On the most recent episode of the ProdCast: The Personal Productivity Podcast, Joel Lindstrom and I talked about Search Folders as part of a strategy for dealing with the deluge of email.
In case you haven’t already listened to the episode, I was talking about setting up special folders inside of Outlook 2016 (or 2013) that look through your whole mailbox for a match (even if it’s in a sub-folder, or sent items, or wherever). In simple terms: a search folder is a saved search that saves you time by storing several search terms, allowing you to find matching emails in just one-click.
Joel asked me if the Search Folder could focus that search to look inside of just one specific folder (e.g. “only mail in your inbox” and not any other folders). The answer is yes…but after recording the episode, I felt like I made it sound over-complicated to set up a search folder that only searches through a certain set of folders. I whipped up the following video to show just how easy it is!
If you’re not familiar with ProdCast, it is a podcast about personal productivity, getting more done with the time you have, avoiding procrastination, and being more efficient. We separate the hype from productivity tools and talk about ways to use your email and task list to become more productive. If you’re interested you can subscribe on iTunes.
One of the most effective ways to become more productive and manage your time is by automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Every week new apps are released that will connect to your online accounts and do some work for you. I’m a huge fan of this progress, however, I get concerned about these services having an unintended effect of trading some of your authenticity away just to save a little time.
There is a growing popularity of automation tools like Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT), and Microsoft Flow, and it’s becoming easier and easier for average people to build their own personalized automations.
Even easier are tools like dlvr.it which will monitor sites and automatically post to social networks on your behalf. I’ll admit that I’ve tried dlvr.it for a couple of months and it has saved me time because I don’t need to remember a laundry list of sites that I want to further discuss on Twitter (it does the posting for me). Unfortunately, things got weird for me when people re-tweeted and responded to my tweets about articles I hadn’t actually read yet.
That crossed a line for me. As informal as social media can be, people do react to tweets, posts, and shares in a very personal way. As a result, I recently stopped using this automation and decided to find a middle ground I am comfortable with.
This made me reflect on the ways automation can impact the perception of your authenticity. As I weighed the arguments, I expected that my opinion would change if I considered it from the perspective of an individual (e.g. my personal Twitter account) vs. an organization (e.g. my company’s Twitter account). To my surprise, the answer stays pretty similar for both situations.
Every year around the holiday season I get greeting cards from friends and family. I also get them from companies that I do business with. I’m never impressed with the generic holiday greeting cards from my insurance agent. It’s a great concept, but I can see that they were printed in bulk (with a mail-merge), include a laser-printed message and signature, and were sent from another state. How many people receive this kind of card and feel warm-fuzzies?
I like my agent, and I don’t think he’s even directly responsible for the cards (it’s the parent company that sends them out). Sadly, the card that’s being sent out on his behalf actually serves as a reminder that I’m not getting a personal card/call/email to wish me happy holidays.
I get plenty of other impersonal mailings from the insurance company, ones that I don’t mind at all. Who in their right mind would expect their billing statement to have a personal touch? The non-personal, but personalized, holiday greeting card is a perfect example of the wrong kind of interaction to automate.
Take a moment and think about something as simple as an order acknowledgment email for a purchase you make online. Few people today would expect this to be personally crafted and sent by a live person. In fact, for me, and many others I know, that email should be in my inbox right away. It’s a tangible thing that makes me feel satisfied that the order I just placed is real.
However, 10-15 years ago (or maybe even less than that) most people wanted to know that there was a human being looking after their order. Why is this?
They may have changed for something like an email that confirms an order, however, the prevailing expectation I see on social media is that people expect (and believe) that posts are coming from real people hitting the Post button. Make sure your authenticity is not compromised by over-automating this kind of interaction.
Setting these expectations grows increasingly important “bots” become more mainstream. Bots (a.k.a. chatbots) are growing in their ability to handle requests for information (through a request from somebody) and automatically respond with an answer (or with a request for additional details or context).
In my experience I’ve seen bots with very wide differences in how successful they are–but little irks me more than a website offering me a live chat with an agent…but then it turns out that the agent is actually a bot.
I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means speaking ill of the services provided by dlvr.it, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, or others. These are very exciting tools that can improve the productivity of individuals and organizations alike. There’s a line when it comes to communication, though, where automating for productivity could compromise your authenticity–and I highly encourage that you take the time to ask yourself where that balance is for you.
Do you automate communication tools like email or social media? Do you think I’m overreacting? Sound off in the comments below.
If you’re like me, when someone starts talking about a new project, you get excited and might want to get involved. This is a great quality, which has served me well both personally and professionally, and something that I never want to lose.
Unfortunately, this tendency can have some unexpected side effects, like overextending yourself. About five and a half years ago, I had put entirely too much on my plate at work and it was really difficult to deal with.
One of the contributing factors was that I worried that if I said no to a project, I felt like the person asking (usually my boss or someone senior to me in the organization) might think I declined because I lacked the skill or ability to do the work. In other words, I was worried they might think I was incompetent.
In hindsight the exact opposite was true.
How many times have you found yourself saying something like:
Nobody wants to be in that kind of situation because it means that there’s something you really want to be doing, but you can’t. I focus a lot of effort on using my time on the things that are most important. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day (and only 168 hours in a week).
I can hear you saying “OK, sure Matt, only spend time on what’s important. But that’s easier said than done. Especially when my boss might think I’m not carrying my load if I can’t take on this new project or task.”
That’s a fair point, however, test my logic in the following scenarios.
Let’s consider two different people, Mark and Sara, who are each asked by their boss to help out with a project.
Who do you think looks incompetent, Mark or Sara?
Whether you say yes or no, there’s always a risk that someone might think that you’re incapable or even incompetent. Let them think whatever they want to but prove yourself and your personal brand by meeting the commitments you make. Your track record is an objective scorecard that you can reference back to.
Quite the contrary.
Doing work. Doing good work. Taking on projects that are new and challenging, or that will take learning on your part. These are all part of growing your career. Saying no, and especially saying no “the wrong way” can make you seem difficult to work with or unwilling to cooperate. This is potentially dangerous territory to wander into.
I say this because there’s a temptation when you’re learning to say no to misuse this developing skill. It may not even be a conscious thing. It’s an easy trap–in fact, it’s natural. If you’ve ever talked with a two-year-old who learned to use the word no, you know how they tend to go overboard.
What I am saying is that saying no in the right situations will help make sure you’re able to focus on getting stuff done. In the long run, this will lead to people seeing your competence because you do the stuff you say you’re going to do and they also don’t mistakenly assume you’re going to do everything that comes your way.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve actually been quite guilty of saying yes to too many things. I rather enjoy the challenge of completing a lot of stuff that I’ve committed to. However, I’ve seen the dark side that can include late nights, exhaustion, and stress that doesn’t need to be there. In those times I realized how much additional risk of seeming incompetent came because I committed to a project that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on.
I’ve worked hard to develop the skill of managing this particular risk and I highly encourage you to do the same. One of the first places I recommend starting is in situations like the ones above, where you’re saying yes for the wrong reasons.
Do you agree that saying no can prove your competence? Let me know in the comments below.
Do you have something like 12,525 unread emails sitting in your inbox right now? Joel and Matt talk about taming the e-mail beast.
I’ve teamed up with my co-worker and friend Joel Lindstrom to create a bi-weekly podcast on personal productivity, called ProdCast (Productivity Cast). The topics we’re planning to cover are very much in line with the topics of many blog posts here at Connecting the Data–the apps, systems, and strategies that help with personal productivity and time management.
In the first episode, we discuss the format and direction of the show. Along the way, we cover a couple of tips from my recent Skype for Business e-book release.
You can subscribe on iTunes right now or listen to the latest episodes on the web at prodcast.show. We’re joining up with the crm.audio podcast network–so if you’re already subscribed to the CRM Audio podcast you’ll see ProdCast in your feed automatically as well.
I would never have guessed that I’d be announcing the release of my new e-book about Skype for Business. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used it as my primary workplace communication platform and online meeting service for the last 5+ years (dating back before Lync was rebranded as Skype for Business). Still, I’m surprised and excited to share my e-book with you. You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.
The early days of Skype for Business were pretty painful. There were compatibility, connectivity, and general usability issues that I’d run into for even the simplest of meetings. I also quickly learned that I wasn’t the only person with these problems (and also that it wasn’t just limited to my company’s use of Skype for Business). Over time, though, something happened.
In my line of work, I find myself having to use different screen share/online meeting services. GoToMeeting, WebEx, Join.me, and others (even one called Blue Jeans). For a long time, Skype for Business was simply not on par with the other options. On paper it could check the boxes–sure–but there were lots of little nuances that “you need to get used to.”
Behind the scenes, though, so many Skype for Business users would grumble about features not working how you expect, compatibility issues, and a lack of trust.
In 2015 and 2016 there were many improvements made to the platform, the desktop client, and the phone apps, which have resulted in positive improvements in stability and usability.
These improvement in the Skype for Business platform, in concert with it being included with most Office 365 subscriptions, more and more organizations are using it as their online meeting solution.
As a long-time user, I’ve seen and helped people with the most common issues they run into when they start with Skype for Business. Several co-workers of mine have asked me for the last year or so when my “Skype book” would come out. I can finally tell them that the wait is over!
In this e-book, I’m sharing a collection of these Skype for Business essential tips, which fall into four categories:
You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.
Do you use Skype for Business? Are there any tips or tricks that you’d be willing to share with others? If so, sound off in the comments below!
I usually see a lot of variety in my news feed, but one unexpected story that’s taken off is the release of the new Evernote mobile app for iOS earlier this week. I’m a big fan of Evernote, but I didn’t realize or appreciate the pain that my Apple-phoned friends were experiencing with their experience with the app. This got me thinking about the Evernote app for Android and why my experience is so good.
Evernote did its latest major release of the Android mobile app in mid-2016. I remember the user experience improvements that came with the update, as the whole app was a bit faster and less cumbersome. After over half a year of usage, I’m still really happy with this version. I’m not alone either. As of this post, the app has 4.5 stars on Google Play Store (with over 1.4mm votes).
There are a handful of things I love that make the app such a pleasure to use…
From my home screen in Android, I have several easy-to-select actions that are hooked into Evernote. By tapping any one of these buttons (or the elephant head) I can capture a specific type of note without even having to open the Evernote app.
This makes good use of a key difference I really appreciate in Android that is lacking on the iOS platform: Adding widgets to the home screen. In iOS when you go to the main screen, you see icons that launch your apps (and maybe folders with apps in them). This is perfectly fine and does help make sure you can quickly get to a large number of apps. That is, of course, assuming that
Similarly in Android, the icons that launch apps are front-and-center. However, in Android, if you want to include special widgets that have special functionality. In the case of Evernote, they have a few widgets, my favorite of which is the Evernote Action Bar.
When adding it, you get to control which quick actions are shown (and what order they’re in). You can control the order, too. One of these options, the “Quick Note” doesn’t even open the app, it just provides a simple box where I can enter a title and/or note text. This is lightning fast, and each of the icons in the Evernote Action Bar saves a few seconds every time I use it—which adds up.
For those who are familiar, the Evernote Action Bar itself was not totally new with this release, however, it became part of the core application (rather than a separate “Evernote Widget” app that needed to be installed). The simplicity of having everything in the one app is important!
Over the last near-decade, I’ve seen the Evernote service grow–which brings opportunity to overload the user interface with too much stuff. With various releases of the Evernote mobile app, this has been one of the biggest challenges. The Android app was updated in the middle of 2016 and re-introduced this simplicity. From what I’ve read (and seen) this is exactly what this week’s iOS release was all about. Finding ways to simplify the user experience to make it fast and more intuitive. Here are a few examples from the Android app:
Despite the fact that my primary phone is an Android, I’m glad to see that the iOS experience has been updated. The more happy Evernote users are out there, the more stability they have as a company, allowing them to innovate. I’m actually quite excited to see some of their upcoming offerings that will leverage machine learning to improve the user experience.
Are there other things you want to know about Evernote mobile or what their service is like? Let me know in the comments!
When I look at what I’m going to be doing tomorrow a lot of those decisions about time management seem like they’re “already made”. I know when I’ll get up, eat, get ready, and later go to bed. Most of my plans with other people are already in place (or the time is at least mentally blocked off) and there’s a mounting list of “important” things that I know I’ll need to do.
By putting a plan together for the next 168 hours, instead of the next 24, I’m able to re-acquaint myself with what’s been scheduled while there’s still time to influence that schedule.
You might think to yourself that I’m suggesting that we all just look further out when doing planning, but I contend that there’s a specific time management sweet spot by looking out one week. Most weeks (for me) there are a number of assumed things (sleep, eating, etc.), known activities (meetings, social events), and important tasks (which may or may not be scheduled).
By limiting yourself to only looking a week out, it’s easier to get a feeling for how hectic the week is. It’s also easier to see where you might be able to re-prioritize things so you can focus on the things that are most important to you, without having to compromise on your commitments to others.
Let me be clear that looking out further than one week is also very important. This is actually a skill that can be practiced and developed over time. In fact, many of the skills for looking out 168 hours are foundational to looking out months, years, or even decades (as crazy as that may sound).