Top tips from Mesmo Consultancy (and Associates) on how to save time and improve business and personal performance by ‘Taking Control of your Inbox’ and using proper business email etiquette.
Here are five articles which caught our eye over the last few weeks. It’s a mixed bunch including the importance of checking your junk folder from time to time, what constitutes a strong password and how to improve office communications by placing more emphasis on the human aspect of work. Click here for more.
1. Always check your junk folder (carefully) – Australian author Helen Garner was almost $207,000 out of pocket recently, when an email telling her she had won a new prize went straight to her junk folder. She naturally thought is was a hoax.
2. Emails reveal trading behaviour during crisis. The Libor scandal erupted nearly five years ago and yet still email evidence is emerging about how traders manipulated the markets. Although largely related to the financial aspects of Citibank’s troubles, this article underpins two fundamental principles. First, you never know what happens to an email once it leaves your inbox. You only have control over what you say not who does what with it. Second, email is a picture of you, a point Barclays Bank found to their horror.
3. Working human: after all, what’s the alternative? We spend more time at work and isolated in our blinkered world of email and social media than ever before. Some companies are now looking at ways to make work more enjoyable and increase the level of personal contact. This overview includes case histories.
4. Better password? Pretend you eat kale. Did you know that password built around the ‘I eat kale’ is significantly stronger than one built on ‘I love you’. Here is why and how to build on that philosophy to develop your own strong and robust passwords. Click here for more tips on this setting strong passwords to reduce cyber crime.
5. After hours email checking consumes a month a year. A recent US survey found that we now spend at least one hour of our own time checking office emails. There is little doubt the same behaviour persist in the UK. Indeed the French Government are considering legislation to banning access to work email after work hours.
Many of the challenges highlighted in these articles contribute to corporate email overload and hence drain you and your organisation’s productivity.
You will find some advice and tips on how to reduce the email stress levels in both ‘Brilliant Email‘ and ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox‘. And Mesmo Consultancy can always come and run a Brilliant Email workshop to help you and your organisation improve performance.
The Pressure Principle by Dave Alred.
You practice for weeks/days for an important event be it a presentation or performance in the sports arena, then comes the day and you let yourself down. Most of us have been there at some point in our leives whether at work or socially perhaps perusing our favourite sport
For me the motivation to read this book was a bold attempt to sink more five foot putts. Alred, coached Johnny Wilkinson. Here he distills some useful advice and exercises to help you stay focused and think positively. Importantly too how to learn from negative experiences and not let them cloud your future performance.
For instance when coaching someone (yourself), turn everything into a very precise positive statement. Instead of saying don’t miss my sales target/on the left side of the hole say positive things like ‘aim to close one new sale per week’, ‘always aim for the high side of the hole’.
Although written from a sports perspective, there is lots of good advice for anyone and who wants to harness the stress of performing under pressure to excel.
And yes, I have made more five foot putts to win a few prizes in the past month!
To use an e-notebook or conventional notebook that is the question facing business and educational institutes. Electronic notebooks such as OneNote have many advantages and especially for keeping track of useful web-based material (eg links and videos). Indeed I love OneNote for storing and sharing such content. Having my iPad in a meeting means files can be instantly accessed. Meeting notes produced as the meeting proceeds and shared instantly at the close.
However, they also have some significant drawbacks. Not least the temptation to multi-task. You pretend you are listening and taking notes but in reality you are checking emails and social media sites. Not very productive use of anyone’s time and especially yours. Indeed some university lecturers have banned the use of such devices in an attempt to encourage more conversations and networking.
Conventional notebooks offer many different benefits. Taking notes helps improve memory and concentration. You could argue that this is device independent. But in my case, writing and mind mapping helps clarify my thinking. Perhaps because I have to concentrate that bit more with no spell-checker. Also there are no distractions (from new emails and social media alerts) which proves to be a major drain on productivity.
Drawing and colouring can on the one hand help us relax and on the other rev up our creative juices. Useful in a meeting/lecture where either you want to tune out as it’s boring or the reverse because you have an idea to contribute and need to crystallise it before speaking. Though taking a colouring book into a meeting might look just as odd as peeking at social media.
One other drawback of a note book is that they can look boring and samey. If you are not careful you might end up walking off with the wrong notebook and leaving your most personal secrets in someone else’s hands. It has happened to me!
The other day I wandered into Pukka Pads who sponsored my latest book ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox‘ to collect some paper. There in the design room was the answer to my prayers – a ‘Colouring Project Book’. It has the most amazing Doodle Bar on each page which you can colour as you go along and hence improve your creativity and concentration. If like me you always have coloured pens for note-taking no one will know what you are doing.
The front can be coloured so you know it’s yours. Opening a personalised notebook is a quick way to be noticed and stand out from the crowd. Until now such stationary was very expensive and beyond the means of most mere mortals.
For me using a conventional notebook always helps improve my concentration, creativity and gives me confidence. In a meeting and when I walk around client’s offices I can make notes whilst maintaining eye contact and listening with no worries about finding the right app, being distracted and checking on battery life.
And here is a mega anti-cyber crime bonus: in a public place if you want to make notes, conventional notebook are more secure because the prying eye of the cyber criminal cannot check your writing strokes as they can your key strokes.
What do you prefer a conventional paper notebook or electronic one?
Being alerted when each and every new email arrives is now accepted as one of the major drains on our productivity along wit the general email overload it causes. Working efficiently means turning off all those new email alerts.
Ah but ‘I need to see emails from X as they arrive’ is usually the most common rebuff. Well you can be selective. Write a rule which does indeed alert you to such new arrivals. Here is how for Outlook users.
Now you can focus on the task in hand without being distracted by every new as it arrives, and just allow emails from X pop-up as they arrive.
For more tips like this to help you improve your personal productivity and work-life balance see ‘Taking Control of Your Inbox‘
The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.
You decided not to allow the arrival of each new email to distract you and instead deal with them in batches. What is the best way to manage your time when dealing with email is a question I am often asked. The most important decision is how much time to allocate before suffering email overload. Fifteen to sixty minutes is a good yardstick. Be ruthless and don’t just keep going, otherwise other important tasks will not be done.
You may need to make a meeting with yourself to deal with your email. If you have a day of meetings you will need to deal with them in the margins.
The key is to review and prioritise, based on the email’s subject-line, and decide what is either urgent or important and deal with
2. Pomodoro. Allocate a specific block of time which you then break up into smaller chunks, traditionally of 25 minutes.
(Smaller chunks also work.) Take a five minute break between each chunk and mark up your progress (eg 10 emails actioned and foldered out of the 30 which need attention).
Invented by Francesco Cirillo (a German designer) he called it Pomodoro because he used a tomato shaped timer and pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Keeping check on your time is essential with a conventional watch, Pomodoro timer (but might annoy colleagues) or an app. Click here for a review of some good apps and more help in using the technique.
3. Salami Slicing. Excellent when faced with a chronic attack of email overload. As the name suggest, slice the seemingly impossible task of reaching inbox zero (or at least a clean inbox) into much smaller achievable tasks which can easily be done in little blocks of time often 20 minutes. For example, dealing with meeting invites, responses to requests for information, approvals etc. You can now use the Pomodoro technique to help you.
Which ever technique you adopt, be careful not to leave a seemingly unimportant email which then become both important and urgent as this is a recipe for stress and disaster.