Tag: Productivity (page 1 of 19)

10 top email productivity tips

This morning, Robin Dewar, a freshly-minted supporter of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter, got in touch to ask me some advice. What article(s) should he point his team towards to help them improve their use of email?

I realised that there wasn’t one blog post to rule them all, so instead I took the opportunity to go back through relevant articles I’d saved to Pocket. I removed any that were vendor-specific (e.g. Google, Microsoft) and ones that included tips as part of a wider ‘make your life more productive’ article.

The result, which I’ll continue to add to, can be found on my wiki, divided into the following  sections:

  • In praise of email
  • Time management
  • Dealing with colleagues and bosses
  • Workflow
  • Security
  • Etiquette
  • Dealing with difficult emails
  • Misc.

All told, there’s almost 50 articles in there. I’ve chosen my top 10 tips to feature in this post:

1. Turn off notifications

It is absolutely ridiculous that we allow Outlook to check email every 5 minutes, allow our phone to get push messages, or keep a Gmail tab open all the time. This is absolutely killing us in terms of productivity. In 90% of all cases we don’t need to know immediately that there is a new message. Segmenting our email checking time into 2, 4, or 8 times a day has massive benefits. We greatly reduce task-switching penalties, and removing the alerts so we’re not tempted goes a huge way. (Joshua Lyman)

2. Prepare, but don’t send emails on Sunday evening

Sunday is definitely a day for relaxing, but if you’re often overwhelmed come Monday morning, logging in briefly Sunday evening may help you alleviate some of that Monday mania. You don’t need to make calls or even answer emails—simply assess what your Monday game plan will be, and you’ll sleep a little more soundly. (Inc. via Lifehacker)

3. Be concise

Write shorter emails. What is the 1 main thing you want to communicate? Say it concisely. The shorter your emails, the shorter their response tends to be. It saves everyone time. (George Kao)

4. Tell your boss what you’re going to do, and then what you’ve done

I’m convinced 95% of cubicle workers who work over 60 hours a week constantly can cut it down to 40-45 hours by sending 2 emails a week to their boss:

Email #1: What you plan on getting done this week

Email #2: What you actually got done this week

That’s it. These 2 emails will prevent you from working 60 hours a week, while improving your relationship with your boss and getting the best work you’ve ever done. (Robbie Abed)

5. Communicate facts by email and emotion face-to-face

…if you’ve got great news that will get everyone stoked up, it will be more effective and create more positive energy if you deliver it in person. A group meeting to announce a big sales win, for example, is like an instant celebration. By contrast, an email announcing the same win seems a bit like an afterthought. Similarly, if you’ve got bad news or criticism, it will be better received, and more likely to be helpful, if it’s delivered in person. If you use email, it will seem like you don’t care or that you’re cowardly.  (Lifehacker)

6. Have multiple channels to message people

Perhaps unsurprisingly, CEOs often point to Slack for helping them cut back on superfluous email back-and-forth so they can give priority to the fewer internal emails to do trade with their teams. Some execs recommend other tools for diverting conversations away from their inboxes, from video-conferencing system Zoom to project-management platforms like Wrike and Trello. (Fast Company)

7. Be positive

Be positive & friendly. Emails can quickly build, or erode, relationships. I always try to come across as encouraging and kind, and start or end my emails with something appreciative about the recipient or the situation. For example, “I appreciate your thoughtful message here.” or “Hoping the rest of your week goes well!” Think of the primary purpose of emails you write to be relational (improving trust and camaraderie in relationships) and secondarily transactional (asking/answering questions, proposing ideas, etc.) (George Kao)

8. Treat emails as if they’re postcards

We live in a time when hackers hack for no good reason whatsoever.  We also interact with other humans, who may accidentally stumble on an email left open or snoop because they suck at respecting privacy.  Whatever the case may be, when you write something you commit it to a nearly permanent record—at least, once you hit send.  If you don’t want other people to know your inner-most thoughts, think twice before sending them to someone.  You never know where they may end up. (Awkward Human)

9. Avoid techno-productivism

By focusing relentlessly on making specific tasks or operations easier and faster, instead of stepping back and trying to understand how to make an organization as a whole maximally effective, we’ve ended with a knowledge work culture in which people spend the vast majority of their time trying to keep up with the very inboxes, devices and channels that were conceived for the exact opposite purpose — to liberate more time for more valuable efforts. (Cal Newport)

10. Sign off with ‘thanks in advance’

Among closings seen at least 1,000 times in our study, “thanks in advance” ended up correlating with the highest response rate, which makes sense, as the email’s recipient is being thanked specifically for a response which has yet to be written. There’s a bit of posturing involved with this closing, but it turns out it works pretty well. But no matter how you express your thanks, doing so certainly appears to be your best bet in closing an email if you want a response. (Boomerang blog)

If you’re into upping your game around email-based productivity, you’re going to love my new audiobook. Thanks in advance for investing in it… 😉

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Chapter 5 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m in the midst of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). It’s a side project that I’m aiming to have finished by the end of this summer, so I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available!

Chapter 5 focuses on something crucial to hit the higher echelons of productivity: Habits. In this chapter, we explore why habits are so important, and how to develop good ones. The idea is that you can finish listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 5 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £5

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

Chapter 4 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m in the midst of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). It’s a side project that I’m aiming to have finished by mid-2017, and I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available!

Chapter 4 focuses on something that many of us never feel as if we have enough of: Time. This chapter explores methods you can use which will allow you to do more of what you enjoy and value. The idea is that you can finish listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 4 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £4

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

My Daily Routine

One of the books on my ‘daily reading’ list is Mason Currey’s fantastic Daily rituals : how great minds make time, find inspiration, and get to work. I implore you to buy a copy if you haven’t already. It’s ace.

Each entry by the author is a couple of pages about the kind of routine that people such as Virginia Woolf or Charles Darwin followed throughout their life. Sometimes this was an easy task for Currey, as the individual wrote specifically about their routine. Other time, it has taken painstaking research, putting together information for a number of sources.

Now, I’m no ‘great mind’, but I thought it might be interesting, if only for the sake of me looking back in a few years’ time, to do something similar. What follows is my daily routine when I’m working from home. This, I guess, is an update of my entry on My Morning Routine from around three years ago.


Like anyone who lives with their family, my daily routine is restricted to a great extent by various duties and constraints. I’m a morning person, so I’d actually like to get up earlier than I do. However, my wife is more of a night owl, so we settle somewhere in the middle.

Over the last couple of years, since becoming self-employed and having much more control over my working hours, I’ve come to realise that I work differently in the spring and summer months than in autumn and winter. I’m a lot more gregarious and outgoing during the former, while I’m more reclusive and introverted. Also, the additional sunlight means I tend to need less hours sleep and, for some reason, makes me want to swim more. I’ve come to divide my year by the spring and autumn equinoxes, so I’m very much looking forward to next week, when I’ll start swimming again, put away my SAD light and generally be in a more positive frame of mind.

I wake up at around 06:00 in the spring and summer, and later (usually 06:30) in the autumn and winter, using my Lumie Sunrise alarm clock. Being woken by light is much better than being woken by noise. I lie in bed and do my daily reading — a mixture of books like Daily Rituals but also some Stoic philosophy and other things that put me in the right frame of mind for the day.

Then, I get up, say good morning to my children, and take them downstairs for breakfast. They have a routine to do before school that includes piano practise, either Khan Academy or Duolingo, and getting themselves ready for school. I see my job as making sure they’re in a good mood. That takes varying amounts of effort depending on their emotional temperature. During this time I catch up with Twitter, scan my emails, say good morning to the We Are Open co-op Slack channel, and read the news headlines.

I’m the last to get ready, having a quick cold shower, doing my press-ups and sit-ups, and then heading downstairs. I have a crazy mix of stuff in my breakfast smoothie, and then walk my daughter to school with my wife (if she’s not at work). This is one of the highlights of my day.

I take my gym stuff, and head straight from dropping her off to do either my arms, legs, or cardio. If it’s spring/summer, and depending what day it is, I’ll go home straight away and go swimming at lunchtime. Once I’m at home, depending on how ‘bitty’ the things are that I have to do, I’ll either use my Trello board directly, or have already transferred things to my daily planner while my children are eating breakfast.

My use of coffee is strategic. I don’t use it to wake myself up, but to ensure I’m at peak productivity between 10am and 12pm. Sometimes, if I’m lacking motivation, I’ll head to the local coffee shop to work, paid for by the kind people who donate in appreciation of my weekly newsletter. Otherwise, I’m in my home office, which is separate to our house and complete with standing desk, or upstairs in a weird little cubby hole we created when converting our loft.

I work for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. By ‘work’, I mean write, think, plan, and make. I don’t count meetings and replying to email as work. While it’s important for me to meet people online, especially as I live up in Northumberland, I limit these conversations to 30 minutes wherever possible.

My time is precious. Four hours of solid knowledge work is what I aim for each day as research backs up my theory that this is optimal. I feel sorry for people who work in offices who have long commutes each way, have to spend time maintaining relationships with colleagues they don’t particularly like, and in meetings that are a waste of time.

When my wife and I are both at home, we have lunch together and do the crossword in The i newspaper (to which we subscribe). I will usually have an omelette or scrambled eggs with some turmeric mixed in. I’m fussy about the eggs we buy.

If I get my four hours of work done while my children are at school, then I go to pick up my daughter and talk with her about what we’ve been up to since we last saw each other. My son walks to and from school by himself now he’s in middle school. They have a snack and then go and play on their tablets (usually) or make/draw stuff (sometimes).

On the days I don’t get my four hours in while the children are at school, I use this time to get up to an hour’s extra work in. Otherwise, I’m just reading, catching up with email, or doing a bit of housework. Just as when I was at Mozilla, the time when most people want my attention is between 16:00 and 17:00, as most people in my network are online, from the Pacific timezone where people are just starting work, through to Europeans who are just clocking off.

After that, it’s preparations for the various activities my children do (football, swimming, Scouts, piano, dance, golf, etc.) and dinner. I’m trying to cook once per week at the moment to improve my skills in that area. Our six year-old daughter goes in the shower and then to bed around 19:00, and our ten year-old son does the same about half an hour later. They both are read to, and then read themselves. I’m particularly enjoying reading and discussing each short chapter of A Little History of Philosophy with our eldest.

I don’t work in the evenings, unless I absolutely have to. For some reason, it gets me down, and makes me resent what I’m working on. I don’t count recording the TIDE podcast with Dai Barnes as ‘work’ as it’s more of a conversation with a friend that happens to be made available to others. The evening is the time of the day that it’s hardest for me to obey my self-imposed rules of no sugar and no alcohol during the working week. So I tidy up, perhaps play some FIFA, do some more reading, and get myself ready for bed.

I’ve learned from experience how important rituals and routines are to my productivity. Every evening I have a really hot shower, which lowers my core body temperature, ready for sleep. I lie in bed, reading until my wife comes to bed. We talk, we both read, and then (usually about 22:30, but sometimes 23:00) the lights go off and I fall asleep quickly.

Cross-posted to Medium. Image: Loic Djim


I’m currently putting together an audiobook on productivity called #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity. You can buy it now for a reduced price, and you’ll get updates for free until it’s finished!

Chapter 3 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m right in the middle of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). It’s a side project that I’m aiming to have finished by mid-2017. I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available!

Chapter 3 is concerned with the third of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Exercise. This chapter explains why exercise is crucial to a holistic and sustainable system of productivity. You should be able to finish listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £3

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

Chapter 2 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m in the midst of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). Many thanks to those who have already bought the book as soon as it was released. I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available.

Chapter 2 is concerned with one of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Nutrition. This chapter is full of actionable insights and you should be able to stop listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £2

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

I’ve just released Chapter 1 of my new audiobook on productivity

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve written and recorded Chapter 1 of my new audiobook on productivity. Ostensibly, it’s a second version of my book from six years ago: #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity.

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.

Chapter 1 is concerned with what I deem to be the most important of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Sleep. As I say in the introduction to the chapter, it’s a funny place to start as it’s literally the opposite of ‘getting things done’. However, that’s why it’s so important — as you’ll see!



Buy now for £1

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

The Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets

Last month I wrote a report for a client about the future of work. In my contract is a clause that says that, apart from anything commercially sensitive, my work for them is shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m therefore sharing a much shorter version of the 23-page report I researched and wrote for them. There was some really interesting stuff I turned up in my research around organisational structure, culture, and retention, but that section was too intertwined with the client’s plans to be able to easily and effectively separate out.  


Introduction

“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)

The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:

  1. Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
  2. Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done

4 Kinds of Work in the Future

These two mega themes (taken from ‘uber empowered’ quadrant of the above Harvard Business Review digram) can be broken down into four, more practical, sub-themes:

  1. Demise of hierarchies
  2. Re-thinking the location of work
  3. Workplace chat
  4. Mission-based work

The following posts in this series expand and explain each of the above points. The original report made some recommendations for the client. Given I don’t know your context, I’m going to refrain from appending a conclusion to this series.


1. Demise of Hierarchies

After predictions of its demise, the traditional office structure is crumbling. Only 38 percent of companies in a recent survey say they are ‘functionally organized’. For large companies with more than 50,000 employees, that number shrinks to 24 percent. (Bloomberg)

Holocratic Organization

(image taken from this post)

The buzzterm at the moment is around holacracy, an approach in which “authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”. This governance model has been adopted by Zappos, Precision Nutrition, and (until recently) Medium.

Self-organising is taken to its extreme, or logical conclusion, with Valve, the company best known for the Half-Life game series and ‘Steam’ store. Their handbook for new employees explains that they hire people rather than roles, meaning people are “hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work [they] could be doing.” Hiring, firing, and new projects are all managed via a completely flat structure.

Metaphors are important in organisational structure, and many futurists use the idea of the network to explain their ideas. Esko Kilpi, for example, states that “the architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of responsive organizing.” In a post examining why employees become disengaged, Stowe Boyd coins the term ‘circumvising’ to explain the shift from ‘supervising’ to a form of work where, “instead of a manager you report up to and who directs the work of those below, the social context…will constrain and support the worker from all around.”


2. Rethinking the Location of Work

Skills for Success in a disruptive world of work

(image taken from this post by Tanmay Vora)

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. (Winston Churchill)

One trend of recent years that is universally slated in both the popular press and by futurists is that of open-plan offices. According to Stowe Boyd,

More than 40% of the respondents to a recent Berkeley survey reported that workplace acoustics make it harder for them to do their job, while other factors, like lighting, air quality, seating, etc, were rated as making it easier to work.

The assumption is that open-plan offices enable more serendipitous connections to take place. However, this is often at the expense of ‘deep work’ as noted by Cal Newport in his recent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It often leads to more introverted employees using headphones in order to concentrate and feel more comfortable.

Home working solves some of these problems and, indeed, many organisations have a ‘remote working’ policy, meaning some (or all) of their employees are based from wherever they happen to live. This, of course, requires a certain type of worker, with particular expectations around flexibility, availability, and digital skills. Implementing this kind of policy without training and explicit expectation-setting (for both office-based and remote workers) can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.


3. Workplace chat

Slack colours

So this is one megatrend: the widespread adoption of tools based on the chat design metaphor across the board in personal and work life. Chat is the new normal for communication, displacing both email and social collaboration tools. (Stowe Boyd)

The hot new technology that everyone is talking about is Slack, a ‘workplace chat’ tool with APIs meaning it integrates with everything. It is already a billion-dollar business, and this is for at least two reasons. The first is a desire for employees in most organisations to get out of their inbox. Another is that it supports the move away from a static org chart and is more responsive to the true power dynamic within organisations.

There have been many posts about the relative merits of workplace chat apps. Most futurists believe that adopting such tools is not a panacea to current workplace problems, but rather a way to demonstrate in a concrete way how teams can interact in a different way. For example, the theory of social crowding suggests that workplace chat is at its most effective when used by small teams of less than 10. This ensures that those who are doing the chatting are also the ones doing the work.


4. Mission-based work

Life cycle of a brand

Today, all companies need a constitution. No company should operate on implicit cultural rules that are based in a shadowy way on oligarchic myths. (Stowe Boyd)

Often cited as a something particularly important to ‘Millennials’ (those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000), futurists see mission-based work as key to ensuring employee fulfilment at any age. Loyalty these days is often to the job rather than to the organisation — so long as the job matches the ‘mission’ that the employee feels is central to their existence.

Graduates are queuing up to work for brands who match their outlook on life, often foregoing higher salaries elsewhere to do so. Recent research from Gallup included a survey of almost 50,000 business units which showed that employee engagement is a key indicator of business success. This is an important trend to consider.

Further reading

I put together an epic Google Doc of links and images to help with my research for the original report. You can access that here.

Banner image CC BY-NC-SA Daniel Foster


Questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll go into more detail about any of the above.

If you’d like my help in a consultative capacity, please get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Claim your Advanced Kanban badge!

Advanced KanbanThe Kanban 101 badge proved so popular I’ve decided to follow it up with an Advanced Kanban badge! This posts explains how to earn it. I’m using Trello mainly because it’s awesome.

Criteria

  • Add a ‘Work In Progress’ (WIP) limit to the ‘Doing’ list
  • Define and use labels effectively
  • Add attachments and due dates to cards
  • Collaborate with others

Here’s how to achieve these criteria.

Add WIP limit

Work in Progress (WIP)

Simple. Just edit the title of your list to indicate the maximum number of cards that is allowed in it at any given time. The default is three, but you might experiment to see if this is the right number.

Use labels

Labels

It’s up to you how you use labels. The benefit of using them is that they give an at-a-glance indication on the kind of work you’re doing. The above list is what I’ve settled on for individual projects. These are different when I’m working with others; it’s a negotiation and they may change over time.

Add attachments / due dates

Attachment

Within each card there’s an option to add an attachment. You can upload direct from your computer, paste a link, or transfer from cloud services. If you upload an image it will by default become the ‘cover’ of your card. You can disable/change this if necessary.

Due date

Due dates are important to ensure cards keep moving from left to right on your Kanban board. If you can no longer assign a date you might want a list entitled ‘Stalled’. Assign a due date by going into the card.

Collaborate

Collaborators

Unless you’ve set up an organisation, you need to manually add collaborators to a board via the ‘Menu’. Once they’ve been given access you can add them to cards by clicking on ‘Members’. Their icon will then show up in the bottom-right of the card.

Conclusion

This is a fun exercise that leads to a badge. It also, hopefully, nudges you to use Kanban more effectively. If there’s enough interest I may even create a Kanban Ninja badge!

HOWTO: Trello Kanban

Update: an earlier draft of this included a link to this awesome post on the Trello blog: Going Public! Roadmapping With A Public Trello Board. You should definitely check it out.

(no video above? click here!)

Intro

How do decisions get made in your organisation? How does work get done? Do you have agreed workflows? Does innovation happen inevitably or by accident?

The best organisations I’ve worked with have clear processes for how mission-critical things happen. For example, I’ve been part of:

  • a school with an unequivocal behaviour management and sanctions workflow
  • a global non-profit where work is based on ‘sprints’ and agile development methodologies
  • a university and an awarding body with a rigorous approach to issuing qualifications and credentials

Highly productive individuals, teams, and organisations don’t get to that level merely by accident. It happens through hard work on process which, in turn, leads to consistently-great outcomes.

Once you’ve got a strategy (i.e. ‘direction of travel’) and defined workflow (i.e.’milestones along the way’) you’re ready for Kanban:

Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see. Team members pull work from a queue.

I’ve tried a number of ways of adopting a Kanban approach – some of them listed on this wiki page. The one I keep coming back to, however, is Trello. As the video at the top of this post shows, it’s simple but powerful:

Get started in 5 easy steps:

  1. Create a new Trello board.
  2. Create three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done.
  3. Set up tags – anything you want (personally, I use Writing, Editing, Researching, Collaborating, Reviewing, and Planning).
  4. Invite people to your board. 
  5. Add cards to the To Do list, ensuring they’ve got tags, have been assigned to people, and have a due date.

Optional:

  • Create an Trello ‘organisation’ for all of the boards you share with your colleagues.
  • Add a couple of additional lists: Stalled (so cards don’t remain on your ‘To Do’ list forever) and Useful links (for information everyone needs to hand).
  • Attach an image to each card to differentiate them from others.
  • Change the background colour/image to quickly find the board you’re looking for.

Conclusion

I’m in the midst of introducing a Trello-based Kanban approach in an organisation that’s traditionally relied mostly on meetings and emails to get things done. Having seen a similar approach work so well elsewhere, I’m convinced it will boost productivity and cohesion within/across teams.

I’ll blog more about my findings in due course. 🙂

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