Get control of your email inbox

Your email inbox is crucial, yet often neglected. It’s often an environment that is disorganized and difficult to navigate. Would you treat your real mail like that? Would you leave junk items there? A well organized inbox promotes productive and less stressed work. The items in your inbox should be new and they should be important. Everything else should be elsewhere.

Get GMail. It’s simple, free, and robust. If you don’t have an account, open one. Forward your current email to Gmail. We’re going to turn it into your virtual assistance machine.

Filter out the non-essential

To simplify things, you need to get all non-essential mail into a folder. Go into your settings (the gear icon in the upper right), and add a new filter. Filter all messages with the word “unsubscribe” to a new label called “optional.” Make this filter archive emails so they skip your inbox. Almost all emails containing “unsubscribe” are non-essential and don’t need to be delivered to your inbox, which we’re reserving only for important and/or action items. Only check this “optional” folder when you have the time. Your inbox is a sacred place for important stuff. Unsubscribe from newsletters and emails you don’t want. If unsubscribing doesn’t work, filter emails into the trash.

Stop the constant onslaught

You are probably constantly distracted by new emails. We don’t want this. We want to schedule emails. This will greatly reduce distractions and help you stay on task. Here’s the free tool I use to do this. It’s called the Gmail Timer. You can set how often you get emails. Most people think this will destroy their responsiveness. I have found, in a year using it at my work, no one has noticed. Email is not a chat line, nor is it the only form of communication. If people need to reach you immediately, there are other methods. Gmail Timer gives you various options of how long to delay messages. I’ve found the sweet spot for me is receiving emails around every 2 hours. 4x a day. This limits distractions but prevents missing anything that needs relatively quick attention.

Let Gmail remember things for you

Email requires follow up. You don’t want to have to remember that. Let the machines do the remembering so you can get down to the real work. For this, you’re going to need  Boomerang. Boomerang schedules emails for specific times in the future. For a follow up on a sales lead tomorrow, you can do it now, and let Boomerang send it out later. You can also send emails back to yourself in the future. If you send an email to Bob on Monday asking for the budget analysis you need on Friday, use Boomerang to send back that email to you, if you don’t hear a reply, on Thursday. You can totally forget about that report until then. Use Boomerang to remind yourself about conversations and tasks that you don’t need in your inbox now, but would like to remember in the future. This keeps tasks out of your head that don’t need to be there. Your inbox is a place for relevant and important items that need to be addressed right now.  

Sorting through what’s left

1)Do you want it sent back to you later because you are not quite sure what to do with it or the conversation is still lacking a clear action? Use Boomerang.

2) Does it involve a clear and specific task? Get it on your calendar. Free floating tasks and to-do lists are much more stressful and difficult to deal with than tasks assigned to a specific time. Setting a specific time to deal with something gets it off your mind. No, you can’t multitask well, nor can you multi-focus. Having a free floating to-do list, instead of a calendar, forces multi-focusing and gets us overwhelmed.

3)Is it junk? Delete it. Find a pattern in your junk and keep building filters until 90% of it never hits your inbox. Good filters block specific words, specific email addresses, or whole email domains.

This system will improve your email and simplify your work.

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Finding an apartment

I’ve had to go through the process of finding an apartment several times. It can be super annoying and downright frustrating. It’s easy to find something wrong with a place, but also easy to try and settle with what you’ve got. Hopefully this post will make life easier for those of you looking to transition from your current living situation.

Know you current situation

You need a general understanding of what your lease says. The most important aspects here are:

  1. When do I have to inform my landlord that I’m moving?
  2. When is my lease up?
  3. What is the penalty for leaving early?
  4. Can I assign or sublet my lease to someone else?

In most cases, landlords are more than happy to let you sublet your place, provided the person you find is generally reliable and has a stable income. Hey, your landlord trusted you. It can’t get much worse than that, right?

Assure that before you even start looking for new places, you know when and how you need to alert your landlord that you’re moving. You generally have to give 60-90 days notice. If you miss this, you can get yourself into a bit of a pickle.

If you do really need to move before your lease is up, you can sublet your place (allow someone to live under your responsibility and pay the rent.) Or you can assign the lease (the new tenant takes full responsibility for the lease.) You may have to pay fees associated with a background check and application fees for this new tenant.

Choosing a Neighborhood

We’re going to assume you know which city you’re looking for a place in. If you don’t, try seeking out gender ratio/median income/job availability/obesity indices/self-reported life satisfaction surveys etc… That’s another blog post.

When moving to a new town, you probably don’t know where the hip people are. You probably don’t know which neighborhoods to avoid and which have the best access to amenities. There are some excellent tools out there for this.

 

Walk Score gives you ratings of exact addresses and entire neighborhoods based on their access to public amenities like grocery stores, banks, and restaurants. It’s an essential resource if you don’t own a car. It’s usefulto know what you can expect to be able to walk to from your new place.

Judgmental Maps is a slightly tongue-in-cheek site dedicated to showing who really lives in a neighborhood. It’s sometimes crass, offensive, and at times downright racist, but there is something to be learned from your city’s map. It will give you insights into the types of people that live in a neighborhood beyond their income or propensity for crime. Most people like to know what their neighborhood “feels” like. These help do that. If you can’t find your town on the site, just Google it with “judgmental maps.” It’s quite likely that someone has wasted an afternoon building one for your town.

Trulia Maps is a pretty impressive compilation of map layers that lets you see the median house prices, average length of commute, % of college degree holders, etc… But the single best thing about this site is the Crime Heat Map. You can see exactly where crimes are being committed and avoid those areas, unless you’re a member of a local crime syndicate. Then you should probably live there.

I’m not making any particular judgments here about what you should or shouldn’t look for. The sites above will allow you to make a more informed decision based on the factors that you personally are looking for in your living area.

Now you know where you want to live. Let’s get you a place.

Automating the search

There a two tools I use exclusively to automate the housing search. Between them I am confident that I am constantly updated on the majority of housing options in a particular area.

Padmapper is designed to aggregate all local online housing listings onto a single map. It does a very good job. You can specify exactly the price and size you are looking for and see all your options in real-time on the map. The greatest feature of the site is their email alert. Set up an alert for your preferences and you’ll get email updates when a house or apartment matching your needs becomes available. No more worrying about missing opportunities.

One thing lacking in Padmapper is the lack of Craiglist postings. Because the site is so heavily used, especially for housing, I highly recommend you also add a Craigslist email alert to your mix. This will just about cover you for all the housing options that are becoming available in your area online.

Other resources to consider

  • Local university housing classifieds
  • Google searching and calling apartment complexes
    • Not every vacant unit will be listed online
    • One can automate this via UpWork and have pay someone else to do their calling or list-building.

I would recommend placing your top candidates onto a Google Sheet that lays out their pros and cons in a weighted fashion such that you turn what can often be an emotional or rash decision into a more calculated effort.

Finding the right apartment

I don’t even need to touch on this because a Redditor has already done so fantastically. Thanks to r/DeaconNuno for his epic post listing out what you need to look for in a good apartment. There are many things there you will definitely forget in the spur of the moment during an apartment walk-through if you don’t keep that list with you. Review his list and decide which of those factors is relevant to your search, This will make your hunting much more fruitful and risk-avoidant.

Here are a few often overlooked things to consider…

  1. Be sure to not if there are train tracks nearby. This can really be annoying and might not be obvious during your walkthrough. Just drive around, ask neighbors, or check Google Maps to find out.
  2. Check what internet providers that address has access to. It can mean slower internet, more expenses, or even caps to bandwidth.
  3. Call utility companies and ask what the average bill is for that address/apartment.

Make it a buyer’s market- 3 simple tips

 There are some general principles to keep in all purchase decisions that will increase your likelihood for success.

  1. Give yourself ample time to choose a place.
  2. Be able to walk away from a place if you don’t think you’re getting a good deal.
  3. Ask for a discount. Personal finance blogger Ramit Sethi says ask for a 70% discount. I don’t think that’s reasonable. But ask for a 25% discount. The worst they can tell you is “no.” Many great deals have been had by people asking for a discount in a friendly way.

A Guide to Saving for Retirement

The goal of this article is to help give you the tools to save money more responsibly and to give you more ability to do as you please through financial freedom. The first step is recognizing that you want to be financially secure and are willing to make some sacrifices now in order to protect and nurture your future. Are you?

If you think you’ll get rich playing the stock market or the real estate market or the Japanese trading card market (you know you’re still saving those old Pokemon cards for a reason.) Stop right now. Stop thinking you can beat the market. No one can accurately predict the market. No computer or fund manager is able to do it. It’s impossible. There are too many factors involved. It’s you versus the entire pool of individuals investing in the market. The system is rigged against you. Don’t believe me? Read Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. He accurately shows what smart investors have known for years: even the best trained professional traders can’t beat the market over long periods of time. The strategies heretofore utilize a strategy that has a proven track record, indexing. Indexing is investing your money in a large and balanced pool of companies. It works, because while some companies fail and others triumph, you can be sure that, on average, over long periods of time, companies want your money and are willing to provide you a premium for it. This premium ends up being ~7%/year on average over long periods (15+ years.) While each individual stock will rise and fall based on their product/service and market conditions, the index of the market will rise over long periods of time. In short: Stop thinking you can beat the market.

Money is valuable insofar as it can be spent. And spending takes time. For this reason, your money has value over time to others. This value is called the time value of money and is rewarded with interest. For this reason, you must start saving now. Your money saved today is worth a lot more than if it is saved 10 years from now. I could show some crazy graphs, but just trust me. You’re probably going to get very rich if you’re under 30 and start saving now. If you’re not ready just stop reading.

Below, I’ve gathered from  my favorite resources ways to start building your nest egg and saving money. For each individual, this will be a little bit different. This strategy will work for most people and it’s principles are universally applicable.

Here is the order of priority in which you should be treating your savings to optimize for stable growth.

Pay off your debts

Pay the high interest debts first, low interest next. Debt is both a psychological and financial burden. Get rid of it as soon as you can. By paying your debts off sooner rather than later, you will be preventing unneeded interest payments and placing yourself in a good spot to start saving soon. Your debt is an emergency. Treat it as such. Don’t let it spoil some well-earned fun. But do realize that many disposable expenses should be eliminated during this time.

Build an Emergency Fund

Save up 3 months of living expenses ($5,000-$8,000). You never really know what’s going to happen in life. But, if it sucks, chances are it’s also going to cost money. You want to be able to live in peace and prevent racking up debt by having some money saved up for emergencies. This should be in a place that is very easy to access and spend like a savings account. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get good interest. This is your piece of mind and just-in-case money. Never touch it unless you absolutely need to. And if you do, do so with as little guilt as possible because emergencies are the only acceptable reason to spend this money.

401(k)

If you have one available, use your employer’s 401k match. It’s free money and it’s pretty much guaranteed extra income. Invest in funds with the lowest expense ratios you can. You’re naturally going to be fairly limited by whatever funds are a part of your employer’s plan. This is a longterm investment, so try and split it up in 60% Domestic Index Fund (S&P 500), (40-yourage)% International Index Fund, and (Yourage)% Bond Index Fund. Or you can just use the Target Retirement Funds most companies offer. These will do just fine. Just put in enough to get your employer’s match. You won’t be able to touch this money, except for a few situations, until you’re 55.

Roth IRA

This has nice tax advantages and can be withdrawn at any time. Though you shouldn’t withdraw from it because the money is worth more in this tax-shielded account than anywhere else. Specifically, you should open a Retirement Target Date Fund based on when you think you’ll be retiring (Vanguard has some really good ones.) This is going to be maxed at $5,500/year. You should try and max this Roth IRA out. A Roth IRA is after-tax, so any money you put in, along with it’s earnings, is tax free upon withdraw. This is particularly nice, because in a non-IRA, you’d have to pay a capital gains tax on any more you earned.

Short Term Savings

Beyond our retirement, chances are you have some things in the middle future (3-10 years) that merit some savings. Even if you’re unsure of your future, (isn’t this everyone?) you should still have some savings for short-term spending. This is based on individual goals. It gets taxed for real this time. No shielding as you get with the 401k and Roth. But you generally have more options and less restrictions with this money. I’d recommend you buy up Target Retirement Date Funds for retiring 5 and 10 years from now. You can tweak this a bit based on your age. These funds are designed to be for older people who are ready to retire and need a stable growth fund that doesn’t fluctuate a whole lot (they do this by making these funds very bond heavy.) This money can be withdrawn any time, but it’s earnings will always be taxed.

If you have any money left over, place it back into maxing out your 401k (this can be done up to $18k/year.)

After that I’d start thinking about seeing an independent financial advisor to help you invest in retirement funds. But having more in target funds 25-40 from now would probably be a smart choice, depending on your work situation and expected spending.

Setting this all up and maintaining it won’t take more than a couple hours every few months (if that.) You won’t have to worry about day-to-day fluctuations. Do not be intimidated by the fancy sounding names, these retirement funds are super easy to setup. It takes less than 15 minutes for most of them.  I really like using Vanguard funds because they are cheap and easy to work with. But, I’ve heard good things about some other companies as well.

Books

The Millionaire Next Door

The BogleHead’s Guide to Investing

Black Swan- Nassim Taleb

I Will Teach you to be Rich- Ramit Sethi

Your Money or Your Life

Sites

mrmoneymustache

https://www.reddit.com/r/personalfinance/wiki/investing

nerdwallet

MINT

 

Welcome to the Optimized Now.

A guy traveling, eating the best food, exploring cultures, and thinking about productivity. For new productivity hacks or trip reports sign up for the emails. This is the easiest way to get posts.

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