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Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is any system containing a collection of best practices, standards, demonstrations, etc. for the benefit of a defined set of people. 

NOTE: each post should have a short, descriptive title.

Recent Knowledge Base Articles

  • Managing Email Inbox - Inbox Zero (taken from an article written for the Trello newsletter by Scott Friesen on August 31, 2017)What is Inbox Zero?You may have heard of the concept of Inbox Zero ...
    Posted Sep 11, 2017, 10:05 AM by Christopher Stordalen
  • Webex, Skype, Google Hangouts Instructions The University provide several video conferencing options. Each option serves a specific purpose. The matrix listed below as well as the step-by-step instructions are designed to help users ...
    Posted Jul 21, 2017, 11:43 AM by Sara Danzinger
  • Google Apps Project Manager You can use Google Apps to manage projects. A template has been created that uses Google Sites. You can copy this template to organize and manage your own projects.Project ...
    Posted Sep 11, 2017, 9:50 AM by Christopher Stordalen
  • CLA Departmental Contacts (Directors, Administrators, Directors of Graduate Studies) A new resource is now available allowing people to quickly find the names and contact information in electronic form for the following people in each CLA unit:Departmental chairsUnit ...
    Posted Jul 10, 2017, 12:48 PM by Sara Danzinger
  • The Art of the RSVP - Respond to calendar invitations We all have meetings that we are required to attend. We all have meetings we would like to attend. We all have meetings we would rather not attend, but to ...
    Posted Jun 16, 2017, 7:46 AM by Christopher Stordalen
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 27. View more »

Managing Email Inbox - Inbox Zero

posted Sep 11, 2017, 9:57 AM by Christopher Stordalen   [ updated Sep 11, 2017, 10:05 AM ]

(taken from an article written for the Trello newsletter by Scott Friesen on August 31, 2017)

What is Inbox Zero?
You may have heard of the concept of Inbox Zero: a technique developed by writer and podcaster Merlin Mann. Inbox Zero is essentially a structured thought process for triaging and clearing your email inbox every day. Like many productivity methods that follow a structured routine, there can be a wide range of supporters and detractors. But in my experience, there are few productivity techniques that are more misunderstood than the concept of Inbox Zero.

Like most things that take on a following, Inbox Zero has a catchy name that can attract a lot of attention. Who doesn't want to have an empty inbox? But that’s not really the key to the Inbox Zero system. Rather, it's a method of attacking your email as opposed to reaching an end goal.

Making use of Inbox Zero

To put Inbox Zero into practice, you need to take the approach that you will touch every email waiting for you. Not only will you review everything that has been sent to you, but you’ll make some very quick decisions about what you will do with that message. The 4 actions you need to decide on are Delete, Delegate, Defer, or Do.

  • Delete - Will you never need to refer to this email again? Delete it. Or archive it so that it leaves your inbox and you can search for it later if need be. The key to this step and the following three is to never keep read email in your inbox.
  • Delegate – Are you the best person for this email request? If not, forward it to someone who is. You don't need to be a manager to delegate. Remember, just because you're capable of doing something, doesn't mean that you should be doing it.
  • Defer - Will this message take a few minutes to reply? Do you need to find other files to attach to this email? Put a label on it or place it in a separate folder so you can deal with it AFTER you've gone through the rest of your new messages in your inbox.
  • Do – Does this email need a quick reply? Can you respond in less than 2 minutes? Don't waste your time by putting this message somewhere else. If it’s super quick to process, do it right now and get on with the rest of your email.
By taking these actions on each email you can quickly go through a large number of new messages in a matter of minutes. And remember, don't worry if new messages come in while you are processing existing email. The goal is not to keep your inbox at zero. It’s about processing your messages fast so you can get to your most important work.

Starting your day without your inbox

Checking email less frequently can have a huge impact on your productivity.

A study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia examined the effects of checking email only three times a day. In this experiment, participants in two groups sent and received the same amount of email, but while one group was asked to check email as often as they wanted, the other only checked their inbox three times a day. The groups then switched to the opposite task the next week. Researchers monitored the stress levels of both groups.

The results might surprise you: When participants were in the group that checked their email just three times a day, they reported feeling less stressed. Their stress levels were measured to be equal that of other well-known relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation.

Additionally, from a sheer numbers perspective the 3x/day group was spending on average 20% less time in their inboxes. As a result, they were able to spend more time on more important tasks throughout their week.

The important factor is that all participants were dealing with the same amount of email as they normally would; the difference was simply how many times a day they interfaced with it. By dealing with email less frequently, participants felt a significant reduction in stress which again, allowed them to be more efficient and effective with their time.

Webex, Skype, Google Hangouts Instructions

posted Jul 21, 2017, 11:43 AM by Sara Danzinger

The University provide several video conferencing options. Each option serves a specific purpose. The matrix listed below as well as the step-by-step instructions are designed to help users determine the best choice for their situation and remove barriers to use.

Web Conferencing User Matrix


- Web Conferencing Matrix and Products - https://z.umn.edu/WebConfMatrixandProducts
- Webex Instructions - https://z.umn.edu/webexdirections
- Skype Instructions (PC) - https://z.umn.edu/SkypewithPC
- Skype Instructions (Mac) - https://z.umn.edu/SkypeonMac
- Google Hangouts - (coming soon)

Google Apps Project Manager

posted Jul 21, 2017, 8:33 AM by Christopher Stordalen   [ updated Sep 11, 2017, 9:50 AM ]

You can use Google Apps to manage projects. A template has been created that uses Google Sites. You can copy this template to organize and manage your own projects.



Project management is something we do every day, often informally and naturally. We identify the goals of a project, who might be involved, what an acceptable timeline might be, and then move forward taking care of all the tasks required to meet the goals.

Documentation of project specifics becomes important when we are working on a project with other people, in order to communicate the details of the project with a team, as well as have unified information that team members or other interested parties can visit at any time to remind themselves of the purpose of a project, see the status of the project, etc.

The University of Minnesota is an institution that utilizes Google Apps to organize our work. The Google Apps project manager was built to provide a project management environment that utilizes tools to which we have free and easy access, and with which we are familiar.

NOTE: If you are looking for a more integrated task and project management environment, LATIS manages an instance of a tool called Asana. Please email latis@umn.edu for more information.

CLA Departmental Contacts (Directors, Administrators, Directors of Graduate Studies)

posted Jul 10, 2017, 12:08 PM by Sara Danzinger   [ updated Jul 10, 2017, 12:48 PM ]

A new resource is now available allowing people to quickly find the names and contact information in electronic form for the following people in each CLA unit:
  • Departmental chairs
  • Unit directors
  • Departmental administrators
  • Directors of graduate studies (DGS)
  • Office supervisors

The Art of the RSVP - Respond to calendar invitations

posted Jun 16, 2017, 6:04 AM by Christopher Stordalen   [ updated Jun 16, 2017, 7:46 AM ]

We all have meetings that we are required to attend. We all have meetings we would like to attend. We all have meetings we would rather not attend, but to which we have been invited anyway. 

A response to a calendar invitation is an important action in a community. If you have been invited to a meeting, someone likely wants your input or to inform you of some topic, initiative, project, or other item. Not responding leaves the organizer wondering if you will attend or not, which makes it impossible to appropriately plan meeting space, food and drink, meeting materials needed, etc.

CLA Best Practice: Respond to meeting invitations

  • "Yes" - If you desire to, and are able to, attend and know this upon receiving an invitation, take a moment to respond affirmatively
  • "Maybe" - If you desire to attend, but don't know if you are able, take a moment to respond with "Maybe"
  • "No" - If you are not able to attend a meeting, take a moment to respond with regrets, i.e. "No"
  • Please remove me from the list - if you are not interested in the topic, take a moment to let the organizer know you would like to be removed from this meeting topic. 
These responses provide clarity and result in a more respectful community spirit.

UMN Events Calendar: Who Can and How to Submit

posted May 4, 2017, 10:48 AM by Sara Danzinger

Great news! Any UMN faculty, staff, and registered student organizations are able to create an event on the Events Calendar as event owners. The Events Calendar is only to be used for University of Minnesota sponsored events. No personal, unrelated community events, or commercial business events are permitted.

The Events Calendar requires an individual, or personal, account for anyone creating or registering for events. A separate event owner account is required to post events.

A complete Events Calendar Tips and Tricks document provides step-by-step instructions.

How to Submit Content for CLA NOW

posted May 4, 2017, 10:33 AM by Sara Danzinger

CLA NOW (News on Wednesday) is a weekly internal e-newsletter  that announces CLA-specific deadlines and activities across a number of CLA administration offices and college activities. Coordinated by the fiscal team, any CLA staff or faculty are welcome to submit content that affects the strategic or tactical business of CLA. 

Content is often categorized into topics such as:
  • HR
  • Fiscal
  • Scholarship/Grants
  • Community
Content should be sent to clafiscl@umn.edu before noon on any Wednesday to be included in that week's issue. The editor reserves the right to determine if an announcement is appropriate for the audience. The newsletter is an opt-in and anyone interested in receiving the newsletter should email clafiscl@umn.edu and request to be put on the mailing list.

Any content submitted will also be stored in the CLA NOW Archive on this website.

Grants and Other Funding Opportunities

posted May 2, 2017, 11:20 AM by Christopher Stordalen   [ updated May 2, 2017, 11:43 AM by Sara Danzinger ]

Grants and similar funding programs, both internal to CLA, as well as external opportunities, are critical to success in providing so many individually focused programs. There are some standard best practices when applying for funding:

  • Read the entire set of application materials early and multiple times
  • Submit application early
  • Develop a plan around how you will meet all the requirements of the application
    • Information that is required
    • Contacts that need to be made
    • Official documentation that needs to be requested
  • Submit the application early
  • If possible, connect with people that have received funding from a particular program before and talk through their preparation process and application submission
  • Submit the application early

Here is a list of some of the most popular funding opportunities historically for the college:

Web Conference/Video Conference Best Practices

posted May 2, 2017, 11:09 AM by Christopher Stordalen   [ updated May 2, 2017, 11:38 AM by Sara Danzinger ]

Web Conference and Video Conference refer to using audio and/or video through your computer to manage meetings, conversations, etc. with remote participants. Sometimes everyone is remote, sometimes all but one are in the same room together. In general, no matter how many remote attendees there are, similar basic best practices apply:

  • Test, Test, Test

    • No one likes this recommendation but it is critical to having a successful online meeting. And it is much better to sacrifice 15 minutes to text your technology, than to sacrifice 15 minutes of your valuable meeting time with your audience waiting (hopefully) for you to get things working properly.
      • Choose your web conference technology - Google Hangouts and WebEx are strongly recommended as those are currently the authorized technologies at the University of Minnesota
      • Connect with the same device(s) in the same location as you will be using for the actual meeting.
      • Test your setup with a number of other test cases in other locations
      • Test every time your meeting is really important - don't just expect it will work like last time.

  • Leaders - lead

    • In an official meeting, it is challenging enough to manage the agenda topics, discussion, documentation of issues and action items, and a host of other things. A strong recommendation is that someone from the group (or a guest helper) manage the technology for the web conference that is not the leader of the meeting. 

  • Use a headset whenever possible

    • It isn't always clear what might cause problems in a web conference, so limiting the problem areas proactively helps immensely in increasing the odds of success. Use of a headset for singular remote attendees limits ambient noise from the surroundings that could cause odd hums, feedback, etc.

  • Be inclusive

    • Particularly with a large group a main room together, it is easy for the remote attendees to be left out of the conversation. Be sure to include them in group conversation and have a way for them to contribute to breakout sessions, have access to particular Google Docs for notes, etc.

For more detailed information and best practices developed by a group at the University of Minnesota, visit Video Conferencing Etiquette

Google Calendar and Scheduling Best Practices

posted May 2, 2017, 7:25 AM by Sara Danzinger   [ updated May 2, 2017, 11:53 AM ]

With a college as large as CLA, best practices can help keep colleagues and departments coordinate meetings and communications efficiently.

Google Calendar

  1. First rule of Google Calendar: use it!

    • If you want to keep a paper calendar as a back up, that is fine, but it is critical that staff and faculty use Google calendars to support scheduling. Sending an email around to ask when people are available to meet is ineffective and unsustainable in today's workplace.

    2. Share your calendar

    • Allow colleagues to view your calendar to aid in scheduling. You can set up any reserved time to appear as "busy" to anyone looking at your calendar to protect your privacy and location.

    3. Place agenda in meeting description

    • Place the meeting agenda or a link to the agenda in the meeting "description."

    4. Confirm location before sending out meeting

    • Review the room's calendar to ensure availability.

   5. Do not sent updated invite for minor changes

    • Opt not to send updates to attendees for simple changes. 

   6. If a regular meeting with the same attendees, allow attendees to edit meeting

    • Allow colleagues to change the calendar invite content or to move to a different time that may work better for all more/majority of attendees.

  7. Make sure any personal appointments are marked as private 

    • Marking personal appointments "private" allows the owner to see the appointment details, but shows outside viewers that the owner is simply "busy."

  8. Use the "find a time" tab

    • The "find a tab" tab allows the scheduler to view multiple calendars of invitees to find a time that works best.


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