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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

Disruptions: Life’s Too Short for So Much E-Mail by Nick Bilton (New York Times, 7/8/12); summary + commentary by Melissa Sweat, Online Community Manager

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 @ 09:17 PM

Haven't heard about our summary+commentary (s+c*d) format? Learn more!

Summary

summary commentary emaildistration 8.20.12

Corporate employees send and receive about 105 emails daily. Writer Nick Bilton thinks that’s a big problem as he tries to manage his more than 6,000 monthly emails, using everything from filters to away messages to no avail (see "Disruptions," NYT). He cites a 2012 UC Irvine report stating that those who didn’t check email regularly at work were less stressed and more productive than those who checked more often. Bilton considers other forms of messaging instead, like Google Chat or Twitter, or even not responding at all.

Commentary

We relate with Bilton about email frustration, but “avoidant inbox disorder” is not the solution. Our methodology at People-OnTheGo is that email is a task you schedule into your day. This enables you to focus your work effort, while saving time for collaboration (email, social media, etc.). We have a unique inbox strategy that helps you prioritize emails, daily and weekly; no more switching tasks to attend to every alert. We also agree with the UC Irvine study:  those who check email less regularly—though we would add “and more strategically”—are less stressed and more productive.

Discussion

Are you frustrated and overwhelmed by email? Do you try to avoid it? Are newer forms of communication like chat and social media messaging more preferable to you? What are some email solutions that you use in the workplace?

Additional Resources

Topics: summary-plus-commentary, Gmail, Technology, time management tips, getting organized, interruptions, productivity, information overload, time on social media, managing stress, email management

Do you find the e-mail overload "suffocating"? An e-mail "party" can help and the 5 ingredients to get you there!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Sep 26, 2010 @ 01:37 PM

email overloadJulie & Jenny, both very active and in leadership roles at their company and both having to deal with loads of e-mail messages constantly pouring into their inboxes, get together regularly not just to have friendly chats, but for something more drastic which they refer to as an e-mail "party"! Basically it is a get-together that is focused on processing their e-mail messages, however after creating the right atmosphere to make this a fun activity. "Fun?" You might ask. Well, keep on reading.

"The party usually starts with venting" said Julie, and sometimes it might involve some wine but it certainly has to involve chocolate, she indicated later.  "E-mail is a suffocating activity " she added, so doing it alone may not exactly be motivating or even possible, however doing this with a friend while enjoying some treats and nice exchanges seems to turn this activity into one that is digestible or even enjoyable!

The e-mail party seems to involve these main ingredients

  1. Companionship: Having someone with you. Creating the feeling of togetherness.  You are not alone in this!
  2. Conversation: It is not just about being together, but also sharing observations, insights, and even "venting" as Julie put it.
  3. Immediate gratification: Well, let us admit it, the wine and chocolate seem to help, or whatever makes you comfortable and willing to undertake the challenge.
  4. Focus: It sounds contradictory to be having conversations and rewards and yet be mentioning focus. However, the e-mail party does have one core purpose, and that is going through and processing e-mail. The rest is designed to help us stay focused on this purpose.
  5. Clear destination: The goal is to have an empty inbox and feel good about it. Not to mention stay on top of things, give our team the answers they need, and help move important issues forward.

What an innovative way to turn a task that can be challenging or mundane into something to look forward to and enjoy!  Maybe it is time you try it. Stop looking at these hundreds of messages in your inbox and dwelling about them and have a party!

Join us at the next group e-mail party: Join the "Accomplishing More With Less" group on Facebook and stay tuned to receive the announcement!

Topics: getting organized, email management

Yes you can empty your e-mail inbox! And we proved it (next session coming up on August 5)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Jul 09, 2010 @ 11:57 AM

empty your e-mail inbox
It does seem out of reach for many business professionals, but it is not, as we provided in the special webinar that we conducted last week. In this webinar, and after we explained the process and demonstrated the techniques, and answers participants questions, we gave everyone 20 minutes to work on their e-mail inbox and try to process as many e-mails as possible.  
The results were plausible. Before we started the session, we asked the participants to tell us how many e-mails they had in their inbox. The poll consisted of the following answers:
  • Less than 25
  • Between 25 and 50
  • Between 51 and 100
  • Between 101 and 500
  • More than 500

Here were the answers before and after the session

   Before   After 
 Less than 25   0%  20%
 Between 25 and 50  0%  0%
 Between 51 and 100   18%  30% 
 Between 101 and 500   27%   30%
 More than 500  55%  20%
 
PS: Please note that the percentages don't add up to 100% because not all participants participated in the poll
 
What made this possible is not just the process but also the focused time we took to work on it. The face that we were doing it as a group provided an additional motivation and make this goal of emptying the inbox a shared goal--we were all in it together. 
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your e-mail inbox, consider transforming e-mail from being an ad-hoc activity to being a structured activity, and instead of being on e-mail all day long, spend focused time on e-mail, and then leave it alone and focus on the more important activities. Check out the resources below to get this started.

Additional Resources

Hope you will be able to join us at the next session on August 5, 2010.

Topics: getting organized, email management

Old terminology, new terminology: "People connecting with other people"

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 @ 08:33 AM

Time management tipsBrian Solis & Deirdre Breakenridge in their book Putting the Public Back in Public Relations talk about the new terminology in the social media era. Old terminology, before Web 2.0 and social media, refers to messages that get broadcast to users. New terminology refers to conversations that are shared with people. Brian and Deirdre also refer to what Josh Bernoff from Forrester wrote about his frustration with the term "users". Web users are no longer "users" he says. Knowing that we are at 80% of Net penetration in the US for instance, these "users" are now "people" looking for information. In the social media era, "users" are "people connecting with other people".

The most important part is not the terminology but the thinking that goes with the terminology. Thinking in terms of people and conversation changes everything. It creates a two-way street that allows all of us to change and learn in the process.

I believe that in training (or "learning" in the new terminology) and productivity ("accomplishment" in the new terminology) a similar terminology and mind shift are happening. Here is a start for comparing old and new terminology:

Traditional ways to refer to things  The new terminology and mindset 
 Users, attendees, trainees   People, participants, learners
 Messages, course material, presentations   Conversations, topics, interactions
 Time management, getting organized, being productive   Working well, optimizing, accomplishing

You additions and comments are welcome!

Topics: social media, time management tips, getting organized

Do the most difficult first; 3 ways to get the ultimate business result and for managing stress

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Jan 31, 2010 @ 10:30 AM

It is a human tendency to take the path of least resistance. To do the easy stuff first. As we do the easy things first though, what is ahead of us is always more difficult than what we currently have. We end up living a "difficult" life with a persistent anxiety about what is next. After all, with this approach, what is next is always more difficult and we end up with more stress and less results:

Business Results

Let us take a look at the alternative. If we reverse this tendency and do the most difficult first, observe what happens:

Managing Stress

What happens is that our anxiety is gone. The next task is now easier. Most importantly, we face the real issues, get real data, gain experience, develop skills, and increase our confidence. We most often rise to the occasion and reap the benefits. Even if we don't fully succeed at the task, we still succeed at learning from it, and being able to apply this knowledge again and again.

Here are 3 ways that can help us adopt this new approach of heading towards the most difficult first:

  1. Start with sound task design. As I suggested a few weeks ago (see When the task seems overcomplicated or overwhelming, reconsider the "task design"!) start by setting the right expectations, then line up the necessary resources, and don't forget to break down the task into manageable components.
     
  2. Get support and advice. More often than not, the help we need to approach the most difficult is just around the corner or even in front of our eyes. All we have to do is look around and ask. People are more willing to help and provide support when we make it easy for them to do so.
     
  3. Just do it. We have heard the "just do it" a million times but hearing it and applying it are two different things. It is only when we dive into the action that we can truly experience the learning and the emotions that go with it. It is all wishful thinking until we action.

Your turn to get better at managing stress and getting business results through action with the most difficult action first! Your comments below!

Topics: business results, time management tips, getting organized, managing stress

Now that you streamlined your to-do lists, how do you keep them well under control?

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Jan 14, 2010 @ 07:44 AM

not-to-do listNow that we have talked about the to-do lists bailout and the backup plan (if a full blown bailout is not possible), and now that your to-do lists are streamlined and strategic, how do you keep them this way!

The answer lies in an article I published 3 years ago titled "To do or not to do, that is the question!" 3 ways that can help you get more accomplished.

In essence, I am inviting you to start a not-to-do list in 2010, and I would go even further than I did in 2007, and suggest that when a to-do item comes your way, unless it is strategic and core, put it on the not-to-do list. Then let that item fight its way to the to-do list. Let it (and the forces behind it) justify why it should be promoted to the to-do list. Not easy but it can be done when coupled with setting expectations and some negotiation. Setting expectations and negotiation are the two skills that are more applicable and necessary today than ever before.

Let 2010 be different! Conventional time management tips and to-do list management techniques won't work in 2010 nor will they work in the new decade where information overload and economic challenges are the realities. In 2010, start fresh, start strategic, start bold!

Topics: time management tips, getting organized

Not ready for a full blown to-do lists bailout, ok, read the 3rd law of usability!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 @ 09:47 AM

time management tipsI am not going to leave this to-do lists bailout issue alone until I wrestle it to the ground. Until you agree with me that these to-do lists could very well be the barrier that is holding us back and that a fresh start is of utmost importance.

Yesterday, I described a full blown to-do lists bailout strategy. If you are not ready for the ultimate bailout, here is a milder version of a bailout that can still give you some great benefits.

This version follows Steve Krug's advice on how to enhance the usability of web pages and make them more effective (even not related to to-do lists, but quite applicable). In his book Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug states his third law of usability as follows: "Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what's left."

I suggest that the same law applies to to-do lists. Applying Steve Krug's 3rd law of usability on to-do lists, would result in having about 25% of the original list. Not bad. I would even go a bit further. For those of you who have read my book or attended my workshop, you may have guessed where I am headed with this. I am going to suggest getting rid of 80% of the items on the to-do lists, and focusing on the core 20%. After all the 80/20 rule says, 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort.

Instead of getting busy with insignificant time management tips, or attempting at managing stress with inconsequential small steps, or getting really busy trying to get organized, it is far more impactful to address the root causes in our to-do lists. Cannot do the bailout, go for the 80/20!

Topics: time management tips, getting organized, managing stress

Throw away your to-do lists. Join the to-do lists bailout. 5 new types of items will emerge!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 @ 09:24 AM

to-do list bailoutHow about starting 2010 differently? Starting it free of to-do lists. Yes, I said it. Free of to-do lists. Imagine what this would be like. It would be like a to-do list bailout. After all, everyone is doing it, from car companies, to banks, to real estate developers, to governments. So why not you and me?

Now that you're convinced, let us explore the potential of this undertaking

On your first day after the to-do list bailout, take the day off and do "nothing." Well not exactly nothing, but let it be unscheduled. What is most important on this day is to unthink and incorporate the desperately needed play time. This is a day for the intuition, which has been kidnapped and suffocated by to-do lists, to resurface and come to life again.

Then the next day is your day to think, but now think freely and creatively. As you think freely, instead of a to-do list, a more meaningful set of ideas and initiatives are going to form. These will develop into a streamlined and extraordinary to-do list (and a much shorter one).

This to-do list is radically different

This new to-do list is radically different from the earlier ones because items on this list are:

  1. Strategic: They are fewer items but they address key areas and important issues and are likely to get the desired outcomes.
  2. Bold: They face the issues instead of dancing around them. They confront the more difficult ones instead of keeping you busy with the noise.
  3. Challenging: They aim high, and seek to leverage your talents, experiences, and passions.
  4. Exciting: They portray hope and get you inspired and motivated.
  5. Socially and environmentally aware: They contribute to the surrounding and fully support your team, your organization, and community.

The point is: If we truly want to accomplish more in 2010, and get different outcomes, something radical has to change. The to-do lists have to change! Let the 2010 to-do lists bailout free you from the noise of the past and create a crystal clear sound for 2010.

Topics: time management tips, getting organized

Don't just make "resolutions", instill new "practices" instead!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Dec 22, 2009 @ 05:20 AM

According to this article in About.com, the most common new year's resolutions seem to be (and in this order):

productivity

1. Spend More Time with Family & Friends
2. Get Fit
3. Lose Weight
4. Quit Smoking
5. Enjoy Life More
6. Quit Drinking
7. Get Out of Debt
8. Learn Something New
9. Help Others
10. Get Organized

However, it is also known to many of us that many of these resolutions either remain unfulfilled or are short lived before old habits take over again. How can we change this?

How about shifting our thinking from "resolutions" to "practices"! Practices that we can instill and reap more sustainable benefits from. So what is a practice anyway? Here is what Wikipedia has to say about a practice:

Practice is the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it, as in the phrase "practice makes perfect". Sports teams practice to prepare for actual games. Playing a musical instrument well takes a lot of practice. It is a method of learning and of acquiring experience. Sessions scheduled for the purpose of rehearsing and performance improvement are called practices. They are engaged in by sports teams, bands, individuals, etc. "He went to football practice everyday after school," for example.

Applied to some of the above resolutions, this "practice-centric" thinking might lead to some of the following transformations:

  1. Instead of "Lose Weight", I might want to practice counting calories, planning more nutritious meals, and adding a regular exercise routine that can all together get me to the desired weight and even more importantly sustainable healthy living. 
     
  2. Instead of "Get out of debt", I might want to include the practice of preparing monthly financial reports and planning expenditures more carefully, and planning paying out previous debts. Obviously there is more to it, but it all starts with the practice of stopping periodically with the purpose of planning and implementing concrete steps. 
     
  3. And instead of "Get organized", I might want to review how I manage my "stuff" and develop better practices that I can apply and improve on a daily basis, and reap the benefits every day of the year.

Happy holidays and happy "practicing"!

Topics: time management tips, getting organized

Learn how long things take: Use the Micro-Plan™ and the Timer to get more accomplished!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Dec 04, 2009 @ 07:56 PM

time management tipsIn the years I spent in the software industry, one thing I learned (sometimes the hard way) is that estimating how long things take is not easy. We often asked our development and marketing teams how long it would take to perform certain task or implement certain features, and sometimes we got ambitious estimates, with actual delivery dates ending up being several folds later than expected, and other times we got heavily "sandbagged" answers, leading to not taking on these projects, and therefore missed windows of opportunities.

When it comes to our personal and team tasks, whether high-tech or whatever low tech endeavor is being pursued, the skill of knowing how long things take is highly desired and yet not so easy to come by.

One way to learn this is to define a purpose, time yourself, and track progress!

Here is an overview of the techniques and Download The_Results_Curve_tm_eBook (free of charge) to learn more:

  1. For individual tasks, develop a Micro-PlanTM. Create a brief outline at the beginning of your work session, listing key steps that you need to get done in order to complete the selected task.
  2. Time yourself. Use a countdown timer and set it for the desired time period, preferably no longer than 40 minutes before you take a break or switch to a collaborative session.
  3. Compare actual results to original plan, and do this often, so that reality sinks in, and not only you become a better estimator, but you start to ferociously get rid of unnecessary parts and side distractions and stay focused on the core task and get much more accomplished.

Download The_Results_Curve_tm_eBook (free of charge) to learn more about Micro-PlanningTM, about the use of the timer, and about the power of focusing

Topics: time management tips, getting organized