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The Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time

Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

Tip-Of-The-Month: Two strategies for helping you do the things you know you want to do!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Apr 07, 2011 @ 06:41 PM

While these two strategies apply to a broad range of situations, in this case, I would like to apply them to a specific situation first. Let me start by describing the situation, and then go through the two strategies.

The situation

Inbox FreedomLast week, Jenny Blake and I started the Inbox Freedom Webinar Series with a big goal in mind! The goal is to help our participants re-assess behaviors and attitudes toward their e-mail inbox through a series of tips, demonstrations, and interactive exercises, and therefore learn new practices to transform the way they look at email and manage e-mail. We want to transform e-mail from ad-hoc, inefficient, and anxiety-producing to structured, effective and anxiety-free.

This is a big goal indeed! Appreciating its magnitude and potential rewards, we structured the Inbox Freedom program in the form of four sessions spread over four weeks to allow the participants to practice in between sessions. Changing mindsets and behaviors doesn’t happen overnight! The Inbox Freedom webinar first session, which took place last week, was mostly geared towards creating awareness about our current perceptions and habits around our email inbox. After all, awareness is the first step in making meaningful improvements. At the end of the session, Jenny summarized the action items that our participants were to engage in before the next session in order to create this awareness and practice the techniques that we described.

Let us assume you are one of our webinar participants and ask you the question: “Have you implemented the steps that Jenny suggested at the end of the session, or not, or to what degree?” If you have, congratulations! And if you haven’t, or if you tried but then stopped too soon, it is likely that you have encountered an obstacle.

Putting aside the tactical and operational obstacles for now, I am mostly referring to and concerned about a different kind of obstacle. This obstacle is very subtle and yet very powerful; sometimes obvious but most of the time transparent. What I am referring to is YOUR OWN THOUGHTS such as:

  • This won’t work (or this won’t work for me—it may work for others but not me)
  • I started to work on it, but I didn’t get too far
  • This would take too much time and I don’t have the time
  • Etc.

The Strategies

Two strategies for helping you do the things you know you want to do:

1. Identify and dispute these thoughts

Dr. Albert Ellis uses the word “dispute” to refer to the act of questioning and challenging these thoughts which he calls “irrational beliefs.” In other words, we need to talk back at these thoughts to uncover the deceptions in them and replace them by “rational beliefs” that are more realistic and more productive. Dr. David Burns explains that there are several common distortions in such thoughts and that if we identify these distortions specifically, we are likely to be successful at dismantling these thoughts.

One of the popular distortions is “predicting the future” which Dr. Burns also refers to as “fortune telling.” It seems to be an art that we are all skilled at. “This won’t work” is exactly that: Predicting the future. “this won’t work” has nothing to do with reality. It is just a thought about the future mostly based on our own assumptions and interpretations and tinted by our biases and past experiences. If we replace this thought by something less distorted and more realistic such as “I can see that this is not easy, but I would like to know if this would work.”

Another popular distortion is the “all-or-nothing” distortion. All-or-nothing transforms the world into a binary world (made up of 0’s and 1’s) which may be true for the digital world but not for life as a whole. “I started to work on it, but I didn’t get too far” might fall into this category. How far did you get? Did you get some results or absolutely no results? How much time did you spend on it? What were you expecting? Did your expectations get in the way? These are just a few ways to dispute this distorted thought.

2. Bypass these thoughts

Bypass them and get into the doing. While identifying and disputing the thoughts is an important strategy, getting into action is another powerful strategy that can be done in addition or instead--preferably in addition. Sometimes it is difficult to get into action because of the paralyzing thoughts and therefore disputing them first and identifying the distortions is crucial. But disputing has its limits and it would be difficult to fully dispute and change our mindset without the factual and emotional learning that comes from experimenting.
Now taking this beyond the Inbox Freedom webinar, when you feel hesitant about taking actions and engaging in activities that you know are likely to lead to good outcomes, stop the indecision and hesitation, and identify the underlying thoughts. Then engage in these strategies to move you forward into action and let reality “tell” instead of allowing assumptions and interpretations “rule.”

Join us at the Inbox Freedom Webinar this week

You are invited to join the complimentary Inbox Freedom Webinar Series. Even if you missed session 1, you can still make up for it by viewing the recording on facebook, and register for session 2 now, and start applying and practicting these strategies!


Topics: tip-of-the-month, productivity, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: From 500 Hats to 5 Hats: How to focus, collaborate, play, do e-mail, and get accomplished!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Dec 02, 2010 @ 10:57 PM

focus collaborate playFor years, my friend and fellow entrepreneur Dave McClure used the expression "500 Hats" (which became his personal and professional brand) to refer to the many hats entrepreneurs wear as they get a new startup off the ground.  Dave did an outstanding job at wearing these hats and he recently went on to start a new seed fund & incubator program called 500 Startups in which Dave offers advising and investing.

While a few “super” entrepreneurs like Dave McClure and Mark Zuckerberg might enjoy, and even thrive, wearing the 500 Hats, the rest of us are likely to be happier and more effective with far fewer hats. Yet today's workplace, and our own self-inflicted work habits, seem to continuously gravitate us towards wearing too many hats and leaving us more often than not stranded in a world of utter chaos or at best with less-than-optimum performance, and not to mention stress and dissatisfaction.

So let me "simplify!" Are you ready to meet the 5 Hats?

The 5 Hats of Highly Accomplished People

If you have downloaded my free eBook titled the Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time, you already have a head start in putting these 5 Hats into practice. If not, I invite you to do so to get the full picture and the underlying concepts as well as the specific techniques that will help you stick to these new habits and turn them into natural behaviors.

Hat #1: The Focus Hat

Focus HatPut on your Focus Hat and dive deep into an important task that is going to make a difference. Meaningful accomplishments don't come from working a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Meaningful accomplishments require focused and purposeful effort. When you are working in few minutes increments, or even seconds nowadays, you may be getting things done and getting some immediate gratification, but hardly thinking strategically and creatively, and rarely solving important and complex problems. 

Depending on the task on hand, keep the Focus Hat on until you have made significant progress. For some tasks, this may be 10 or 15 minutes, while for others, it may be 30 or 45 minutes, or even longer. The Results Curve suggests 40 minutes as the limit and then switching hats for at least a bit before coming back to the Focus Hat.

Hat #2: The Collaboration Hat

After your focused session, take off your Focus Hat and put on your Collaboration Hat. This means check e-mail, voice mail, talk to people, ask for what you need, give others what they need, and be fully collaborative. This is fast paced, total multi-tasking, and utter engagement. With the Collaboration Hat on, go as fast as you want and can, un-limit yourself, and multi-task to your heart’s desire. After all, we live in a highly interdependent and fast-paced work environment. Oh, and don’t forget to check the social networks.

Collaboration is key and therefore the Collaboration Hat is absolutely necessary. And while we hear so many messages about multi-tasking being a problem, Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, confirmed at our lunch and learn webinars a couple of week ago that multi-tasking is not in and by itself the problem. It is only a problem when we “only” multi-task. In other words when instead of wearing the Collaboration Hat, we get stuck with a Collaboration Shirt at all times.

Hat #3: The Play Hat

Take off your Collaboration Hat and go wild (with a little obvious disclaimer here about staying professionally and socially responsible). The concept of play in the workplace continues to be worrisome for some. However research is proving time after time that environments that tolerate or even encourage play are thriving with engagement, innovation, and productivity.  Chuck Hamilton, Manager at the IBM Center for Advanced Learning, talked about the IBM@PLAY program at our lunch & learn webinars last year. Chuck discussed how playful tools and projects are spreading across their workplace including the use of Virtual Worlds to help connect people globally across the organization.

Play means different things to different people. I would like to define it as being whatever activity gets you refreshed, energized, and fully engaged. It is intended to help you avoid heading downhill on the Results Curve into the darkness of boredom and inefficiency. Play can mean getting physically active and engaging in a play activity on one end of the spectrum, to having a few minutes of silence and letting the mind wander on the other end of the spectrum. Stay tuned for more discussions of play activities and for the “playtime challenge” that is coming soon!

Hat #4: The E-mail Hat

Take off the e-mail “shirt” that you are wearing all the time (you know what happens when you wear the same thing all the time) and put on the E-mail Hat. This means don’t treat e-mail like an on-going activity that you do all day long. Last time I checked, e-mail was not part of your job description and you are not being paid to just do e-mail. So I suggest a mind shift: “E-mail is a task, and like any other task, it needs to have a clear beginning and a clear end.” So put the E-mail Hat on and work on this e-mail task—fearlessly and fiercely processing the new messages in your inbox. Then you take your E-mail Hat off and now stay off e-mail until after you gave focus, collaboration, and play the time their deserve. 

Similar to what Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., said about multi-tasking, I extrapolate this to e-mail: E-mail is not the problem, the problem is that we do e-mail all the time. For more details and to view a demo of how to simplify the e-mail task, visit my previous article “Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 2 of many.

Jared Goralnick (Founder of Awayfind.com) and I share a vision in which we want to enable business professionals completely change the way they do e-mail and break free from the e-mail jail. Stay tuned for more information about how to setup automatic notifications based on smart filters so that important messages are relayed to you instead of you having to watch for them on e-mail.

Hat #5: The Light-Focus Hat

While the Focus Hat is critical for the important and strategic tasks that require in-depth thinking, a myriad of other tasks can be handled while still being able to keep an eye and respond to incoming inquiries. The Light-Focus Hat is exactly that--working on our own tasks while still being open to handling incoming inquiries. Put this hat on when you are able and willing to stop the task on hand, handle a request, and then resume your original task. 

The Results Curve Hats

If you have seen the Results Curve, you may enjoy its new look with the key hats I described above:

Results Curve Hats

By the way Dave McClure actually wore a variety of "chapeau" while playing ultimate frisbee around the SF bay area. So don't by shy. Get real hats and make use of them to make a point to yourself first and to your community second! I got my Focus Hat (the one displayed above) and now shopping for my E-mail Hat!

Download the Results Curve for a more thorough examination of our work habits today and how to better manage focused and collaborative time!

Get The Accomplishing More With Less Workbook to get the full picture! See reviews at Amazon.com

Topics: tip-of-the-month, interruptions, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 4 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 @ 01:13 PM

Fearlessly facing the issues

e-mail tips tutorialsE-mail messages, especially the not-so-easy ones, seem to sit in our inbox for a while before we finally take actions on them. We may agonize about them for days and looking at them dozens of times before we finally take the necessary action. By that time, it may be too late and we may find ourselves missing important windows of opportunities or critical deadlines and therefore needing to do some damage repair. Or even if it is not late, we still feel exhausted and guilty, having spent valuable mental and emotional energy without making much progress. 

You know these messages that I am referring to. Scan your inbox right now and identify 5 to 10 of these messages and let’s get to work:

  1. If you need more information before you can handle the message (like more clarification on certain issues, or access to a report that has some relevant data), then initiate the request to get the necessary information. Put a reminder so that if you don’t get the information within the necessary timeframe, you can follow-up in a timely manner. Then move to the next message.
  2. If you need time to think through the content of the message and/or preform the related task, then set time on your calendar to do so, and then move to the next message (most important treat this time like a serious appointment that is not easily subject to change. So when the time comes, just do it!).
  3. If you need to consult with others before you can handle the message, then initiate the request to consult with the relevant people. Also, put that reminder so you can follow-up. Then move to the next message.
  4. If you have the information you need, and don’t need more time to think it through or perform a related task, and don’t need advice from others, then prompt yourself to take the action now! If you have been postponing such a message, it is likely that what is stopping you is an underlying fear of facing the issues (making a decision, saying no to people, giving information or opinions that may rock the boat, etc.). So the solution is to fearlessly face the issues and learn in the process. Below is the 5 step process that can help you do so.

Fearlessly Facing The Issues: A Five Step Approach

  • Step 1: Draft your “fearless” response (but don’t send it yet). In other words, how would you respond if you had no fear and if you were to face the issues to the best of your knowledge.
  • Step 2: Write down what you are afraid of (specific thoughts that are causing your fear), and what are the likelihood that these unfortunate events will come true (jot this down, don’t just think it), and how you would manage them if they would come true.
  • Step 3: Review your “fearless” response again and potentially refine it to minimize any associated risks. At this point you may already feel ready to face the issues and send your response. If not, go to step 4.
  • Step 4: Get feedback about your response from someone else, and preferably someone objective who is not a stakeholder in the issues. Get some objective feedback on your analysis in step 2 above.
  • Step 5: Refine your response and send it and stay tuned for more learning.

If you start fearlessly facing the e-mail issues on a daily basis (every time you go to your inbox), you are likely to dismantle these fears quickly and accelerate your e-mail process! 

Additional Resources

Topics: tip-of-the-month, time management tips, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 3 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, May 17, 2010 @ 08:16 PM

manage e-mail overload
So far, I wrote about 2 strategies (Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at, and Simplifying and optimizing the process) and today, I will continue with the 3rd strategy which is “Significantly reducing the output and the input.”  As you know if you have been following this series of articles which I started in March, my goal is to tackle the issue of e-mail management from several angles. The ultimate goal is to formulate effective and sustainable strategies, as opposed to quick and short lived fixes, for getting the e-mail overload well under control and leading more accomplished and happier work lives. 

I need your involvement

e-mail survey
The e-mail (and Social Media) challenges are not going away anytime soon. In addition, the benefits and opportunities that these technologies bring are humungous. I need your involvement in helping address these challenges and maximize these benefits. Here is how you can help.

  • Set 30 minutes of uninterrupted time on your calendar this week to:
  • Review the 3 articles that I already published on this topic (#1#2, as well as this article which is strategy #3)
  • Share your feedback about these topics by adding your comments to above articles as you see fit (see comment section at the bottom of each article page)
  • Start to implement these strategies and report on your experiences and the results you are getting and any additional feedback you might have.
  • Take the 5 minute e-mail and Social Media survey which will help you reflect on relevant issues and become part of this effort.
  • Encourage your team to do the same. E-mail after all impacts all of us!
And now back to Strategy #3: Significantly reducing the output and the input

Significantly reducing the output

manage e-mail overload
“Why worry about the output?” you might ask! Isn’t our main goal to manage our “in”box? Which is basically the input that comes our way?

You are probably familiar with the saying: “What goes around comes around.” And this is so true for e-mail. The more output we create, the more input will be generated. This is not just about quantity but also about quality. Sending e-mails that are not clear and not relevant to the core business issues at hand is likely to generate more questions, more distractions, and endless back and forth e-mails conversations that contribute little or no value. Copying people unnecessarily is sure to turn these conversations into an avalanche. So output is one of the root causes of input. That is why we will start with the output first.

By the way, strategy #1 (Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at) already paved the road and started the journey of reducing the output. Actually we can argue that strategy #1 is all about reducing the output when we apply it individually and it is about reducing the input when we apply it as a group. This brings an interesting question: “Is the e-mail overload primarily an individual problem or a group problem?” Of course it is both, but if you had to choose, which would you choose as the primary? 

I believe it is primarily an individual problem and secondarily (but a close second) a group problem. Why? Because when we sit at that computer, or iPad, or whatever device we use, and create that e-mail, this is an individual effort. Whatever I start in that e-mail is the beginning of a chain reaction that is likely to impact the group and pick up momentum; hence the extra care required in creating each and every message.

In addition to strategy #1, and assuming you have mastered that strategy and encouraged your team to do so, here are the next steps in reducing the output:

  1. Answer/send an e-mail only when it is related to your top priorities and your team’s top priorities, and only when you are adding significant value; difficult to do, but you will save a lot of time and people will start paying more attention to your e-mails when they get them.
  2. If you wish to share your knowledge and expertise or socialize with people and groups outside your team and your top priorities, find other ways to do so. E-mail is not the best tool for sharing knowledge and for socializing. 
  3. Another variation to step #1 above is to wait on, or not answer, the non-urgent and not so important e-mails. It is likely that the issue will go away or someone else will address it. People will also learn not to send you the not so important stuff.
  4. Answer/send 140 characters; if there is more to say, put it in bullet points or a numbered list. Make it clear and succinct. Elevate the standards for e-mail composition instead of adopting or accepting the lowest common denominator. 
  5. Address the core issues and not dance around them. Stop and check-in again if e-mail is the best way to do so. But if it is, get to these issues sooner than later. Save yourself and your team significant time and demonstrate and model direct and open communication.
  6. Delegate issues and decisions and don’t ask to be copied on them. Instead ask to be consulted only on as-needed basis, and to be updated when critical points are reached. Invest your time in developing the people instead of reading and writing e-mails.
  7. Keep checking with yourself as to whether you should move this issue to a medium other than e-mail. 

Significantly reducing the input

manage e-mail overload
As you put the steps suggested above into practice, the input will be significantly less. In addition, here are some additional steps you can take the further reduce the input:

  1. Unsubscribe from e-mail lists that are not related to your top priorities. Unfortunately most of us don’t have the luxury to go through secondary topics and issues. While this information may be helpful, it can also be very distracting. If you haven’t looked at these e-mails for a while, this is a sufficient indication that you need to unsubscribe.
  2. Add rules and filters to file selected e-mails into designated folders which can then be visited on an as-needed basis. Be creative with these rules, using sender’s names or e-mail addresses for instance, or keywords in the subject line or body, or whatever else can help you identify them.
  3. Add rules and filter to categorize (or color) and sort the important messages based on the sender such as your and your customers. While this does not reduce the input per se, it does guide you to the most important input first.
  4. Create an auto-reply that provides people with helpful resources and asks them to resend their inquiry if they still need help; This can work well if you happen to receive many generic requests that your senders can get answers for from self-service resources that are easily available.
  5. Delegate the first pass of e-mail processing to your assistant if that is an option; If you have someone assisting you with your office work, consider training them to go through your e-mails, categorize the ones that require your attention, and process or file the rest. 
Stay tuned for the next Tip-Of-The-Month article where I will discuss the next strategy: "Fearlessly facing the issues."

Also, stay tuned for the upcoming book on how to manage the e-mail overload and Social Media (these articles and the latest findings from our ongoing research and development effort will be part of the book)!

Topics: email etiquette, tip-of-the-month, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 2 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Apr 18, 2010 @ 11:23 AM

e-mail managementMany of the business professionals we talk to seem to report that they spend endless hours in their e-mail inboxes. They tend to "live" there checking e-mail every few minutes or even seconds, having a dozen of e-mail messages open simultaneously, hopping from one to the next, and then deserting the latest one as soon as they hear the beep or see the alert, to open yet another message. Someone confessed recently at one of our workshops that when no new e-mails show up, he sometimes catches himself pressing the send/receive button repeatedly as if he is desperate for more. Does it sound like an addiction? Well, it is.

There is a lot more to discuss about this addiction, and this will be one of the topics we will touch on in future articles, but for now, we are going to focus on simplifying and optimizing the process--the e-mail management process that is. This is the second out of five strategies that I layout out in the last tip-of-the-month in which I also discussed the first strategy: "Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at."

The simplified e-mail process

Instead of "living" in the inbox and working on e-mail messages in an ad-hoc fashion, how about treating e-mail like any other task with a beginning and an end. We will discuss below how frequently we engage into this task, but for now, let us focus on the mechanics of this task. Let us also give this task a name: "Processing the Inbox." Processing the Inbox consists of the following:

  • Going through the inbox one message at a time, starting with the most recent, and not leaving that message until we make a decision about it.
  • If a message is urgent, we handle it right away.
  • If a message is quick and easy, we hand it right away.
  • If a message cannot be handled right away, for one reason or another, we make a decision about when we want or need to handle it and flag accordingly (or categorize it, or tag it, or label it, depending on which e-mail application you are using):
    • If it has to be handled today, then flag it with a red flag
    • It it can wait until tomorrow or later, then flag it with a blue flag
    • If it can be delegated to someone else, then forward it to them, and flag it with a yellow flag

Processing the Inbox is not complete until you process all the new messages in the inbox (the messages that arrived since you checked the inbox last).

To see this process in action, view the free training module (see form in the left column) which demonstrates the step by step process (in this case for Microsoft Outlook 2003, even though the above process can be adapted to any version of Outlook or any other e-mail application that supports tagging or labeling such as Google Mail, and applications with add-on's that support tagging such as MailTags for Mac Mail).

The optimized e-mail process

Now that we have a process down, and we don't just do e-mail one at a time and endlessly, there is still an important questions to answer, and that is how often do we check e-mail? In other words, how do we optimize our workflow?

This brings us to the core issue that I have been evangelizing for years, and which I recently published in its most comprehensive form: The Results Curve--How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time (free download available).  I won't discuss the details of the Results Curve here, but according to the Results Curve, it is best to check e-mail every 40 minutes, or whatever length of focused time you choose. So instead of checking e-mail every few minutes or few seconds or as soon as you hear the beep or see the alert, let e-mail wait until the next collaborative session.

This also means that at the end of the day, we need to leave room for an e-mail session, where we go through the messages we flagged for today, and handle these messages.

Before you answer your next e-mail, stop for a second and ask the question: Should I interrupt my current task and jeopardize my results, or should I wait until the next collaborative session?

Stay tuned for the next Tip-Of-The-Month article where I will discuss the next strategy: "Significantly reducing the output and the input."

Topics: email etiquette, tip-of-the-month, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 1 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Mar 28, 2010 @ 06:19 PM

In this series of articles, my goal is to tackle the issue of e-mail management from several angles. The e-mail overload problem is multi-faceted and not something that can be solved quickly. Most of us, bloggers and Twitterers are guilty of giving the impression that we can help our readers solve major problems by giving them the miraculous solution in a few paragraphs or even 140 characters. Let us stop this wishful thinking. Significant challenges require innovative solutions and persistent application of these solutions as well as ongoing learning and adjustment. This requires trial and error over a period of time until we find the winning formula.

If you are getting a large number of e-mails and feeling that e-mail is exhausting and out of control, I have some good news and some bad news for you. The bad news is that there is no immediate and easy solution (other than finding a new job and starting fresh, which is only a temporary solution). The good news is that there is a whole set of effective strategies that we can deploy to get the e-mail overload well managed. All together, these strategies are likely to bring us a significant relief and help us refocus our energy on the core issues and create more compelling results.

In the upcoming weeks and months, I will be writing a series of articles on this blog and elsewhere addressing at least five of these e-mail strategies and probably more. While many of these strategies are derived from the Accomplishing More With Less Methodology (see free e-book, workbook, and workshops), these articles will also include the latest findings from our ongoing research effort and will be part of the upcoming book on how to effectively manage your e-mail and Social Media activities. Hope you will join us in this effort and participate in the E-mail and Social Media 5-minute survey as well as post your comments on this blog.

The five e-mail strategies

Simply put, here are the five e-mail strategies:

  1. Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at
  2. Simplifying and optimizing the process
  3. Significantly reducing the output and the input
  4. Fearlessly facing the issues
  5. Attacking the root causes

Let us start with the first strategy and stay tuned for more!

Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at

When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail:

e-mail overload

Oh well! We have the hammer, and in this case it is called "e-mail." We have it and we tend to use it all the time. E-mail is easy. It is quick. It costs virtually nothing (if we are only looking at the hard costs). In addition, we can say whatever we want in an e-mail and not get interrupted by someone else's point of view (can be rewarding but dangerous). So no wonder why we are so quick to use it in almost any situation.

Blinded by the ease and speed of e-mail, among other factors, we tend to forget that e-mail is not the only tool for communicating. This is a list of some of the tools that can largely benefit us when used appropriately in conjunction with e-mail. What do you think these tools are ideal for and not so ideal for? Use this opportunity to jot down your answers and then compare with the answers below:

  Ideal for  Not so ideal for 
 E-mail  < jot down your answers >  < jot down your answers>
 Instant Messaging    
 Phone Calls    
 Web Conferencing    
 Virtual Worlds    
 Video Conferending    

While there is not one answer, and no right or wrong answer, when it comes to how best to utilize these tools, here are some suggested answers as a starting point:

  Ideal for  Not so ideal for 
 E-mail  Factual/Asynchronous    Emotional
 Instant Messaging  Quick exchanges  Long exchanges
 Phone Calls  Discussions  Visuals
 Web Conferencing  Document sharing  Interacting/Seeing people
 Virtual Worlds  Interacting  Simple hardware setup
 Video Conferending  Seeing people  Simple hardware setup
 In-Person  Complex/Emotional  Remote people

Let us add a few more asynchronous tools to the mix

  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • SharePoint
  • Google Docs 

Blogs, wikis, Microsoft SharePoint, Google Docs, and other information and document sharing tools, can tremendously help take the load off of e-mail. One of the examples that I give in our workshops relate to how blogs for instance (in this case, we are referring to internal blogs) can help the knowledge experts within the team or organization answer important questions once instead of time after time, and make these answers accessible to everyone within the team or organization. E-mail is not the best way to leverage and share knowledge.

Let us start using e-mail for what e-mail is best at! Before you write your next e-mail, stop for a second and ask the question: Should this be an e-mail or not?

Stay tuned for the next Tip-Of-The-Month article where I will discuss the next strategy: "Simplifying and optimizing the process."



Topics: email etiquette, tip-of-the-month, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: The "new new" inbox--Get ready for the opportunities & challenges

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 @ 10:02 AM

social mediaA few days ago, I posted an article about the Old terminology, new terminology: "People connecting with other people." A related topic that I have been thinking about is the "old" inbox and the "new" inbox. However the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is even a newer inbox: The Social Media Inbox. What do these inboxes mean and what are the implications of the advent of the Social Media Inbox? Keep on reading!

The old inbox

I still remember the days when the inbox meant internal e-mail only. I was in Southern California at a technology company with about 100 employees at the time and everyone had access to Microsoft Outlook and used it for internal e-mail and for scheduling internal meetings. The external world was not "visible" to internal employees. There was no Internet, if you can imagine. Only a few people had access to MCI and a few others to Compuserve. These privileged people were able to connect to the external world but still had to go through hoops to do it.

The new inbox

Then came the Internet and suddenly the "new" inbox was born. The new inbox is connected to the whole world. This brought amazing opportunities and also an unprecedented e-mail overload. Every person ended up with a handful of e-mail inboxes ranging from work, to personal, to "throw-away" ones just to keep unwanted messages out of the way. Soon after came the invasion of the mobile devices and e-mail on the go. Consolidating messages into one e-mail application and/or synchronizing between multiple applications and devices became necessities and many of us have done some degree of consolidation and synchronization along the way.

And now meet the "new new" inbox: The Social Media Inbox

Then Web 2.0 snuck upon us! Now we are all part of the creation process and part of the conversation. Like never before, we the people can share information, participate in conversations, and build our own social networks. We are in direct contact with the people who once were invisible. Suddenly we are no longer just in our e-mail inbox(es). We are now as often or even more often in our new and expanded inboxes: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, YouTube channels, del.icio.us bookmarks, StumbleUpon articles, and you name it, which all together I am calling the Social Media Inbox.

This inbox is emerging as a powerful force and even the most authoritative search engines are re-inventing their search approach to include the Social Media Inbox.

So what does it all mean? What are opportunities and the challenges?

The Social Media Inbox brings some unique opportunities and some rather unique challenges as well. On the opportunities side:

  • We are connected with 100's of millions of people and are able to have real time conversations with them
  • We are learning what they are like and how they think (market research)
  • We are discussing our brand and the value that we bring to the table (marketing)
  • We are influencing their buying decisions (sales)
  • We are exchanging ideas and building on each other's ideas (innovation)
  • And the list continues!

On the challenges side:

  • We are faced with more information overload than ever before
  • We are constantly interrupting our core activities to keep up with what is going on in the world
  • We are not necessary leveraging this new inbox to the extent that we could
  • And the list continues!

What does your Social Media Inbox (SMI) look like and how are you managing it?

If you haven't yet expanded your definition of the "inbox" and explored the Social Media world, this is the time to do so. Some exciting opportunities are awaiting you. If you have, this is the time to reflect further on the opportunities and challenges and how they can be managed to help us be more effective in the workplace and beyond.

As we continue to explore this topic and explore best practices to manage the SMI, we need your help! Please share your thoughts below or fill out this short Social Media Inbox survey (5 to 10 minutes) and we will share the survey results with you.

Take the Social Media Inbox survey and become part of the conversation!

Topics: twitter, tip-of-the-month, social media, email management

Tip-Of-The-Month: Managers, pay attention! Are you driving your team’s productivity down by constantly interrupting them?

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 @ 09:57 PM

manager-induced-interruptionsMore often than not, when I ask our workshop participants why they get interrupted and why they are unable to stay focused on the task at hand, they say things like e-mail, Instant Messages (IM), phone, people stopping by, and the list goes on and on.

As we discuss this further, the role that their boss plays into these interruptions becomes more apparent, and many don't hesitate to air their frustration about this. Most participants report that it is their boss's e-mails, IM messages, phone calls, and surprise visits and requests that are one of the leading causes of their interruptions and inability to accomplish what they are expected to accomplish.

So I decided to write this e-mail to the bosses (following what Steve Krug did in his book Don't Make Me Think in which he wrote an e-mail to top management regarding website usability issues). Please forward this to your boss.

From: Pierre Khawand
to: <your boss>
Subject: How Managers "shoot themselves in the foot"!

Dear <your manager's name>,

As a productivity expert, I frequently discuss with my workshop participants and my readers, the role that interruptions play in diminishing our productivity and preventing us from getting our job done. One of the issues that come up often is that managers largely contribute to interrupting their staff and in a way are preventing them from delivering the same things that managers are eager to get delivered.

I decided to share my research, my thoughts, and my experiences relating to this topic with you as a manager. Having been in this role myself over the last two decades, I understand the demands that this role puts on us. On one hand we have to satisfy the needs of the people that we manage, and on the other hand, we need to satisfy the demands of top management, shareholders, and other stakeholders. This makes it difficult not to quickly react to the constantly changing environment and interrupt our staff with the hope of finding a solution to a problem or improving a certain situation.

Unfortunately these interruptions tend to disrupt progress on current tasks, reduce productivity considerably, and just as importantly impact the morale and create additional stress. Ultimately these interruptions deprive us as managers, and our workforce, from the results we desperately need. I would like to suggest three important measures that can be taken immediately to help manage the manager-induced-interruptions and minimize their impact:

  1. Differentiate clearly between items that are truly urgent and items that are perceived urgent. Items that are truly urgent have specific, measurable, and significant consequences on the end results if not acted upon within minutes. Items that are perceived urgent are based more on opinions, reactions, and office politics and can wait for 30 minutes to an hour or until the designated staff member is finished with their focused work. Managers who start to make this distinction, find out that most of the items that appear urgent fall in the category of "perceived urgent" and only a few pass the test of being "truly urgent."
  2. For items that are perceived to be urgent, shield your team from them. Instead of interrupting the team (via e-mail, IM, phone, or in person) and sacrificing the task they have at hand, make a note of these items on a special to-do list that you create for each team member. Then communicate this list at the next opportunity--the next time you have a conversation with them, the next one-on-one, or when they are not focused and able to communicate.
  3. Allow your team to tell you when they are focused, and be willing to defer items until they are done with their focused work.  Make it "okay" to say "no" to you. In parallel, let them know how you would interrupt them when truly urgent issues come up-issues that cannot wait until they are done with their focused work.

Having such a discussion with your team will not only result in tangible business results, but will engage the team and greatly improve the team's morale.By the way, the above will also help you minimize your team's interruptions of your focused work, and also optimize your focused and collaborative/management effort.

To get the full appreciation of how significant is the negative impact of interruptions on your staff, I urge you to take a look at my findings and suggested solutions in The Results CurveTM: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time (free eBook or video). I also welcome your comments on this blog post, and any additional thoughts or questions that you might have.

Pierre Khawand
Productivity Evangelist

Topics: tip-of-the-month, time management tips