THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – E-Mail – How do you decrease your response times – Lesson 2

Week 2 then of our “How do you control your e-mail” series.

How did you do with the Week 1 approach?  I do hope you used it and kept practicing it throughout the week.  Now we shall look at:

  • Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!
  • Decreasing  your response time – The One Minute Rule
  • Craft effective messages
  • Highlight Messages sent directly to you
  • Use disposable e-mail addresses
  • Master message search
  • Future-proof your e-mail address
  • Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses
  • Script and automate repetitive replies
  • Filter low priority messages

We don’t emerge from the womb with any natural talent for handling hundreds of e-mails.  We have to pick it up along the way, so, at the start of this series, the aim was to get fiddling around with e-mails down to about 30 minutes a day.  Anything more than that is usually waste activity.  To do that will require a menu of handling approaches – there is no magic wand to the problem that is e-mail volume!

” How do you decrease your response time?”

The One Minute Rule features heavily this week. If a message takes less than one minute to process, do it on the spot.

That doesn’t sound like much time so it is perfect for batch processing.  Whats batch processing?  Well, we do it in other areas all the time.  Think about Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds.  We keep an eye on the flow in those channels easily, so lets use that technique for our e-mail in box too.  The One Minute Rule is perfect for processing all those “Thankyou”, ‘Lets discuss”, “sounds good’ kinda messages.  You’d be amazed how many messages you can delete or file in the “hold” file you set up last week in a batch of, say, 10 minutes.  Schedule 2 or 3 batches of 10 minutes with your in box each day – don’t be a slave to the ping every time a new mail arrives – in fact, turn it off!

Touch a message once and commit to taking action there and then. There and then action is:

  • delete it
  • respond immediately
  • file in either the “hold” for response in next day (urgent) or in “follow-up” for response in next few days (Important)
  • archive it and make a phone call by way of action – this is usually if it’s too large a job to do there and then.  The phone call sets up the boundaries of the task with a who, what, where, when, how conversation with the sender. Handling e-mail efficiently means you really do have to talk to colleagues much more than you do now!!!

Good luck with this week’s technique and as always, let us know  how it goes.  But above all, do it as well as Week 1’s approach which should, by now, be second nature 🙂

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THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – E-Mail – How do you control your e-mail? – Lesson 1

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at personal behaviour change in relation to working differently.  Clearly the desire is there to do things differently so is it the environment or “the system” that is stopping us ultimately?

I thought we should focus on the beast that affects us all nowadays – email.  Love its simplicity but hate its ability to multiply before your very eyes?  Well you won’t be alone!

Recently, a recommendation in the comments section of  a blog referred to a book called: Lifehacker

Coincidentally, I actually had that book on my i-pad having liked its general approach to working smarter, faster and better, for a while.  It has simple, straightforward approaches, nothing is unattainable and some things are more suitable to individuals in the day job than others, so it offers choice in what you run with.  So it seems timely to look at a problem we will all have had at one time or another:

“How do you control your e-mail?”

Lifehacker outlines 10 ways to get on top of an overfull in-box.  We will look at them separately, and I ask you to choose carefully the ones you want to try, but above all, stick with it and be disciplined in your adoption of your chosen approaches.  The 10 approaches are as follows:

  • Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!
  • Decrease  your response time
  • Craft effective messages
  • Highlight Messages sent directly to you
  • Use disposable e-mail addresses
  • Master message search
  • Future-proof your e-mail address
  • Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses
  • Script and automate repetitive replies
  • Filter low priority messages

The beast called e-mail is so important, I think we will focus on an element a week.  If you have any top tips to add, please, please do so in the comments section.   The chapter on e-mail management suggests you can reduce the amount of time you spend fiddling with e-mail to less than 30-minutes per day.  That alone has to be worth the time it takes to read the chapter don’t you think?  So here we go with week 1, tackling the mammoth task of emptying that obese in box!!!

I personally love the three folder approach of:

  • archive – longer term reference library – no subfolders, thats cheating!
  • follow up – things that must be completed – if you use the Important/Urgent matrix, this folder is for things which are important
  • hold – temporary holding pen for things you’ll need quick access to within the next day or so – again, if you use the matrix, then these are your Urgent things.  Although the chapter says review this folder weekly, I review mine daily, at the beginning of the day.

Top tips I use daily include:

  • opening oldest messages first and delete irrelevances immediately
  • if the action required will take more than one minute to do, move it to the follow up folder (end of the day review)
  • I colour code with a rule, those messages from people who are my key customers or stakeholders, so I can be drawn to them instantly
  • make a decision about the fate of every message you read at the time you read it. No excuses!

So, here endeth week 1 of “Managing E-mail”.  Whats your top tip?

The One Minute Commute – Living the Dream!

It takes real effort on both sides to make this working from home lark work.  It also takes mutual trust and that takes time to build up in the first place.

The UK Government is urging companies to allow much higher degrees of working from home during the 2012 London Olympics.  Indeed, the poor London transport system is depending upon it to manage the huge numbers of visitors to the city during this period.  So what will make it a success?  And more importantly, are you honestly able to play your part in making it happen?

The way we work is changing all the time.  This is just the reality of modern working practices.  A staggering 8 out of 10 leaders see significant workplace change ahead, yet the gap between expected change and the ability to manage it has tripled since 2006.  That means managers need to be proactive in the way they handle their teams without waiting for the company to tell them how to do it!

I recently read that by 2014, over 50% of the workforce in Europe, the UK and North America will be working “flexibly”. This means either working remotely all the time, or telecommuting occasionally. Maybe, if you are caught up in the Olympic preparations like me,  you will be experiencing it now and trying to keep up. If you are a leader or a manager, here’s a little help in that endeavour, to improve how your team works when they are not actually across the desk from you anymore:

  1. Take time to assess each individual’s attitude, talents and goals. Who do you have working for you? Do they have what it takes to make a team work? Where do they need coaching, help or encouragement?  This is about getting to know them as individuals and what they bring to the team.  It is a vital step in building that trust we mentioned at the start of this article.
  2. Promote autonomy and access to decision makers. If the team has to rely on you for information and access to decision makers, they will not be proactive or feel empowered. At the very least you become the bottleneck for every little decision and the chokepoint for all communication. Who wants to work that hard? Its exhausting.  Again, trust them, they have talents and you have to let that bloom.
  3. Agree communication expectations. A good open and honest communication channel is absolutely vital to successful home working.  Are the team keen to pick the phone up or do they revert to texting? Real time communication is far more successful and doesn’t waste peoples valuable time.
  4. Make sure everyone has access to communication tools and infrastructure and that they know how to use them effectively. It’s one thing to say “we’ve given you the tools, now use them”. It’s something else again to monitor their usage and identify why people are (or more likely, aren’t) utilizing them. Remember, when it comes to adopting technology, one person’s “intuitive” is another person’s pain in the neck.
  5. Distribute the workload where possible. Delegation is a key leadership skill, but with remote teams, many times we tend to micromanage processes. Agree when work is to be completed and stick to it.
  6. Use both synchronous and a-synchronous communication tools. Synchronous tools are things like the telephone, instant message and video conferencing that allow everyone to see and say the same thing at the same time. Non-synchronous (or a-synchronous) tools allow for things like being in different time zones, going back and referring to documents. Typically, this is e-mail – the scourge of our lives!  A vast 60% of my in-box is unnecessary and/or as a result of someone being afraid to pick the phone up.  Have a heart folks – and get out of my in box!  Your team needs to use the full range of tools at your disposal.
  7. Use a shared workflow tool (if you have access to one). A common process creates a common language. It’s also important for long-term team success that people know what others on the team are doing. A shared tool like SharePoint, Office Communicator, Dropbox, or many others, helps. I don’t care if you hate it, use it. Its part of the infrastructure that allows you to be at home so a little discipline is not too much to ask for!
  8. Systematically build social capital. This means do it “on purpose”. Social capital is made up of the little things human beings do for each other that make us want to pull together. Make jokes, ask how the kids are. Remember that your team is not made up of disembodied employee numbers, but real people. Its really important to have informal conversations too – it allows you both to get to know each other.  We are real people after all.
  9. Invest in face-to-face contact whenever possible. I  know the whole idea of working virtually is to reduce costs/footprint/increase flexibility, but the costs of teams not pulling together are much higher than the occasional train fare  and hotel bill.  Skype, Facetime, Webex, all excellent ways to “pretend” you are in the same room/meeting when you very much aren’t!
  10. Find a means to establish managerial and corporate presence. Managers need to be involved on a regular basis with their teams. No team pulls together for a faceless, soulless, big brother corporation. They do pull together when there’s a feeling of belonging, a feeling of knowing real human beings, and they have a feeling of all working towards shared goals and collective pride in what they’re doing.  Maximise it!

As managers, we need to take action now, and help our organisations develop best practices that will help everyone deal with the way work is increasingly being delivered today.  Because we are very much worth it!

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – How easy have you adapted to working on the go?

As I sat on a train to Bristol, looking around me, I see many folk starting their working day, with the use of mobile devices. Equally, with the imminent arrival of the London 2012 Olympics, more and more of us are being encouraged to work from home. But how easy do you find working, often alone, either at home or on the move?

“How easy have you adapted to working on the go?”</

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THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Behaviour change – How easy do you find it?

This week, I have a fantastic insight from a mentee to focus our Thursday Thought! for the week.  The question, deeply rooted in any professional improvement programme, is:

“Behaviour change – How easy do you find it?”

What follows is a personal insight from someone who has the courage to share it and the determination to make it happen.  My thanks to Peggy for sharing.  Behaviour change is not easy. Our personal habits and patterns have usually evolved over many years, as coping strategies to get through the day the best way we can.  But when you are truly committed to lifelong learning, behaviour change has to feature in that programme.  We live in fast moving professional contexts and being open-minded to different ways of doing things is a core competence of remaining successful in this sort of environment.  So, with that in mind:

“How easy do you find it to change your routine behaviour?”

“My name is Peggy, and it has been three days since I had a ‘to do’ list. It has been hard, at first it was liberating getting rid of the shackles of that list, written in red, staring at me and making me feel guilty that it never seems to go down. I nearly fell off the wagon last night as I remembered three things I needed to do, I did manage to resist it, although I did debate whether sending myself an email would be cheating.

I have also been liberated from my in box. A colleague sent me an article on how to manage your emails, and I scanned it and it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, so I just got on with it and sorted it out, filed away stuff I was never going to get to and sorted out the important / action ones and the less important ones. I now have one email in my in box – the one about the article to remind me what I should be doing. The weight was lifted off my shoulders I suddenly I felt free.

These two significant events for me have reinforced a message my mentor keeps telling me, changing my behaviour is within my gift. Only I can do it, she can give me all the tools and techniques, all the proven processes and models (as she knows I love these) but knowing it and doing it are two different things. I will need support to keep this going and moving me along the journey I am taking to the ‘better me’ so mentoring will have to continue. The next battle is sustaining that behaviour; I have created myself a trigger word to remind me of what I need to do, I am not going to tell you what it is as it is only relevant to me and probably won’t help anyone else. I will let you know whether it works……”

Mentorship & Me : Part 4 : Alison Crawford : Nobody said it would be easy!

No one said that being mentored was going to be easy, so I guess it’s no surprise that it’s not.  I have applied for three jobs and have not passed a sift for any of them.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but then again a few months ago I may never have had the guts to even apply without my mentor’s encouragement.  So I guess I’m one step forward, even if it’s yet to pay off.  Now we enter the next stage of gathering feedback and taking a hard look at what I am missing, a critical reflection which is something I tend to shy away from.  So in this regard, this is where having a mentor will pay off, encouraging me do something I dislike, but with a friendly face to guide the way and revealing the opportunities I should be grasping.  The hard reality is that I still have a lot to learn about business and life before I can achieve my ultimate goal, but that’s OK, as long as I’m pointed in the right direction.

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