25 Jan

Too much information? No. Too little intention.

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To understand how and why we experience information overload we need to recognize that the main reason we collect information is to influence ourselves and others. Not entirely unrelated is the fact that one of the most important factors in attaining happiness is having influence over others. Without it we lose our raison d’être. This is also essentially the driver for technology. Edison and the countless others who pursued the invention of the light bulb, for example, did so not to illuminate dark rooms, but to enable people to do things at night that they could not or could less easily do before. In other words, the interest of the inventor is to change or improve behavior – to influence.

The actual volume of information is completely irrelevant; therefore, complaining that there is too much information, or not being able to find relevant information only serves to underline one’s misconception of information overload. It is not that there is too much information or too much coming at us; instead, it is how we attract and control the information, and ultimately how easily we feel that we can influence others with the use of this information that determines whether we feel overloaded or not.

Whether there are ten billion terabytes of data available to you on Monday, and a billion times that on Tuesday is inconsequential to you as an individual. Trying to categorize things or color code them is far too daunting a task, and profiling (I liked these books, therefore there is a 92% chance that I will like these others) is a step in the right direction, but it is far too flat and one-dimensional to rely upon. For example, I often buy a business books through Amazon, and once I bought some kitchen utensils for my sister, so my recommendations are always about business literature and cooking items – and almost equally so. If you knew me as a person you would see how poorly this kind of profiling addresses my needs because the influencers are monochromatic.

The point is that in our efforts to attract and control information, our focus should be on the customer, whether that is an actual customer, your spouse, your children, friends or whomever you are trying to influence in your life – even yourself. Once you are deliberate and clear in your intention, you will attract the right information and filter out the waste. So rather than focusing on the mechanism (the tool that we think will solve all our problems, the rating system, the color coding, etc.) we need to turn our attention to our intention.

Getting too many e-mails is essentially a problem of filtering (reduction of spam) and magnetism (you attract mails from people because they believe you are either interested in what they have to say) or because you can help them solve their problems (in order to influence others). Once you have a good spam and pseudo-spam filter and have broadcast your intentions clearly, i.e. “I don’t ever respond to Cc: mail”, or clarified your intentions as a company by strengthening core values, much of that noise goes away.  The rest should be handled systematically instead of cherry picking, but that is the story for another day.

The more generalized your attraction to information is (subscribing to blogs, on-line magazines, RSS feeds etc. because you want to stay abreast of current trends), the more diffuse your experience of that information is and the more ambivalent and targeted you become. Likewise, the more precise you are in proactively searching for relevant information based on clear intention, the less you need to reactively filter. It is not a technological problem – it is YOUR problem. Once you recognize that, instead of waiting for the magic tool, you will stop feeling overloaded.

In the end, your intention determines the scope of your war on information overload. Generalists will be deluged with the cacophony of nonformation and expert influencers will not be distracted by the noise. It is a choice, not a tool or technique.

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14 Dec

If you are a LeanMail user who finds him or herself on the road a lot…

by Michael Hoffman

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If you are a LeanMail user who finds him or herself on the road a lot — perhaps you don’t even start your computer every day, you can still keep up with LeanMail.

 Here’s how:

Of course the best way is to download the LeanMail app for iPhone (now in a Beta version) by contacting us at info@atrendia.com

But if you don’t have an iPhone there are still some things that you can do to leverage the power of LeanMail.

  1. When you finally do get to your computer, faithfully follow the two-step process: Prioritize all your mails before planning them.  Once you get to your Today view, review your list and reschedule the mails that you know you won’t get to.  It’s best to do this in the All view so that you can drag and drop single mails or groups of mails to specific dates.

I want to be very clear that there is no more efficient way of managing your inbox than following the LeanMail method.  If there were we would have incorporated it into our method. (Actually we do this each time someone has a brilliant idea! Send your brilliant ideas to info@atrendia.com.)

Every time you don’t follow the method (skip prioritizing or planning, hunt around your inbox for important mails), you lose precious time.  It’s not easy, but fight the urge to hunt.  In the end, you’ll have a system you trust and that is unbeatable in terms of speed and accuracy.

  1. Remember that prioritizing and planning mails doesn’t take that long – even if it feels like it sometimes, so even if you only have fifteen minutes to work on your email, try to get on your computer to manage your inbox at least once a day*.  It will:
    1. Help you get an overview of what your day/week is looking like
    2. Ensure that the most important mails will get done
    3. Ensure that the most urgent mails will get done
    4. Lower your stress about not being in control
  2. In a worst case scenario, you can just prioritize and act on the High priority mails for the time being.  In this case you would prioritize everything first (remember it only takes a minute to prioritize 20 mails once you get good at doing it), then plan/do only the important ones.

The important mails are the 20% that produce 80% of your results, so the worst case scenario is still much better than what you were doing before.

Send us your feedback.  We want to learn from our troops on the front lines!

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13 Oct

Why leaders are blind to the most important productivity opportunity of all

by Michael Hoffman

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Email is the leading cause of preventable productivity loss in organizations today.
Forbes Magazine (2008)

Employees spend 1 to 3 or more hours per day managing email at 40-60% of capacity.  That means they typically lose 30-60 minutes PER DAY.   Not some.  All — even the ones who believe they are extremely productive. That means you too.

It goes completely unnoticed because you probably think this is an exaggeration.  It isn’t.  Go ahead and challenge me.

Employees, many of them top managers, lose, forget or simply don’t have time to get to 5-15% or more of their email – a lot of which is highly important.  Many of these mails haven’t even been looked at.

It goes completely unnoticed because it has become status quo.  It shouldn’t because it is ravaging your business.

These otherwise highly productive employees often answer unimportant little task emails rather than pouring their focus into the most important things – systematically.  The idea of applying a methodology to the way people manage email (25-30% or more of their day I remind you) is not even discussed or considered.  Who’s in charge of email productivity in your company?  No one.  It’s not even on the map.

It goes completely unnoticed because you think email is personal and difficult to systemize.  Rubbish.

There is no other single activity in your business that is as poorly regulated and in so much need of improvement than email management, and yet…

…it goes completely unnoticed.

Why isn’t fixing email management a burning platform in your organization?

blogpicYou guessed it.  The problems go completely unnoticed; and for good reason: no one has experienced what it is like to have an entire team of employees:

  • working their inboxes at twice the current velocity;
  • prioritizing and executing what is important and urgent; and
  • having complete visibility control over what is going on at all times of the day. 
  • never late, never missing ANY emails.

Face it, most people probably can’t imagine that this is possible – THAT’s why there is no burning platform.  You simply can’t know what you don’t know or have experienced.  Wilbur and Orville had this same problem.

Click here to read all the comments from cynics like yourself and see the light.

 

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05 Oct

Inbox480 – My Personal Story – Part I

by Michael Hoffman

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Inbox480blogpost1It all started with a client.

To begin with, his IT manager had told him that 92% of his incoming email was spam and was filtered out before it ever reached his inbox. So my client never saw more than ninety percent of his incoming volume.

What my client found even more astonishing was that among the things that did reach him, he considered at least eighty percent of it “quasi-spam” — newsletters, articles and press releases, vendors trolling for new projects, social media, etc. — things that vied for his attention but were, more often than not, unwanted and unimportant.

Implications: In his unfiltered mail, out of every 100 messages he was being sent, fewer than two were essential.

So even with a spam filter, on a daily basis my client had to wade through and ultimately delete eighty percent of his email.  That’s a lot of decision-making and clicking for no return. — I asked him:

Why don’t you just unsubscribe from these senders instead of deleting them all the time?

Well, he said, every once in a while a vendor or newsletter — or even a LinkedIn group — has something interesting to say. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  

So I said to him: Sounds like you could use a new inbox that only your essential senders could get into.

Exactly, he said.

That got me thinking.  I was pretty sure that others had that same problem, so we commenced work on our latest solution, Inbox480.  The inbox for 80 percent of your mail.

I480

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18 Jun

Hey Mr. Sales Director, George Trachilis is NOT nuts. Are you nuts?

by Michael Hoffman

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dedoOne of your prime objectives as a sales director is to get your teams out of their inbox and in front of the customer as much as possible. I’m not knocking the importance of email, I’m just saying that you probably see a huge benefit to having your teams managing their inboxes at twice their current rate, with 90 percent fewer errors and 80 percent more attention to priority.

A lot of leaders see email as a personal time management problem. They’re nuts.

Email, is a process. It’s a factory. Mail comes in, gets processed and goes out. It’s what transports your business all day long. If you see that as a personal problem, then you, indeed, need your head examined. Luckily, processes can be tuned up my friend (we can still get a bit personal).

Since you and your teams have been managing email about the same way since ’94 (mail comes in, you poke at it, you go home), it’s not that difficult to imagine that a company like ours could completely transform the process if we made it our core business, but to achieve a 95% adoption rate of a best practice in any area is nothing short of amazing.*

George Trachilis, the founder of the Lean Leadership Institute with Jeff Liker – and one of many Lean experts who recommend LeanMail, says,
“…It has personally helped me reduce my email management time by 50%…”

Now we can’t guarantee those insane results for everyone, but 30 percent improvement? No problem. Don’t reach 30 percent? Don’t pay. Which KPI’s do we use, you ask? Yours. Whatever you throw at us — or we’ll suggest what we think are important ones since most organizations haven’t put that much thought into inbox KPI’s. They should though, since the time spent managing email represents a whopping 25-40 percent of salary spend. Yes, if you spend 25-40 percent of your day managing email it means that 25-40 percent of your salary goes to processing email. That’s an enormous amount of money in ANY organization isn’t it? (By the way, have you ever wondered who’s responsible for this area in your organization? Good luck. They don’t exist.)

So, Mr. Sales Director, your nuts if you don’t at least pause for a second and imagine what your sales teams would be able to achieve if they doubled their productivity and focused on the 20 percent that brings you 80 percent of your profits in an area they spend a huge part of their day in. You heard me. Nuts.

*According to our 6-month post-training survey with 82% responding.
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08 May

Is this you?

by Michael Hoffman

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FullSizeRenderI’ve seen Hector (not his real name) wheeling his cart around Barcelona a few times. It’s massive. It must be extremely difficult to maneuver. One day I went up to him asked him if he really needed all of those things. He actually articulated an impressive defense.

Does that remind you of anyone you know?

It reminds me of all the people I have encountered who justify their overstuffed inboxes, piles of papers on their desks and drawers filled with goodness knows what. Just like this homeless person, they carry all their crap around (mostly digitally) and defend their ways as not being problematic at all for them. I can find everything; It doesn’t bother me; I’m a creative type; or the biggest lie: I don’t have the time (What they mean is: I don’t want to prioritize being orderly).

If someone took Hector’s cart, he would find a new one. In a few weeks it would be as big as he could bear because he is a pathological hoarder. What about you? Isn’t it true that those times you have cleared your desktop, physically or digitally, you have gotten some satisfaction – and maybe even some pride from the achievement? Yes, it eventually fell apart again because you didn’t have the correct habits in place, but that’s another story. The point is that it felt good. You felt organized and on top of things. If you have had moments like that, then you’re not a pathological hoarder. But if those moments are few and far-between you’re also not at your best. Imagine having that feeling of being at your best, not just when you finally get so tired of the mess that you painstakingly clean it up, but EVERY DAY. Just because it hasn’t worked for you in the past doesn’t mean you can’t be more consistent NOW. It just means that you need some help in finding out what the trick is – for you – from someone who has enabled many others in the past.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it takes time to build new habits, but what if you could change this part of your life in a few short weeks? From then on, you’d be at your best EVERY DAY. Or you can continue with your cart; the one that everyone notices but you.

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24 Apr

Weird habit that saves my butt!

by Michael Hoffman

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I have this weird habit, one might think.

Before I click send on a mail that contains a document that I have attached, I open the document and check it one last time.

Even if I have already gone through the document, or have just created it, I open it once it is attached to the mail and ready to go.

Here are some of the catastrophes it has prevented in the past:

  • Wrong document attached
  • Spreadsheet opens to wrong tab
  • I missed adding a slide to a PowerPoint
  • I missed some logos on some slides
  • Misspellings

 And I’m sure there are more that don’t recall at the moment.  There is something about viewing the mail as the customer would that sharpens our mind and makes it more “real”, which gets my concentration to another level.

Some may find it weird, but I live by it.

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26 Mar

How my small company cut in half our $3.2 million dollar inbox expense in just 12 minutes!

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greasymOK, I have a small company of only 200 employees, so $3.2 million is nothing. But imagine a company of 2,000 employees that spend 2 hrs. per day on email with an average annual salary of $70,000. That would mean that they spend OVER HALF A MILLION DOLLARS PER DAY managing email.

Since we all know that email is a fact of life (nothing we can just cut out of the budget) I came up with a quick fix in the form of a memo that I sent to everyone in the company with the following 5 suggestions:

  1. Don’t check your mail too often during the day (Just enough so you don’t miss anything).
  2. Respond quickly. (I got this one from Google’s Eric Schmidt – GENIUS! – So don’t pay too much attention to rule 1)
  3. Use the OHIO rule; Only Handle It Once (unless you can’t, so don’t – and most you can’t)
  4. Prioritize your mails before responding, then answer the high priority mails first – remember that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. (I’m sure there is a way to do this in Outlook, just play around with the menus until you get it right)
  5. Don’t Cc: everyone, just the ones who really need the information (But always keep your boss in the loop and maybe a few others.)

So I figure, if a CEO of a 2,000 employee company does what I did, he could save $16,000,000 in just 12 minutes.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. The truth is you CAN double your productivity and cut in half your email management cost. But you CAN’Tdo it with a memo, seminar, workshop, add-in, app, or any of the other methods that you’ve tried. There is only one solution on the market that works for entire populations of employees and it takes a lot more time than 12 minutes to see the results. 10 TIMES That. (Yikes – two hours!)

It takes 10 times more time than a memo, but it’s the only long-term, complete solution for your multi-million dollar black hole you call an inbox.
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23 Jan

Guest blog: Drop It Like It’s Hot, By Jesper Sommer

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Not so long ago, Sony Corp. in the US was hacked. I am sure you’ve heard about the case (it was eventually blamed on North Korea, though security experts are questioning that conclusion).

My favorite tech-magazine has this interesting article on the subject:

The importance of deleting old stuff, another lesson from the Sony attack

Sociologists have previously (around the millennium) proposed that all non-essential data should have an expiration date. Their reasons were different: we’re drowning in data, and searching through piles of old stuff can sometimes be less productive than simply throwing it away early.

Regardless of the argument I think it is something for you guys to consider. Do we really need to save all that data (mails)? Probably not.

New ImageSo why not have a 90 day auto-delete on ALL mails, except if flagged for longer retention? It would be easy simply to make a few extra categories for it:

– 180 days
– 2 years
– forever

If the user puts none of these categories on archived mail, delete them after 90 days. Or whatever nummber of days your business experience tells you is optimal … but you get the idea.

Could this work?

Could we increase efficiency (become more Lean) simply by knowing that old crap data is just GONE? Could it lead to a healthy Lean-mail culture where employees communicate better because nobody expects their colleagues to be able to dig out aging mails from their archives? Could it lead to better and more clear communication with clients?

I am not an expert on these matters. But I find the premise interesting and appealing. And it would certainly help avoid disasters such as the one Sony is going though – as put forth by ArsTechnica.

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14 Jan

Sorry, Email Won’t Die In 2015 (Or Any Time Soon)

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typing-email-1There’s a horde of startups trying to replace email.

Some of these apps, like Slack (which we use at Business Insider), take a chat-room approach.

There are enterprise messaging apps that work like Snapchat, like Cotap and TigerText.

Some mobile-first productivity apps like Quip imagine that we’ll communicate directly in the documents we’re working on.

They’re all wrong.

According to the latest research conducted by the Pew Center Internet Project, 61% of American workers now say that email is “very important” for doing their job.

That number hasn’t moved at all in 13 years. As the researchers put it:

As early as 2002, Pew Research Internet surveys showed that 61% of American workers were using email at work. In 2008, we reported that 62% of working American adults were “networked workers,” meaning they used the internet or email in the workplace….Email’s vital role has withstood major changes in other communications channels such as social media, texting, and video chatting. Email has also survived potential threats like phishing, hacking and spam and dire warnings by commentators and workplace analysts about lost productivity and email overuse.

Why is email so resilient? The report doesn’t go into that, but it’s pretty obvious:

  • Everybody has it on every device. There’s no need to download anything, no need to learn a new app or system, no need to persuade your coworkers to use it.
  • It’s less interruptive than a phone call. The only other mode of communication that reaches everybody is the phone. But placing a phone call requires the other person to be available and willing to talk, right then.
  • It’s exceptionally flexible. Most of the tools that aim to replace email require you to do things in a certain way — for instance, if I want to make sure a colleague sees a message I post in Slack, I have to tag them with their handle, otherwise it might get lost in the flow of information in their newsfeed. (Sometimes, it gets lost anyway.) When I used Yammer at a previous job, we had to come up with conventions for the kinds of things we’d post and avoid. With email, it’s basically a blank slate — you can put anything you want into the blank box and the person on the other end will receive it.
  • It’s a deliverable — a measurable part of work. Email isn’t just for communication. It’s part of work. If your boss sends an email, you pretty much have to reply. There are plenty of other tools to coordinate workflow, but everybody still jumps back into email to send certain kinds of communications, like urgent requests for information, updates on particular tasks, brainstorming, you name it. You have no choice but to respond.

There are some ways email is used that aren’t perfect. For instance, a lot of people use their email inbox as a to-do list, even though it’s hard to organize and items sometimes fall through the cracks. Here, a tool built for workflow, like Asana, may end up being better.

But for day-to-day communication, email is not going away.

Original source: Business Insider UK

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