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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22 Jul

Can Collaboration Work?

by Guest Blogger Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenWe enter into collaborations assuming we’ll succeed as teamwork partners. Yet we rarely achieve true partnership:

  • Because we listen uniquely and through biased filters we sometimes mistakenly presume intent or misconstrue what’s been said and agreed upon. Problem: Flawed assumptions, wasted time and relationship capital, and restricted scope.
  • There is often not enough diversity to enable maximum creativity and unrestricted solution options. Problem: Similar ideas and options constrain possibility and maintain the status quo.
  • Agendas and goals are often established with less than the full set of essential participants.Problem: Hidden agendas and inadequate preparation.
  • Not all vital collaboration partners are present. Problem: Incomplete input and limited output.
  • Collaborators often enter with specific (albeit unconscious) goals and limited tolerance for risk. Problem: Restricted possibility and inspiration.

As a result, we end up with little real change, spend time waiting for takeaways that don’t occur, expend considerable relationship capital, or overlook the full range of possibilities.

  1. Biased communication. After spending 3 years researching and writing a book on the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I now appreciate it’s nearly impossible for collaboration partners to all walk away with the same understanding. Therefore, 1. Tape each session. 2. Get group agreement on what’s been said and action items before moving on to the next topic.
  2. Gender, age, and ethnic diversity are necessary. Consider your goal. Think about who you might invite to offer different perspectives. Invite Troublemakers.
  3. Make sure everyone has access to the agenda well before the meeting. There can be no hidden agendas; too much is lost that ends up being problematic later on.
  4. Everyone must attend meetings. If anyone can’t come to the meeting, cancel it or there will be a voice, an idea, an annoyance missing that would counteract the reasons underlying the collaboration. Anyone who will touch the final solution must be present to move forward or there will be fallout, sabotage, and resistance: there is no way to compensate (as per creativity or consensus) once a meeting is held with folks missing.
  5. No restrictions. Collaborators must enter with no assumptions. Collaboration means you either meld disparate ideas, or cultivate something new among you that’s never existed.

We all bring our natural biases and assumptions to the collaboration table, thereby restricting possibilities. Yet until we confront, challenge, and defy the status quo with new thinking, there can’t be change. And that’s the problem: Our results are in direct proportion to our ability to override our biases and assumptions.

BIAS RESTRICTS COLLABORATION

Since researching and writing my new book (Free download What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) I have realized it’s pretty impossible to accurately comprehend what others mean to convey. Here’s a summary of what I learned:

Not only do our eyes merely take in light that our brains then translate (through our filters uniquely developed since birth) into what we think we see, our ears merely take in sound that our brains then translate (through our filters) into what we think others mean – hence we each experience the world uniquely, through our personal translations. To make it truly pernicious, our brains only offer us the translation itself: we never know how far from the Truth we are, potentially causing misplaced resistance and misinterpretation.

For effective collaborations, we must move beyond our filters to hear others without bias during meetings:

  1. Notice resistance, feelings, annoyances, or immediate negativity the moment it happens and ask yourself: How can I hear what’s just been said in a different way?
  2. Since you don’t actually know if what you think you’ve heard is accurate, tell your collaboration partners what you think you heard and ask them if they heard the same thing.
  3. Make sure there are no strong feelings left unsaid after each discussion topic.
  4. At the start of a session, everyone must agree to goals/outcomes for each topic; as each topic is completed, everyone must agree on action items that will match the original goals. Everyone.
  5. At the end of the session, agree to all action items and take-aways. Do a review of what’s been accomplished according to original goals. Ask if anyone else needs to be included for the next session.

By minimizing biases, by including a full range of thought-partners, and by checking in with the other collaborators as to what’s been said and heard, it’s possible to form effective collaborations. Otherwise, we’re merely doing more of the same.

_____________________

Sharon Drew will not longer be writing original content or sending out original articles. She will regularly change out articles from her library of 1500 published articles on sales, Buying Facilitation®, change, listening, collaboration, and decision making. You can still purchase her learning products on Buying Facilitation® and hearing others without bias. Should you wish to reach Sharon Drew for coaching, training, consulting, or speaking, she can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com or 512 457 0246.

Visit my websites: www.sharondrewmorgen.com and www.didihearyou.com

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09 Jul

What’s up with your on-line meeting skills?

by Michael Hoffman

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meetingsHow often do your on-line meetings start on time? Not often enough, I’ll bet.

Funny, there’s no traffic to fight, no coffee to get, no coats to hang, and still, very few people are able to manage getting to on on-line meeting prepared and on time.

Let’s be clear: this is not an IT problem; it’s a blind spot problem.

Here’s the basic stuff that most people are aware of, but often ignore:

  1. On-line meetings don’t always just appear on your screen at the right time (though with good tools like Citrix GoToMeeting great improvements have been made)
  2. You will occasionally need make an audio/video adjustment
  3. They require more preparation than we currently muster
  4. Since there is not travel involved, there is an added expectation of punctuality placed on on-line meetings

Now here is the stuff that you may or may not be aware of – but need to fix immediately because otherwise people will lose confidence in you and your level of excellence:

  1. No one wants to hear about your IT problems. If you want to blame IT or your laptop for being late, don’t waste time in a meeting doing it. We don’t care why you’re late.
  2. The darn video conferencing software needed an update? Yes, that occasionally happens, so why is that a big mystery to you each time? It just means that you need to be ready a few minutes before the meeting begins. You can get situated and once you’re in the meeting you can review notes, check email, do whatever you like.
  3. Your computer blew up? You lost power? These are novice excuses. You should always have at least one back-up device. That’s why we have PC’s, phones and tablets. If you have regular on-line meetings, it is simply irresponsible of you not to have at least one back-up device handy. (I usually have at least two – and have had occasions when I’ve needed three.)
  4. Don’t know how to navigate Dropbox or other social tools? Fix the problem by learning how to use the most common social tools: Dropbox, Trello, Skype, Whatsapp, etc.; whatever it takes to get your on-line skills to a professional level. These are not esoteric tools anymore, they are becoming industry standard.
  5. Do you feel like learning all this technology is actually getting in the way of your work? Re-think that mindset because the world is not slowing down for you.

If my advice rubs you the wrong way, talk to some of your more IT savvy colleagues. They will be glad to have the opportunity to reinforce what I’m saying – since you asked…finally.

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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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29 May

Meetings: The Purpose, The Pain, The Possibility

by Sharon Drew Morgen

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Sharon-Drew MorgenAs business folk, we hold meetings regularly. Yet often we don’t accomplish what we set out to achieve. Why?

The Purpose

Meetings are held to accomplish a specific, beneficial outcome requiring the attendance of the right people with the right agenda.

The Problem/Pain

Often we end up with miscommunication, wasted time, incomplete outcomes, misunderstanding, lack of ownership and ongoing personnel issues – sometimes an indication of internal power and faulty communications issues.

The Possibility

With greater success we can: stimulate thinking; achieve team building, innovation, and clear communication; and efficiently complete target issues. Here are some problem areas and solutions:

People. When outcomes aren’t being met effectively it’s a people- and management problem including: fall-out, sabotage, and resistance; long execution times; exclusion of peripheral people; restricted creativity and communication; exacerbated power and status issues. Are the most appropriate people (users, decision makers, influencers) invited? All who have good data or necessary questions?

  • Rule: unless all – all – relevant people show up for the meeting, cancel it. It’s impossible to catch people up or have them collaborate, add creative thoughts, or discuss annoyances. Once it’s known that meetings aren’t held unless all are present, the frequency, responsibility, and motives shift.
  • Rule: unless all – all – of the people who will touch the outcome from the meeting’s goals are in some way represented, the outcome will not reflect the needs of all causing fallout later, with resistance, sabotage or a diminished outcome.

Agenda. No hidden agendas! Recipients of potential outcomes must be allowed to add agenda items prior to the meeting.

  • Rule: unless all – all – of the items of ultimate concern are on the agenda, the meeting will be restricted to meet the needs of a few with unknown consequence (resistance and sabotage).

Action. Too often, action items don’t get completed effectively. How do action items get assigned or followed up? What happens if stuff’s not done when agreed? How can additional meetings be avoided?

  • Rule: put a specific, consensual, and supervised method in place to ensure action items get accomplished as promised.
  • Rule: as meeting begins, get consensus on what must be accomplished for a successful outcome. This initial discussion may change agenda items or prioritize them, detect problems, assumptions, resistance before action items are assigned.

Discussion. How long do people speak? How do conversations progress? How do the proceedings get recorded? What is the format for discussions? How is bias avoided?

  • Rule: record (audio) each meeting so everyone who attends can have it available later. Folks who didn’t attend are not privy to this audio. (See People above).
  • Rule: design a time limit for speaking, and rules for topics, presentations, discussions, cross talk.
  • Rule: include periods of silence for thought, notes, reflection.

Understanding. Does everyone take away the same interpretation of what happened? How do you know when there have been miscommunications or misunderstandings?

  • Rule: unless everyone has the same perception of what happened for each topic, there is a tendency for biased interpretation that will influence a successful outcome.
  • Rule: one person (on rotation) should take notes, and repeat the understanding of what was said to get agreement for each item before the next item is tackled. This is vital, as people listen with biased filters and make flawed assumptions of what’s been said/agreed.

Transparency. Agendas should be placed online, to be read, signed-off, and added to.

  • Rule: whomever is coming to the meeting must know the full agenda.
  • Rule: everyone responsible for an action item must be listed with time lines, names of those assisting, and outcomes.

Accomplishments. Are items accomplished in a suitable time frame? What happens when they aren’t?

  • Rule: for each action item, participants must sign off on an agreeable execution. A list of the tasks, time frames, and people responsible must accompany each item, and each completed task must be checked off online so progress is accountable.
  • Rule: a senior manager must be responsible for each agenda item. If items are not completed in a timely way, the manager must write a note on the online communication explaining the problem, the resolution, and new time frame.

Meetings can be an important activity for collaboration and creativity if they are managed properly and taken as a serious utilization of time and output. Ask yourself: Do you want to meet? Or get work accomplished collaboratively?

__________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? (free download at www.didihearyou.com) and NYTimes Business Bestsellers in the area of sales, decision facilitation, change management, and helping buyers buy. She is developer of Buying Facilitation® and a recognized thought leader in communication and decision making. She is a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant. For those in sales, coaching or leadership want to communicate better Sharon Drew Morgen has the tools to help make improvements with online learning, group coaching, or on-site training. Sharon Drew can coach and train your sales teams or license trainers to prospect and get more appointments by finding real buyers on the first call. She can be reached at: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

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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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