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.
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).
Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how quickly the days seem to pass? Days turn into months and years faster than I can believe, but fortunately I have some ways I manage this. In fact, earlier this week I crossed a major personal milestone: On January 2nd I logged my final entry in the daily journal that I’ve kept for the last 11 years! That’s 4018 entries that span nearly 400 pages of a specially-designed journal that I received as a gift from my Aunt back in 2005.
Not only does this journal help assemble a chronicle that spans years of my life, but the simple act of journaling forces me to actively think about (and then write down) the little things that make up the many little steps along the way.
As I reflected on my accomplishment, and look ahead to starting the first pages of my next journal, I realized how much I’ve learned through the journaling habit. There are a few that stand out, which I’d like to share with you.
When I take out my journal and put it on the desk, I hear an earthy [thud] as I let it go and it lands. It’s the same sound an ancient book would make, except the details inside are ones that I’m very closely tied to.
There’s also something very satisfying about flipping through the pages of a big book and seeing all of the memories that have been captured. Sorting lists of posts just can’t compete with that tactile experience.
Writing the day’s entry down helps better commit the details to memory–and I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper–much more effectively than just trying to remember the experience. The short entries I log in the journal allow me to pick out a few highlights (or sometimes lowlights) of any given day.
Typically I find some time on the weekend to look back at the week and scribble out a few lines for each day. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy with travel (usually work travel), commitments with family and friends, and other priorities that get in the way. Over the course of 11 years, I’ve fallen behind on my journaling a good handful of times.
Fortunately there are some great ways to piece back together what happened last Tuesday (or any day)–and this is a place where technology can help. Here’s a list of some of the different ways I catch back up:
There are certainly others, but you get the idea. These tools are actually helping me keep my classic paper journal filled with interesting stories.
One of the best things about this specific journal is that it represents a very low time commitment each day.
The per-day entry length is only 4-lines of a standard letter-sized page, which most days takes under 5 minutes to log.
Because it takes so little time and effort each day, I’m able to spend an extra couple of minutes looking back at “what happened this day 3 years ago”.
Much in the way Google or Facebook give reminders of old posts and pictures, the journal is set up so each day has its own page, making it very easy to look further up the page at “this day in my history”.
I look back and see entries that span from when my wife and I hadn’t even considered dating, through marriage, cross-country moves, and the birth of our wonderful daughter. I see my progression through different job roles–the many opportunities and lessons learned. I see little moments I captured after making new friends and keeping in touch with old. I see some of my thoughts on current events (and also the trends that didn’t last).
Today (January 5th) 5 years ago I wrote about taking my grandmother to the airport. I remember that time together, and as fate would have it that was our last time together before she had a stroke only days later. Would I remember that car ride, acting as “Matthew the chauffeur”, if I didn’t have this little reminder every year?
Each entry sparks another memory of related stories, some of which I didn’t even journal about, but I still remember when I take that walk back through my own past.
My aunt, who gave me the Journal 10+ over a decade ago, was over at the house during the holidays and I pulled out the journal to show her that it was nearly complete. After we swapped some stories about journaling, she asked me if I had a new one to continue in the new year. My answer was “of course”!
If you’re interested in the specific journal I use, you can find more information and order it here (non-affiliate link). If you do order one, or if you want to keep a regular journal, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.
I’ve been intrigued by the concept of “everyday carry” for years now. If you’re not familiar, you may know it as simply “what’s in your bag“, but the idea is to get people to share a photo and a description of the contents of the bag/briefcase/fanny pack/backpack that you regularly bring with you to work/school/wherever. Today, I’m posting my solutions architect toolkit for 2016 to highlight some of the tools that help support the success I’ve had this year.
Solutions architect is one of the most generic-sounding titles, so here’s a little more context (and if you just want to get to the picture, scroll past this list):
Enough preamble. What’s important is that we…
So there you have it for my solutions architect everyday carry for 2016. Did any of this catch you by surprise? Have you posted your everyday carry somewhere? Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas.
When someone catches a glimpse of my email inbox, they usually make a comment about how few emails are there. Co-workers especially, since they have an appreciation for how much email we get in an average day–and they know that I do in fact respond to emails. Just a little over five years ago, the concept of inbox zero, having literally no email in your inbox, seemed like complete fantasy.
In my work inbox alone I was getting 200-300 emails every work day–with about half of them ending with some sort of to-do item or request from me. The sound of an email arriving on my iPhone 3GS (back before you could set your own sound) actually made me physically cringe. It seemed like all I could do was fight through it to make sure that the “important” emails didn’t slip through the cracks. This was a battle that I was not winning.
To put some numbers to this–an average of 30 seconds per email (including responses, if needed), that would be up to 2.5 solid hours per day just dealing with email. That doesn’t include any of the research or real work that needed to be done.
It was with that realization that I started a journey to see what was in my control to try solving the problem. That’s when I found an article about Inbox Zero.
I didn’t actually save the that first article I read, but I very badly wanted that better future where I wasn’t drowning in email. I tried really hard to follow the advice to set up filters, automate similar replies, and identify the appropriate action for emails. There were still a lot of important emails coming in that demanded my attention.
I had become more efficient with processing email–but the speed and volume of email wouldn’t let me get to inbox zero. I didn’t have a chance as long as the circumstances stayed out of balance.
Before you say, “hey Matt that’s great and all, but I can’t change how fast email is coming in” just give me a chance to explain what I mean.
By analyzing my email (through a categorization exercise that initially added to my email time) I found that there were a few categories that stuck out to me:
Depending on the day, up to 1/3 of my email fell into one of these two categories. That’s up to 100 emails a day! What seemed especially notable was that both of these are areas where I might be able to cut down the amount of these emails. I did! I won’t sugar-coat it–this isn’t an easy process, but it was a total game changer that made inbox zero within reach.
The method I used was to work with people to reset expectations with people that were sending me email requests. Setting expectations is so important in life, even with things like how you communicate through email. Doing this virtually eliminated this type of email–saving me an average of nearly an hour every single day.
By slowing the flow of email and using techniques to efficiently process email, I have been able to get my inbox nice and tidy. But here’s the thing–it’s not always at zero emails. It’s usually between one and 20 emails, but sometimes it rises above that level.
An important part of inbox zero for me is recognizing that I don’t need to fret about whether I literally have zero things in my inbox. There will always be another email that comes in, sometime, whether it’s in 3 seconds or 3 hours, it’s coming and it’s completely outside of my control.
Focusing my energy on the things I can control is a core part of how I manage my time. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that I regularly remind myself of, and an important practice to keep in mind with respect to inbox zero.
I very much can control how deliberate I am when processing my email. I don’t let myself go into my inbox constantly looking for new email. In fact, I turn notifications off for a lot of the day. Even 2-3 seconds spent looking at a new email alert has an additional cost of 5-6 more seconds as my mind darts to another couple of related thoughts before I refocus on my active task. 8 seconds per email for 150 emails is nearly 20 minutes daily. Instead, I let it pile up for an hour or two, then I process email and take-no-prisoners in dealing with the new pile-up in my inbox.
I was in an extreme situation with how much email I was getting, as well as the supposed importance of those emails. There were certainly other factors that added to the stress, but my email dilemma weighed heavily on my daily life both at work and outside of work. Embracing the inbox zero mindset was a total gamechanger once I learned to reduce the flow of email, set expectations, and focus how I deal with email.
Are you drowning in email? Have you tried something like this before (and what worked for you)? Is something getting in your way? Share your experience in the comments.