let the fear mongers scream that we must stop “them” before they destroy “us” or we can take a stand and reach across every divide with respect and empathy.

Who’s with me?

blue eye with futuristic computer overlay

Writers: Surviving Technological Revolution

I admit it: I dearly want to climb under my desk, put my hands over my ears, and chant “la la la” until I can ignore the changes in my digital world. I want to go back to the glory days of the internet when everything was shiny and new and I felt like I had a chance of keeping up with the pace of change.

Whether we’re racing towards our doom or turning a corner into a golden age, technology is changing.

Writers must adapt or be left behind.

Deleyna Marr

I work with writers, hang out with writers, and teach writers. They seem to fall into one of several categories: those who are ignoring the technological change, those who are wondering what we can do with it, and those who are giving up on writing and taking up knitting.

I once heard Thomas Kincaid say that if you can do anything other than your art, you should. Art consumes the artist. If you can walk away: do.

For the rest of you, I want to make one thing clear: ignoring this revolution is a bad idea.

If we accept that the internet and our interactions with the world are changing, how can writers survive the change?

Step 1: Accept that the change is real.

I remember when I first saw a mobile device listed on the statistics for a website, I thought, “Wow! Someone actually thought they could go to this site on a phone!”

Just a few years later, and that thought is hilarious. I jokingly say that I’m watching my stats for when someone comes in on their toaster. Or their microwave.

It won’t be long.

Step 2: Embrace the change.

I’ve been spending a lot of time watching indie programming. My favorite is an old story-telling form that has embraced modern technology: roll-playing games. Shield of Tomorrow sent me into Geek nirvana. Callisto 6 does not disappoint.

But these story telling adventures are only the beginning.

Transmedia storytelling is here, and its influence will only continue to grow as technology changes.

If you hang out with those who make the internet, you’ll hear them talking about how the internet is changing. The very fabric of how we consume media is changing.

New devices are on the way. New algorithms appear every day.

Algorithms are at the heart of sales and discovery for authors.

Deleyna Marr

Authors are reporting Amazon algorithm changes are killing their sales. Algorithms are at the heart of sales and discovery for authors. These algorithms must change in response to the authors who spend more time on gaming the system than they do on creating content.

We must continue to build our email lists and connect with readers.

One-on-one connections are still the best marketing.

But how we make those connections and how we tell our stories is changing.

Step 3: Create good content.

This is where writers have an edge on the competition. We are content creators.

How that content is displayed to our readers may change. How readers interact with our content will definitely change. Spend much time around transmedia and you’ll discover that consumers want to interact with the story world. They want to connect with the author. They want to drive the story in new and creative directions. Consumers become creators.

This terrifies some writers. We’ve been taught to guard our copyrights fiercely. I’m not opposed to copyrights, but I want to encourage those who are writing for the future to consider allowing your readers to engage with your stories on a creative level.

Don’t stop creating.

Understand: if you are one of the authors making a living by gaming Amazon or another algorithm, enjoy it while it lasts. But don’t put all of your eggs in that basket. Algorithms are about to take a leap forward with the addition of AI.

Content: good, solid, entertaining content will always rule.

Don’t let changing technology distract you from the sheer joy of your creation. You’re an artist simply because you can’t be anything else. Embrace your creativity, create good content, and enjoy the process.

Experiment with new technology. Have fun with it.

Surf the waves of content algorithms and enjoy the ride. If you wipe out, paddle back out and catch the next wave.

confusing train tracks

Navigating the GDPR

*Note: I am not an attorney. This is intended to be an encouragement, but should not take the place of sound legal advice. You are responsible to research the GDPR for yourself!

Let’s start with what the GDPR is.  GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It is a set of laws and guidelines that were accepted by the European Union and that take full effect on May 25, 2018.

Forget all of the hype you may have heard, and let’s look at this from my usual practical implication approach.

This is about protecting the privacy of people who use our websites. One of the rules simply states that this should be the #1 priority of a website owner when creating a site.

Wow. Okay, so maybe that hasn’t been our first priority in the past, but when you think about it…doesn’t that sound like a good thing? What if all of these big companies that have been slurping up our private data like it was soda pop actually took that concept to heart? The webworld would be a much better place.

The European Union wasn’t being idealistic when they made this a goal. They knew some greedy power-hungry companies wouldn’t do it willingly. So they added a catch. Do it or be fined. And not a small fine, either. Since the worst offenders are BIG companies, they added BIG fines.

And of course those big fines are terrifying small website owners.

Yes, you need to comply with the GDPR even if you are small. But understand: you want to comply not because you are worried about a big fine, you should comply because you are worried about your customers. You want them to feel safe using your site, right?

People are going to get used to the new rights they have under this new legislation and they’re going to want to work with people who value their privacy. You want them to work with you? You want them to feel safe.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. If you offer services to any citizen of the European Union, this legislation applies to you.

The bones of the law make good sense. Even if you don’t work with citizens of the EU, you may want to do this just because it is a good idea.

Let’s cut to the central rights that the GDPR grants to people (The GDPR calls them data subjects…but I’m going to call them people. Yes there are some legal technicalities that this is glossing over. See the important Note at the top of this post.):

Breach Notification

People have the right to be notified within 72 hours if their data has been exposed in a breach. Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you name 3 companies who were breached lately who didn’t notify people for more than 72 hours? How did you feel when you found out that your data was out there on the internet? Or did you not know that it was? I’ve had to notify a couple of people that their username and password combination has been flagged by my security software because it was freely available on the internet. That is never a fun conversation to have.

Right to Access

People have the right to know what you’re storing about them and where you are storing it.

Right to be Forgotten

People have the right to request to be removed from your website and have you delete everything you know about them. Everything. This reminds me of a writer who had posted an ill-conceived comment on a website. Years later, her agent had an issue with her public profile because guess what the #1 search result was for her name? Yep…that inappropriate comment was costing her sales! She really wished that could be forgotten. Now it can. It also means that when you ask someone to take you off the mailing list, they’d better do it!

Data Portability

I’ve got to admit that this one has me baffled. If a person asks for the data that you have on file for them, you have to give it to them in a format that they can take elsewhere. This doesn’t apply to any of my clients’ websites, because why would you ask someone for a copy of your email address??? But when I think of it in relation to a big company like Evernote, it begins to make sense. It begins to make a lot of sense. I’m not sure how site owners are complying with this one, but it is interesting.

What this means for website owners:

There are a few key rules for website owners. These must be followed and if possible documented in such a way that your documentation is clear and easily understood.

Privacy by Design

That’s what I started this blog with. You simply must make customer privacy your number 1 priority.

What does this look like? You should immediately look at your website and look at what data you store about people. If you don’t need it, delete it. The goal of the law is not to make it so that you can’t have data. It just says that you need a valid reason to keep that data. If you don’t need it, don’t ask for it.

The law also has some verbiage that makes some subjects more sensitive than others. Things like religion, sexual orientation, and politics are all sensitive subjects. If you’re going to store that sort of data about someone, you’d better have a VERY good reason and you’d better protect it like it could cost someone their life. Why? Because in some parts of the world that information COULD cost someone their life.

Data Protection Officers

Each website must have someone who is responsible for protecting people’s data. That person can’t be a secret. You have to make contacting them easy. In larger companies, it seems like there may be additional requirements, but it seems to me that for small one-person-run websites, the owner needs to take responsibility for this job the same as the owner of a one-person-business takes responsibility for all the other jobs. You can outsource this and hire someone to do it for you. However, that person needs to not have any conflicts of interest related to the job and they need to have the ability to do their job.

This means that if the data protection officer sees you doing something wrong, they need to be able to immediately stop you from doing it. If that means that you need to shut down your website, they need the authority to do it.

Unless I hear otherwise, I’m recommending that all of my small clients take on this role and take it very seriously. Back to: customer privacy has to be your number 1 priority!

I’m sounding like I’m stuck in a loop, but that’s the heart of this legislation.

Consent is Required

You can’t just check a pre-check a box and have people added to your mailing list. That box needs to be unchecked. People need to know what they’re signing up for and they need to check the box themselves.

Be Clear about What you Collect

This is actually the hard part. You have to look at your website and see what data you are collecting. Then you have to review your plugins and make sure that data isn’t being sent away. Use anti-spam technology? That data is being sent away. This doesn’t mean you can’t use anti-spam. It just means that you have to tell people that you are using it and let them know who you are sending what data to. You need to tell people where that data is going to be stored, for how long, and what the people getting that data are going to do about it.

This takes the form of an amazingly detailed Privacy Policy.

But wait — these aren’t just ANY privacy policies. These are special. These are new. These are easy and fun to read.

Seriously? These are legal documents. Legal documents aren’t fun to read. No one reads privacy policies. We just check the box and grimace.

Not any more. Under this law — this legalese riddled HUGE, unreadable law that no one is really 100% sure they fully understand — under this law, those privacy policies must be easy to understand. You will probably already have noticed that major companies are sending out updated privacy policies. Have you read any of them? If you are a website owner (or a human) you should read them. Take notes. Those companies have paid a lot of money to have those policies written for them. They’ve worked hard to meet this requirement. You should read the privacy policies. You’ll notice a difference between modern (GDPR) ones and what you’ve seen in the past.

Delete What you Don’t Need

If you don’t need something, delete it. If you don’t have permission to have something, delete it. Get active permission from your users.

If someone asks you to delete their information: do.

Bottom Line

Treat people’s information like it is the most precious part of your website. Make data privacy your #1 priority. Use SSL and plugins like WordFence to keep that data safe. Do everything in your power to prevent data breaches. Keep only what you need and make sure people know what you have and where you are storing it. Make sure they agree to your having that information. Tell them why you need it. If someone asks questions about their privacy, answer them promptly.

The intent of this law is to start with a warning. If you get a warning, take it seriously. Make visible efforts to comply with the law — not just the minimum compliance, but actively comply with the spirit of the law.

I’ve seen scary things like this on the internet before…and we survived. Commerce did not end. You don’t have to close your website. You don’t have to stop doing business. No one is 100% sure what compliance with the GDPR will mean. I’ve read a lot of reports saying that no one is in 100% compliance yet. Basically, everyone is confused and we’re all trying to figure this thing out. Comply with the law to the very best of your ability. And if you get a warning, take it seriously. Watch out for the scammers that will gravitate to this sort of situation and try to make it scarier than it needs to be so that you will give them money.

You don’t have to panic.

You just have to make data privacy your #1 priority.

confused squirrel

Joomla 3 Helper File Instructions

For my friends who don’t care about tech, just ignore this post.

If you are a Joomla developer, maybe you’ll find these notes helpful. I’m writing them down at the end of another week of circling through Joomla tutorials trying to get something to work the way I want. As is all too common, the instructions were contradictory and it seemed that every one left out some crucial piece of information. Hopefully I haven’t missed including any of the steps, because I’ve tried more variations than I can remember right now.

My goal: create a function that could be used anywhere in my component.

This was a true “helper” function and I needed it everywhere.

Here’s what I had to do to make it work:

  • start with a component com_mycomponent
  • in administrator/com_mycomponent/mycomponent.php add this line:
    JLoader::register(‘MycomponentHelpersMycomponent’, JPATH_COMPONENT . ‘/helpers/mycomponent.php’);
  • in administrator/com_mycomponent/helpers/ add mycomponent.php
  • in that file include these lines:
    abstract class MycomponentHelpersMycomponent
          public static function mycustomfunction($params)
           { code your function here
  • when you want to use the function, just use this line:
    $result = MycomponentHelpersMycomponent::mycustomfunction($params);

Simple, right? Each bit of camel case is critical. You can use whatever $params you need (or none at all).

When I figure out how to make it work on the front end, too, I’ll update this post.

Maybe next time I can get this to work before 1AM.