Turn the radio off (auditory overload)

Do you always have the radio on in the background?

From the moment I wake up in the morning until I get out of the car at the office, the radio spews its news out at me (I find news more stimulating than music).

That was true until recently, when my car radio stopped working. After a few quiet journeys with no radio blaring at me, I suddenly realized that solutions to a number of problems I had been mulling over had popped into my head while driving.

I can’t prove the science behind it, but I know intuitively that when the radio, TV or MP3 player is on, it continuously stimulates our sensory inputs with relatively useless information. This suppresses our own original and creative thoughts that would otherwise fill the void. (By constantly saturating our inputs with irrelevant chatter, could we be subconsciously “protecting” ourselves against having to deal with such things?)

So next time you have the urge to hose yourself down with a torrent of mind-numbing auditory input, try listening to your own mind for a while instead.

Email message ends up on road sign

You really have to be careful what you write in an email – you never know where it may end up…

image

This out-of-office automatic response message made it onto a bilingual road sign in Wales!

If you don’t understand Welsh, here’s what the Welsh version says:

"I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated".

Here’s how this happened. 

[via Ferris Research]

SpeedFiler Featured on the Cranky Middle Manager Show

I recently had the good fortune to be invited to talk about SpeedFiler and the problems it can solve, in a special Productivity Tools broadcast on Wayne Turmel’s Cranky Middle Manager Show (part of The Podcast Network).

The Cranky Middle Manager Show is an irreverent but insightful look at the world of middle management. Host Wayne Turmel vents, offers humorous commentary and talks to the smartest people in the field about management techniques, career strategies and just keeping it together day after day. If you ever feel stuck between the idiots that make the decisions and the morons who won’t do as they’re told, this is the show for you.

Thanks, Wayne, for the opportunity to participate in your show.

(Tip: listen to the show if you’d like a discount coupon for SpeedFiler.)

Email Bankruptcy Continues to Spread

Today’s Washington Post carries an article about an increasing number of people who find themselves having to declare email bankruptcy.

The article is full of sad cases of people who think that declaring email bankruptcy will solve their problem. It won’t. I’ve talked about why email bankruptcy is worse in some ways than financial bankruptcy, and this shows why email bankruptcy is not a solution.

Just as people without financial skills may find themselves bankrupt, people who lack email and time-management skills will find themselves wanting to declare email bankruptcy. People are usually restricted from starting businesses immediately after a financial bankruptcy. In a similar manner, people who suffer from extreme email overload should ensure they get some training in how to handle their workload before they get back in the game.

It’s not just a skill these people are lacking, though. It’s a way of viewing their inboxes and the place the inbox occupies in their life. I’m always saying that email overload is a state-of-mind, and David Ferris puts this very nicely:

“A lot of people like the feeling that they have everything done at the end of the day. They can’t have it anymore.”

I speak from experience. I once declared “job bankruptcy” — my inability to cope with my workload, in which email played a major part, prompted me to tender my resignation. My boss did not want to accept it, but I was determined. During the time that I worked out my notice, I adopted the Getting Things Done method. All of a sudden, I had more than doubled my productivity and reduced my stress tremendously. GTD worked for me because it solved both the practical and psychological sides of the problem. I found that I could do the job well after all, and I continued working there for another 18 months!

Nagless Reminders — Get the Recipient to Respond On Time and Cut Through their Email Overload

ReminderHave you ever had to repeatedly nag someone to deliver on a commitment? What if it’s a commitment that is voluntary, i.e. you’re not the other person’s boss, and you cannot force them to do it? The classic case is trying to get your own boss to deliver on a commitment s/he made to you.

Imagine that you have asked David to review a report, and that he has responded by committing to a self-imposed deadline:

“I’m extremely busy right now, but I’ll have time to review your report on Monday.”

Where do you think your request will be at the beginning of next week? Like many managers, David suffers from chronic email overload, so by Monday it will probably be buried under a few hundred emails in his overflowing inbox. There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell that he’ll see it and be reminded that he committed to send his feedback.

You will therefore need to remind David of his commitment. But if you become too much of a nuisance, David might not deliver. So, how do you remind him in a nice way, without becoming too much of a nag?

All you need to do is say, “Thanks!”

However, it’s not what you say, it’s when you say it. Don’t reply to David’s message until the time arrives when he promised to work on it.

On Monday, your reply will arrive in David’s inbox, and will subtly remind him of his commitment at exactly the time that he planned to work on it:

“Thanks, David. today will be just in time to fix the document up before the final draft is due. I await your comments eagerly.”

I have used this tactic on many occasions, and have found it very successful. Sometimes you need to help those around you to be a little more productive!

Change of Address

I’ve just registered a “proper” domain name for this blog. It now resides at http://email-overloaded.com. The folks at WordPress.com have rigged things smoothly, so that if you use the old address, you’ll still end up here.

If you are subscribed to this blog’s RSS feed, it should continue working normally, but it would still be a good idea to update the URL to http://email-overloaded.com/feed/

Email Newsletter Study: Surprising Initial Results

I’ve been tracking my newsletter intake over the past week, and I must admit to being rather surprised at the results.

I received only 55 messages from 37 sources that can be described as newsletters, and it took a total of only 72 minutes to read them, including any associated links I was tempted to click on.

Six of these contained at least one piece of information that helps me do my job better, and thirteen messages (from nine sources) managed to pique my interest on subjects that have little bearing on my job.

According to this, approximately 34% of the messages contained something useful or interesting. Does that mean I’m wasting 66% of my time reading useless newsletters just on the off-chance that I’ll find something valuable? Apparently not: 62 out of the total 72 minutes (86%) were spent reading messages from sources that gave useful or interesting information. So I wasted only 10 minutes on useless newsletters. 

This is rather surprising, as I had assumed that I would be able to save a significant amount of time by unsubscribing from the less valuable newsletters. I’m still going to unsubscribe from some of the newsletters, as it will considerably reduce unnecessary inbox clutter.

I’m going to continue measuring for another few weeks, as I need more data points from the newsletters that I receive only once a week. I’m hoping to develop some rules of thumb to help decide what to keep and what to cut.