Category Archives: Productivity

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.)

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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!

Email Newsletters: Time Wasters or Valuable Information Sources?

Newsletters seem to take up an incredible amount of space in my inbox. There are some I just can’t bring myself to unsubscribe from, even though I can’t remember the last time I got anything useful out of them. The fear of missing something important is just too great.

In order to help me reduce the amount of rubbish in my inbox and to reduce the time I waste on reading messages “just in case”, I’ve decided to record various statistics about the newsletters I’m subscribed to. I’m then going to analyze the results and see if I can devise a more effective newsletter subscription policy.

I don’t quite know what to measure — this is what I’ll be tracking to start with:

  • How long does each newsletter take to read? If I am tempted to click on any links, I’m going to include the time taken to read those web pages too.
  • Does it help me get my work done or do it better? If not, does it at least provide information that will probably help in the near future?
  • Is it interesting? Is there at least one tidbit of interesting information in it? If I click on a link — it’s a fair sign that it caught my interest.

I’m going to keep this up for a week, and report back here with my findings.

Solving the Productivity vs. Security Dilemma

Many of us find ourselves processing email while on the road. In fact, sitting on a plane, or while waiting for one, is probably the best time to catch up on a stuffed inbox.

However, when we’re away from the office, we’re at our most vulnerable point with respect to viruses and malware. While we’re away, we access the Internet via insecure public networks (hotel rooms, coffee shops etc.), which lay us wide open to infection from the Internet as well as others using the same network. We have to learn how to negotiate with our desktop firewalls and configure our VPN client software, and many of us get so frustrated that we have learned to bypass these obstacles, even if it means that we compromise on security.

This is not only a problem for individuals — it is a problem for companies, too. After you’ve taken your laptop on the road and possibly got it infected with malware or spyware, what do you think can happen when you return to the office and connect to the company network? I still have vivid memories of being hit by the Code Red virus in 2001 in a hotel room over a dial-up connection, despite my up-to-date anti-virus program. Had I not realized immediately that my machine was infected, it would have attacked my company’s network from the inside when I got back to the office. I also know first-hand of at least one incident at a major US corporation where an employee returned from a business trip and started a virus outbreak the minute he connected his laptop to the network.

Conventional thinking has it that productivity and security are like a see-saw; if productivity goes up, security goes down, and vice-versa. Microsoft could not have been as successful with their operating systems and Office products had they been overly concerned about security from the outset, instead of focusing on usability.

This poses a rather challenging paradox: Continue reading