My short article “The Mindful Entrepreneur” was published in Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Octane magazine this month. The story of why I got rid of the iPhone and Blackberry devices from my life last year and how I have reduced my use of email.
CC: Use “cc” only when all recipients know each other. Use “bcc” when sending to a group, to maintain individual anonymity. After “to” put your e-mail address and then put all recipient addresses in the “bcc” line.
(Please) Follow up kindly: I would love to go to bed knowing that I have responded to every email. I would not sleep much if I did. Please follow up with a copy of the previous email… not “sent email over a week ago and still waiting for response”.
Keep it Short: If you find yourself in a fourth and fifth paragraph maybe email is not the right medium. Perhaps you could pick up the phone. If you find you are making 2 or 3 different requests… perhaps, ask for the one most important (or easiest for giver?).
If it is to schedule a meeting. Use doodle or a calendar management application such as google calendar. 10 people looking for a mutually convenient date via email will generate 50 responses, frustration and no meeting.
If it is in anger. The words will still be there years later when you are no longer angry.
If it is to criticize. Best by phone or in person. Or not at all.
Any other ways we can improve email? What is your bugbear when it comes to use or mis-use of email?
I was inspired by Michael over at Box of Crayons blog in his post 5 ways email is killing you. He found a terrific article from PsyBlog. They’ve written a compelling article that sets out the ways in which email lessens our impact in the world, rather than supports it.
The original article actually sets out ten reasons – you can pick the reasons that resonate most for you.
Michael’s pick – #1, #2, #3, #4 and #6.
My pick – #2, #3, #4, #7 and #9
My maternal grandfather “Grandpa Ted” was a country bank manager in the Bank of Ireland in the 1940s through the 60s. I often wonder what he could have done during the day. No telephone. No computer. No email. That is 80% of my concept of “work” today.
My friend Jolmer, co-founder of investment firm Triple Partners once told a story about asking his father “what did you do at work before email?”.
What did you do at work before email?
His father’s response was “Read the newspapers and company updates. Think about the implications. Meet colleagues for lunch. Discuss. More thinking. Dictate a memo. Go home.”
Imagine all the patterns he might see in the world that are invisible to somebody who’s day looks like “Wake. Check email on blackberry. Shower. Check blackberry over breakfast. Have a coffee. Drive (sending 1 email while waiting at traffic lights). Arrive at work. Say hi to receptionist. Turn on computer. Check email. Lose track of time. Colleague says “lunch?” “No. have to finish something.” Rush out to buy a sandwich to eat at desk. Check blackberry while in queue to buy sandwich. Return to desk. Open word to write a proposal. Eat sandwich. Start writing. Remember a to-do that requires an email to be sent. Switch to email. Send email. See that 11 new emails have arrived. Attempt to resist temptation to read them. Fail. Read them. Enter time warp until dark outside. Head home. Check email on blackberry. Work on laptop at home because proposal didn’t get finished while actually at work…. Dream of blackberries… then a chilling nightmare – you are sitting on a toilet and not having a paper to read or a blackberry to check and actually have to spend 3 minutes listening to the noise inside your own head!!!”
And we call email a “productive technology”.
How about you? Would love your comments. Do you agree with Michael’s top 5 or mine? What is the most outrageous email checking activity that you have ever seen? People walking across busy streets while totally focussed on a blackberry keyboard? Will the iPad make this situation worse?
Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University, outlines four criteria that they look for when hiring new people into the team at Pixar.
Depth (in any area) – Randy believes that the best predictor of ability to master any one area is if somebody has already mastered another area. It is more likely that someone who has achieved mastery in golf will achieve mastery as a Pixar artist or programmer than any set of pre-existing talent as an artist or programmer. Mastery requires discipline more than talent. Discipline requires humility. In the highly important NASA search for the astronauts to travel to the moon they were looking for mastery after some form of setback. They placed a huge value on people who had failed and recovered. In doing new things (buzz word “Innovation”) the key skill is “failure recovery”.
Breadth – He says they look for interested people more than interesting people. People who are broadly curious rather than just “different”. The key question is does this person “amplify me”? Can this person take my ideas and return them with passion?
Communication – Communication requires a process of translation. When a techie speaks to an artist she must speak in language that the artist understands. Randy says that nobody can be considered articulate, because the only success of communication is that the listener can say “I understand you”.
Collaboration – This is far beyond simple cooperation. Cooperation is for assembly lines, Ford Model T production workers. Knowledge work requires the ability for team members to amplify each other – creating truly connected human beings.
The full video is available here on the blog. It is well worth the 10 minutes to watch.
He starts: “Here is a paradox. In the financial markets, investment information is rapidly and efficiently diffused. New product and service innovations, be they junk bonds, new forms of options, or debt securities that allocate and price risk in an innovative fashion, get rapidly copied by competitors. But, in the “managerial knowledge” marketplace, there is little evidence of much diffusion of ideas or innovative business models and management practices.
Although there is rapid diffusion of language – the language of quality or six sigma, empowerment or putting people first, employee and customer loyalty and so forth – in many cases, not much actually changes in terms of what occurs on a day-to-day basis and in fundamental organisational models.”
photo credit: AComment
He discusses a couple of examples. Southwest airlines has seen profitability for over 20 years in an industry that is losing money. Their organisation has been widely described in articles, cases and books. There were no secrets to what they were doing. It was decades before others began to imitate the Southwest model.
Another well known example is Toyota (excepting events of the last few months). Toyota for a decade was the automotive byword for quality and productivity. Toyota would regularly give plant tours to its competitors – but those managers came home and repeated what they were already doing – perhaps mentioning some six sigma concepts once in a while to give credibility to their positions.
The task for HR? Human Resources must be concerned with the mental models of the people in the company, particularly its leaders. The role of the company’s execution leaders is to ensure that these mental models turn into disciplined action.
Why does management innovation take so long to spread? What role do Business Schools have in accelerating this process?
Productivity put simple. This is a guest post by Dimitri Uralov, a Barcelona based entrepreneur and financial coach.
When Conor offered me the chance to write a post on time management for this blog, we laughed as I commented that most people would probably find the truth about productivity too simple.
“Most people would probably find the truth about productivity too simple”
I am interested in time management. I spend a lot of time reading books on the topic, testing new systems and methods and trying the latest software. Invariably, I always come back to the same simple principle that has been guiding my productive life for the last several years.
Here it is. Productivity boils down to one simple thing: your capacity to do the most important, and only the most important, and to stick with it until it’s done. Time management tools and strategies are useful, but always secondary.
Our time is limited and we will never accomplish everything that we and others put on our plate. The only question is whether what we choose to do takes us closer to our goals and allows us to make a difference or not.
The only thing you need to know about time management.
I can only really accomplish what really matters if I spend most of my time working on the most important tasks. If I’m doing something else, no matter what I choose to do (and what software or system I’m using for it), it will relatively be a waste. (Conor has a good post that distinguishes great work vs bad work).
What are these most important things? I don’t think you need help with answering this question. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using the Eisenhower matrix, the ABC method of setting priorities or simply your gut feel. We all happen to know what our most important tasks are.
The real problem is that these most important tasks are usually the most difficult and least “attractive” items on our agenda. They require time, effort and getting out of our comfort zone. So, humans as we are, we consciously or unconsciously choose to keep ourselves busy with other less important yet so much easier stuff.
I remember the first time I realized how powerful this “just-do-the-most-important” principle was. About two years ago, when I was working in a family office, my boss had a conversation with me. He was kind but honest. He complained about my productivity. He said it took me too much time to finish important projects. He didn’t know what I was doing, but he knew he didn’t like the results.
That came quite unexpected for me. At that time I considered myself to be a very good worker. I was always busy doing things. I was staying late to do more. I had my to-do lists all over the place. I would answer all e-mails and return all telephone calls quickly. I was up-to-date with everything happening on the markets. I was available and ready to help others. However, my boss felt that I was not achieving much.
So I decided to reassess the way I was working. I tracked my time and took records of my activities. Soon it became very obvious that most of my day was spent on unimportant stuff, such as answering e-mails or reading investment articles. Meanwhile, the important stuff was sitting on my desk and in my to-do lists, waiting to be dealt with.
Eat that Frog.
Having realized I was always postponing the most important, I made a strong decision to change my working habits. Every morning I would arrive to the office, make a list using the ABC method, and then go directly to my most important task, the A1, resolving to do nothing else until it was completed. I would then go to A2, then A3 and so on.
As I adopted this simple productivity rule, my results changed completely. Difficult projects and tasks that used to take weeks were now done in days. I felt more energetic and motivated. For the first time I would have moments when all items on my to-do list were ticked. Eventually I would accomplish most of the tasks for the week in only 3 or 4 hours on Monday morning. The change was so amazing, that I even started to share my insights with other people.
Today, as an entrepreneur, the productivity issue has become more important than ever for me. To be honest, I sometimes find it quite difficult to control myself and keep focused. If there’s something good in having a boss, it is that you have someone who can warn you when your productivity has gone low.
Therefore, whenever I feel stuck among all the things I have to do, I go back to the same simple principle that has proved to work so well – I start doing the important things, and only the important things.
I grab a sheet of paper and write down my two or three most important tasks for the day. Yes, those that are usually also the most difficult and uncomfortable. I allow myself to forget about everything else, and then I focus on getting these two-three things done.
Once you eat a frog, nothing worse can happen in the day.
Sometimes it takes me the whole day to accomplish just one of these tasks. But I’ve discovered that I don’t really feel bad about it. I feel calm, concentrated and productive. I’m doing the right thing, the one that matters most. It is the best use of my time, and there’s nothing that can be compared to that feeling of fulfillment when it’s finally done.
I’ve also discovered that every time I concentrate my effort on the most important, the unimportant stuff takes care of itself. Problems solve themselves in my absence. I get less e-mail in my inbox. The phone is silent. Life flows.
And usually, if I manage to keep myself focused and avoid distractions, I end up doing much more than I would expect. It seems that things do not always take as much time as we think, especially those that initially look so big and difficult.
Therefore, the next time you feel tempted to test the next revolutionary time management system, think again whether you really need to overcomplicate it. Get back to the basics and ask yourself a simple question:
I recognize that even when we know what we have to do, it is not always easy to stay focused and avoid distractions. I personally find it to be the most difficult part of the “art of productivity”. For that reason, in my next post I will share some of the tips that have proven most effective for me.
In the meanwhile, could you share your experience and insights on simple productivity in the comments? What do you do to manage your time better?
Dimitri Uralov is managing partner of the Intelligence Consultancy – a company specialised in helping people and organisations to develop the full range of their intelligence. Next month he will run a 3-day workshop on leadership, productivity and personal branding in Barcelona.
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