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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

9 Rules for Emailing by Google's Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (TIME, 9/24/14); summary + commentary by Melissa Sweat, Online Community Manager

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Oct 02, 2014 @ 04:44 PM

Heard about our summary+commentary (s+c*d) format? Learn more!

Summary

Rules for handling email at work

Last week, Google Executive Chairman and past CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior VP of Products Jonathon Rosenberg released their new book, How Google Works. In it, they give a robust, inside look at the company’s culture, from talent to innovation to how to deal with disruptions. Sharing management and business insights at both the macro and micro levels, the book offers a rare “how to” into Google’s success.

At the day-to-day micro level, Schmidt and Rosenberg have specific rules for email and how to avoid the “foreboding” email often causes. They’ve shared these in a recent TIME article, 9 Rules For Emailing From Google Exec Eric Schmidt. A few, include:

  • Respond as quickly as possible.

  • Constantly clean out your inbox.

  • Make following up easy with a label.

  • Email should be handled in “Last In First Out” (LIFO) order.

Commentary

The article offers great email advice, notably on cleaning out your inbox and labeling. “Inbox zero” is possible. People-OnTheGo has a similar system of categorizing emails as “Today,” “Tomorrow,” “Waiting For” (and you can handle easy items right away). We differ about responding quickly. Do be quick and brief, but don’t have email up all the time and check it constantly. This greatly decreases focus and productivity.

Discussion

How about you? Do you handle email with your own unique system? Are you struggling on a daily basis with email or distraction? Do you agree or disagree with the ways to manage email suggested here? Please share your thoughts in the section below, or tweet us @pierrekhawand.

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Topics: time management tips, productivity, information overload, email management

Brain, Interrupted by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson (New York Times, 5/3/13); summary + commentary by Melissa Sweat, Online Community Manager

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Jun 18, 2013 @ 12:02 PM

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Summary

describe the image“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.” –C.S. Lewis. Today, we live in an era of constant distraction: a fast-paced digital age of multi-screens, electronic alerts, instant messages, and alarms, social media, and near-infinite web search & surf possibilities. At work the temptation toward distraction is a very persistent reality; and it’s making us not only less productive but less smart, too.

In a Carnegie Mellon experiment cited in the article (“Brain, Interrupted,” NYT), it turns out that an interruption made test takers “20 percent dumber” than the control group. In the second part of the experiment, a portion of the test takers were interrupted again, and yet improved to 14 percent (still lower though than the control group). Meanwhile, the other portion of test takers, who were told they’d be interrupted and were not, improved by 43 percent—even outperforming the control group.

Commentary

The authors conclude this last group may have focused to “steel themselves” against the interruption that never came, or that an awareness of imminent interruptions better prepared them. People-OnTheGo helps professionals develop this exact power of “micro-level focus,” and offers many strategies and webinars to this end. Here are 3 tips to help get you focused right now:

  1. Create a distraction-free work environment.

  2. Use a Micro-Plan™ and timer.

  3. Quickly “capture” any distracting thoughts in a paper journal so you can remain focused on the task at hand.

Discussion

How do you handle distractions at work? What strategies and techniques are you currently using? What are your greatest interruption challenges? Do you feel you’d be more productive if you learned to better manage interruptions?

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Topics: summary-plus-commentary, time management tips, interruptions, productivity, webinars, information overload

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

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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

The WSJ's Health and Wellness section provides a glimpse into a distinctly first-world problem: digital hoarding

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Apr 03, 2012 @ 07:48 AM

Guest blog article by Rick Colosimo

describe the imageBesides profiling a few prolific users and an "Odd Couple" married couple, complete with female Oscar, with photos, emails, audio, and video adding up to vast amounts of digital storage space, there is a list of a handful of "tell-tale" signs. Signs of digital hoarding include: using all your free space on gmail; a desktop cluttered with icons; digital photos that are mostly bad; and TV shows you don't plan to watch. Suggested "treatments" include: Inbox Zero (made famous by Merlin Mann of 43folders); declaring email bankruptcy; and reducing inflow to your email inbox. 

The real kernel of where this article meant to go is one of the signs that is ignored in the text: "Deleting anything makes you anxious -- even things you can't remember why you saved." Digital storage, by itself, is in a different category than physical hoarding because of the inherent cost-benefit analysis. With no physical outcomes, other than costs for a 2TB hard drive (<$200) every so often, it's hard to compare keeping emails with a pile of old unread newspapers. Certainly, the filing vs piling debate makes the "cost" of storing more even lower -- the generally accepted answer these days is that it's faster to search than maintain a detailed filing system. The search costs go down more than expected because you don't have to search for everything you store, but you have to file everything to have a filing system.

I think the critical distinction is one of attitude and anxiety: if you are anxious, you have a problem regardless of whether you have 100 photos or 100,000. If you search and can't find things, that's a different problem with a specific solution for your situation to create total organization. I find that Quicksilver and Spotlight do quite well at finding things quickly for me with little worries on my part.  

Take a quick look at your primary machine (OmniDiskSweeper is a free lightweight simple sizing tool): how much do you have in various folders?  After doing some cleaning myself, it reports: 

  • iTunes (Includes Stanford IOS course in HD and music videos): 50gb

  • Documents (includes archived client files and backups as well as my second copy of most mail since I have Outlook for Mac installed too): 26.6 gb

  • Pictures: 16.9 gb

  • Library (a Mac folder that stores mail, working folders for DevonThink, and IOS backups): 14.3 gb

  • Downloads (all my "temp" storage plus working files for learning how to program): 4.2 gb

  • All that plus the miscellaneous leaves me with plenty of space on a 256gb solid-state macbook air.

NB: To be fair, I've offloaded 10gb of old Windows PST files to my time capsule, and about 6gb of tutorial videos for Rails/IOS as well. Much of my old music (about 60gb) resides on my still-running Windows Vista desktop on a 500gb hard drive.

What's your digital storage profile look like? What tools do you use to find things easily?

Topics: tools and supplies, information overload