Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Lesson From Charlie Brown

As a kid, I always loved watching the Charles M. Schulz Peanuts characters celebrate holidays. The shows were always entertaining with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. It was also a special treat to be able to view a cartoon on prime time television when the adults usually ruled the airwaves. These shows originally aired in the 1960s, long before the 24/7 animation overload of Cartoon Network! I recall as a child that our family television only received five television broadcast stations in the Chicagoland area: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and independent WGN. None of them offered much in children's programming outside of the usual Saturday morning cartoon fare.

Watching these Peanuts shows now as an adult I realize that they are also full of great life lessons. I have come to greatly admire Charles M. Schulz for bravely creating shows for children that didn't back away from tough issues related to religion and society. We are all fortunate that these classics were created during the era they were, as I doubt few producers would touch these topics in the same manner today; it wouldn't be politically correct or Hollywood hip to do so.

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' in particular reflects Schulz's strong Christian faith when Charlie Brown, confused by the blatant commercialism of Christmas, questions if he really knows what the holiday is about. His friend Linus comes to the rescue by quietly quoting Scripture from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 8 through 14:

"'8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Hearing this, Charlie Brown realizes that he does not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. I hope that this lesson from Charlie Brown can also be a lesson for all of us during the busy holiday season...

Slow down, watch the Peanuts' Christmas special, and don't forget what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Year Resolutions and My Inbox

It's that time of year again. Time to make resolutions about being a better person and improving our lives... only to forget about them a month or two later. Have you thought about what your resolutions will be this year?

Resolutions to live healthier (loose weight, exercise, etc.) probably should not count, as these are things that we ought to be doing anyway. There's no good reason to wait for the New Year to start living healthier, but if the magic of the New Year helps to inspire you to make a positive change in your lifestyle, I say go for it!

Last year I resolved to do better at staying in touch with friends. I'm not so sure that I have been very successful at that, but if credit for effort counts I should at least receive an honorable mention.

This year it's all about managing my email better. Kind of a scary thought, eh?

My overflowing email inbox (both at work and at home) has inspired me to tackle this matter, and I've already made some good progress. Merlin Mann has a great 43 Folders series called Inbox Zero where he discusses email overload in a very entertaining presentation. His concept is simple; only look at your inbox periodically and when you do, be prepared to do one of the following five things (my interpretation is added):
  • Delete (trash the message since there is no action required)
  • Delegate (pass the message on to someone else for their action)
  • Respond (reply with a brief message only if necessary)
  • Defer (decide that action needs to wait; use this sparingly!)
  • Do (take action)
It's a great concept that I started to implement several weeks ago. My first step was to reduce the volume of email that I receive. So much of my email is rather useless information from senders that 'may' have something valuable to tell me now and then. Good examples are frequent flyer statements, on line merchant notices, and club newsletters. I created a free account with OtherInbox.com. The service is currently in beta, but it has performed well enough for me to decide that I can rely on it.

OtherInbox.com helps you manage your email by dynamically creating a new email address for any service that you need. Let's say that the DMV requests your email address; simply provide one such as [email protected][account].otherinbox.com. Then when the DMV sends you a message, it will automatically be in a folder named DMV under your OtherInbox.com account. Once you use this a few times, you begin to see how rather brilliant the idea is, and much easier than managing email filters.

Since implementing OtherInbox.com, my email traffic has been reduced significantly and the filtered messages can be reviewed at my leisure instead of clogging-up my inbox. The next step is to become more disciplined at following Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero process for the messages that I still receive in my regular inbox. Seeing the number of messages being held in my inbox slowly decline over time has been great inspiration.

I hope that this is a resolution that I can keep, as I believe it could go a long way towards making me more productive and less stressed. Good luck with your own resolutions!