Tag: email (page 2 of 3)

Doug on Productivity – Episode 1

I’ve been wanting to do more video stuff for a while. That’s why I’ve decided to begin two new projects, the first of which is a series called Doug on Productivity which I’ll try to get out every Monday morning (GMT).

In this first episode I answer three productivity-related questions about email, motivation and “writer’s block”.

Got some questions for Episode 2? Add them to the comments either here (below) or over at the YouTube page. 😀

Why I’ve turned off GMail Priority Inbox

My priorities change.

Emails from my mother may usually be important, but something time-sensitive from a person who’s not emailed me before is likely to be even more so.

However much you try to automate these things, get GMail to ‘learn’ your preferences, ultimately it needs human input.

So I’ve turned off GMail Priority Inbox after playing about with it for a few weeks. Interesting concept, but not for me. 🙂

Google Apps (Education Edition) vs. Microsoft [email protected]

Today I’m presenting on the benefits of Google Apps as a collaborative platform for people who work together often, but aren’t physically co-located. It’s not easy to separate fact from myth when comparing Microsoft’s hosted services (e.g. [email protected], Office Live) with Google Apps.

Microsoft have, very helpfully, concocted a Fact Based Comparison of Hosted Services (16 May 2010). Unfortunately, it’s rather selective with those facts. Most of them revolve around ‘can you do the same stuff with Google Apps as you can with Microsoft Outlook?’ That’s a flawed question for two reasons:

  1. You don’t necessarily want to do the same things with Google Apps.
  2. You can use Outlook to connect to Google Apps anyway.

To me, after reading several articles (available at my Delicious account) the choice seems to be between:

  • Cloud storage (Microsoft [email protected]/Office Live)
  • Cloud collaboration (Google Apps)

Whilst Microsoft’s offerings allow near real-time collaboration with Excel and OneNote, pages are locked for editing if someone else is using a Word document or PowerPoint presentation. By way of comparison, you can collaborate and edit all of Google Docs’ offerings in real-time.

Lifehacker, a website I’ve used for the last few years, published How Does Office Web Apps Compare to Google Docs? on 16 June 2010. I quote Kevin Purdy, the author of the article:

In terms of real-time collaboration, Google wins hands-down, because Office offers none.

And again:

Google’s Docs offerings have been on the market a good four years now, so they’ve had more time to learn what users want and need in an online suite. It shows in the design and function of Docs for day-to-day users.

I toyed with the idea of producing a point-by-point checklist here to compare Microsoft and Google’s offerings, but I don’t really think there’s any need. It’s a question of attitude and focus. For example, Microsoft drags its heels insisting on Silverlight installation whilst Google looks to the future with HTML5, an emerging web standard.

So, if you always use the same device, deal in only Microsoft-produced documents and are convinced Outlook is God’s gift to email users, then you’ll love [email protected] and Office Live.

But if, on the other hand, you like to be able to get various kinds of documents in and out of your systems easily, if you need to collaborate (in real-time) with colleagues not physically co-located, and if you want to be able to access everything on whatever device and browser you prefer using, then you’ll love Google Apps.

You can probably tell by the tone of this article which one I prefer. And I make no apology for that. Rome was not built on ‘functional specifications’ but on passion, enthusiasm and dedication. :-p

Intention vs. Effect

Like many people I had, up until a couple of days ago, the following appended to all my outgoing emails from my iPhone:

Sent from my iPhone.

My thinking? They’ll understand why I haven’t written a longer reply. That was my intention.

But the effect? Variously:

  • I’ve got an iPhone. You haven’t. Ergo, you suck.
  • You’re not important enough for me to spend longer replying to  you.
  • I’m busy. Leave me alone.
  • I don’t know how to change the default message on my iPhone. Ergo, I suck.

The effect was vastly different to my intention.

So what have I done about it? Replaced it with:

– – – – –

http://bit.ly/dajbelshaw

http://five.sentenc.es

At the top is a shortened link to my Google profile, whilst underneath is a website that states that it is my policy to use no more than five sentences (where possible) to reply to an email.

How does that make the recipient feel now? Is the effect closer to my intention?

I think so.

You are what you habitually do.

I’m not alone in taking a book/my Amazon Kindle to the doctors/dentists/airport or somewhere else we’ve come to expect delays.

But what about other times? What about queues? What about unexpected delays?

Howard Rheingold, a bit of a hero of mine, tweeted this yesterday:

I try to see underheads ahead of me in line who fumble for their checkooks, change, as opportunities for mindfulness in the moment …so when I am delayed by circumstances beyond my control, I try to ask myself what I might not be noticing in my environment.

Instead of seeing unexpected delays as being the result of some malevolent ethereal force it’s a much better plan to have an idea of what can fill that time. Some suggestions:

  • People-watching (why do people do what they do?)
  • Writing down/expanding upon thoughts in a notebook
  • Talking to other people (i.e. practising striking-up conversation)
  • Pattern-spotting (how many x are there? what does that remind me of?)

Why not checking email/Twitter/other technological things?

You are what you habitually do. (Aristotle)

I’m aiming to become more creative, aware of my surroundings and reflective. Are you?

4 solutions to office-based productivity-sappers.

There are, broadly, four productivity-sappers in the average office environment:

  1. Online distractions
  2. Offline distractions
  3. Email wrangling
  4. Meetings

Here’s what I do to counteract these:

  1. Use ‘location-based chunking’ of stuff I’ve got to do. In other words, I sit in different places (my desk, conference table, sofa, beanbag, other room) depending on what I’m doing.
  2. Turn the music up in those headphones.
  3. Be disciplined. I don’t send an email unless I have to. Any more than two replies within an hour means picking up the phone. I limit myself to five sentences.
  4. Try to manouvere myself into a situation where I can call time without annoying anybody. I try to couch my language in terms of positive forward steps, having at the back of my mind Seth Godin’s call to STOP.

Recommended Design-related blogs

Introduction

A couple of people in the last month have asked if I’d share which blogs I read regularly. It’s a logical follow-up, I suppose, to my Things I Learned This Week posts. If I used an RSS reader this would be very easy: I’d just export my subscriptions as an OPML file. Readers could then download this and import it into their RSS reader.

But, er… I don’t any more. I made a conscious and deliberate switch to subscribing to blogs by email – either through author-provided functionality or RSS >> Email courtesy of Reblinks. Which makes things slightly more difficult (and this post necessary).

A non-design blog I subscribe to, Alan Levine’s excellent CogDogBlog, featured a post yesterday that discussed the importance of both online and offline filtering. That’s because, as Clay Shirky is always at pains to point out, it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure. Whilst serendipity and specific niche interest are both important things that shouldn’t be neglected, it’s also important to identify people who are awesome filters of information, links and connections.

The Blogs

The following blogs are design-related but also have a community element; they serve as a hub for a wider bunch of people. As such, you’ll find added value in trawling the comments section as much as the posts themselves. 😀

  1. FlowingData – I really enjoy Nathan Yau’s blog and find his simple and straightforward guides extremely useful as a beginner!
  2. Smashing Magazine – Design in the widest sense. They often have wonderful posts showcasing the best and brighest stuff on the intertubes in a given area. They also have (downloadable) monthly wallpaper contests – such as this one for April 2010.
  3. swissmiss – Tina Roth Eisenberg is a prolific blogger, to the extent that she only took a few days off from blogging after giving birth and named her baby after consulting her readers! I love the quirky stuff she posts and it always makes me smile. 🙂
  4. Information is Beautiful – David McCandless not only has a regular section in the Guardian but has written books. Awesome visualizations and infographics!
  5. Visual Complexity – The diversity of visualizations and design on this blog is truly stunning.

More?

Looking for more design blog goodness? Try this ‘Top 50 design blogs’ and, of course, AllTop’s Design section. :-p

Modern procrastination and cycling trivialities.

iPhone photo of Alcan
A photo I took with my iPhone last weekend. It feels related somehow.

Introduction

Some days it feels like someone’s trying to tell you something. At first it’s subtle, but then the coincidences stack up until you’re left in no doubt that there’s a message in there somewhere. See if you come to the same conclusion as me. Here’s what came my way in a single day recently:

1. Seth Godin on ‘modern procrastination’

I don’t know how he manages to churn out gems like these every day and convince us that everything is related to marketing:

Laziness in a white collar job has nothing to do with avoiding hard physical labor. “Who wants to help me move this box!” Instead, it has to do with avoiding difficult (and apparently risky) intellectual labor.

“Honey, how was your day?”

“Oh, I was busy, incredibly busy.”

“I get that you were busy. But did you do anything important?”

Busy does not equal important. Measured doesn’t mean mattered.

2. José Gonzalez – Cycling Trivialities

I’m fond of music by the looks-Spanish-but-is-actually-Swedish-of-Argentine-descent singer-songwriter. Last.fm, to which I’ve been ‘scrobbling’ songs for over 7 years, is fully aware of this and therefore served up Cycling Trivialities by José Gonzalez (from his album In Our Nature):

Too blind to know your best.
Hurrying through the forks without regrets.
Different now, every step feels like a mile.
All the lights seem to flash and pass you by.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

Don’t know which way to turn.
Every trifle becoming big concerns.
All this time you were chasing dreams,
without knowing what you wanted them to mean.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.
So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

Who cares in a hundred years from now.
All the small steps, all your shitty clouds.
Who cares in a hundred years from now.
Who’ll remember all the players.
Who’ll remember all the clowns.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

So what does this really mean.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.
Cycling trivialities.
Cycling trivialities.

3. Correspondence

I’ve recently become a fan of the work of Alexander McCall Smith. I tend to avoid ‘popular’ writers as I’m a bit of a secret book snob (I refused to read anything written after 1950 until I was about 25…) I’ve just finished his The Right Attitude to Rain all about a middle-age female Scots philosopher and her mini moral dilemmas. My favourite series of his was actually that featuring Professor Von Igelfeld as it reminded me of Frasier (the only TV sitcom I’ve been able to bear), but I digress…

On page 123 of The Right Attitude to Rain one of the characters is left alone to deal with his ‘correspondence’. We’re not talking emails here, we’re talking hand-writing letters. It struck me that this has been a much more normal thing to do (albeit for a certain class of people) for a lot longer than emails.

Conclusion

So if you’d experienced these three things in quick succession, what would you have thought? I’ll add what it made me think to the comments below later this week. 🙂

Things I learned this week – #1

This is the first of a planned weekly series in which I reflect on what I’ve learned during the previous 7 days. As I explained in My digital reading workflow these links are culled from blogs and tweets I read.

Happy New Year! Feeling guilty because you haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution? Perhaps you could try the New Year’s Resolution Generator! (via swissmiss) It came up with ‘This year I will… declutter’ which seemed most prescient for me. 🙂  I’ve already made my Commitments for 2010 but for those who need things broken down step-by-step, they could do worse I suppose than try out mySomeday (via Mashable). Oh, and Zen Habits claims to have The Definitive Guide to Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions. 😀

Before I go any further I must point you in the direction of this eye-candy:

The Known Universe by the American Museum of Natural History zooms from the Himalayas to deep space (via FlowingData)

100 Extraordinary Examples of Paper Art (via BoingBoing)

While we’re on the subject of design, swissmiss had a useful blog post on Japanese design principles. There are seven basic principles:

  1. Fukinsei (imbalanced)
  2. Kanso (simple)
  3. Kokou (austere)
  4. Shizen (natural)
  5. Yugen (subtle profound)
  6. Datsuzoko (unworldly)
  7. Seijaku (calm)

I’d like to think that this blog has elements of 2, 5 and 7. 😉

Not that I write much any more, but I was interested to (re-)discover that some people claim to be able to tell whether a person’s handwriting is ‘male’ or ‘female’. To be fair, if they managed to decipher mine they would only be able to tell that it was ‘messy’… In other quirky news (for which BoingBoing is an excellent source), it turns out that “there are more people currently alive in Asia, Africa and Latin America than the total number of people who died—anywhere, and for any reason—during the entire 20th century.” Wow. More at Census of the dead, in infographic form.

It’s been 5 years, apparently, since Google first started blogging. They’ve no got so many blogs that it’s difficult to keep up with them all. If you, like me, are becoming overwhelmed by the unread items in your RSS reader, why not get everything delivered by email? If you’ve got a decent system (see my How I deal with email) it can be a very efficient way of keeping up-to-date. The trouble is, of course, that some blogs don’t have an subscribe-by-email option. That’s where FeedMyInbox is useful. Enter website URL and your email address and, hey presto! If you want a quick-and-easy way of getting all of the links from your Twitter followers, try ReadTwit. It creates an RSS feed of tweets that contain links from people you follow. You can put that through FeedMyInbox too. And if all that sounds like too much effort, why not try LazyFeed? (via @heyjudeonline) :-p

Talking of productivity, Hans de Zwart (who has recently been promoted to the cool-sounding Innovation Manager: Learning Technology) has a great post on The Influence of a Workspace on Performance. In it, Hans cites a book by Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness of which I wasn’t aware. His main thrust is highlighting the discrepancy between the exquisitely designed office space he works in, designed by David Leon, and the stupidity (his word) of being locked down to Windows 2000 and Internet Explorer 6. As Hans quotes David Leon as saying,

Innovation depends on bright people. These people cost more and are far more valuable than the buildings they occupy… but it is a proven fact that the environment in which they work has a major impact on their effectiveness.

For that reason we design workplaces and buildings round the needs of people and the business aims of their organisations.

He contends – and I agree – that should go for digital surroundings as well as physical surroundings. I recently reorganized my study, including building my own desk, to get things just right. 🙂

Motivation and productivity can be affected by surroundings, but a great deal of it comes from within. As Chris Guillebeau notes, there will always be people who say that you “can’t” do something. His reply (or rather, that of one of his readers) is:

Reading a lot of books is definitely a worthwhile thing to do, but one that takes dedication and motivation. How To Read a Book a Week in 2010 (via @chrisbrogan) is a useful reminder as to why setting yourself a definite target (e.g. one per week) is more useful than a hazy one (e.g. read more books).

And finally, some quotations I came across that I warmed to immediately. The first comes from a blog post on The Innovative Educator entitled My Top 20 Education Quotes from 2009:

Many of the most brilliant and creative people didn’t really discover what they could do and who they were until they’d left school and recovered from their education.

Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open. Thomas Dewar (via @timekord)

If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong – Mo Udall (via @russeltarr)

The only one thing I can change is myself, but sometimes that makes all of the difference. (via @Vincent_Ang)

Stuff to which I didn’t find a segue:

Can’t wait until next week? See the tweets I favourite in real-time at http://twitter.com/dajbelshaw/favorites

How I deal with email.

I get quite a bit of email. Even more, now that I’ve pretty much abandoned RSS and subscribed to news sources and blogs via email.* There’s various approaches to dealing with email (e.g.s – Inbox ZeroGTD, etc.) but, for what it’s worth, here’s my ‘system’. I haven’t read or watched videos of the others – they may be similar, they may not. My system (if I can call it that) depends on a GMail-like ‘star’ feature, so may not be useful for everyone:

How to deal with email

* Why don’t I use an RSS feed reader much any more? Getting update via email forces me (under the system outlined above) to read new stuff at least once a week. It’s also rather depressing when you see you’ve got literally thousands of unread items in your feed reader… :-p

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