Posts from March 2008.

Waiting on someone else…

Unless you work in a vacuum, you have tasks that you rely on others to complete.  Whether you are expecting a response from a team member, partner or customer, the onus is on you to make sure that these tasks are completed in time to meet your own work goals.  I use two tools to create these tasks – Followup Message and Delegate – and track both via the status field on Outlook tasks.

Followup Message

Use Followup Message when sending a message that you need to hear back on.  As you send the message, click the Followup Message button and set a time frame for the response you need.  If you don’t hear back within the time specified, IMS will notify you.  If you do hear back, the task will automatically be marked complete.  You can also create a Followup task after the message has been sent by highlighting the sent message and selecting Followup Message from the ClearContext menu.

Delegate

Delegate converts email to either an Outlook delegated task (perfect for members of your internal team) or forwards an email and creates a personal task on your task list (better for external delegation).  Delegate is accessed from the ClearContext menu.  If you find that you use this feature a lot, you can add it to the Inbox toolbar.  As you create a delegated task, assign a status of Waiting on someone else…

Delegation Management

Since a status of Waiting on someone else… is assigned to both followups and delegated tasks, you can sort your task list by status and quickly glance at what has been delegated to others.

US News & World Report: How to Do More in Less Time

The image “http://www.usnews.com/usnews/v3/images/global/usn-logo.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.US News and World Report published a (timely) article on productivity for entrepreneurs.  Productivity: How to Do More in Less Time by Elaine Appleton Grant talks about several tools that “solopreneurs” use to stay productive and efficient:

“Already, savvy entrepreneurs are dramatically improving their productivity and boosting their sales. But as these small companies grow, so do their workloads. Rather than add employees and overhead, many employ virtual assistants to do the mundane tasks they simply don’t have the time to do.”

Thanks to customer Denise Reynolds who put in a plug for ClearContext!

Discussions on the Future of Email

There have been some really interesting discussions of late on the failures of current email systems.  Michael Arrington at TechCrunch writes 2,433 Unread Emails Is An Opportunity For An Entrepreneur:

"I routinely declare email bankruptcy and simply delete my entire inbox. But even so, I currently have 2,433 unread emails in my inbox. Plus another 721 in my Facebook inbox. and about thirty skype message windows open with unanswered messages. It goes without saying, of course, that my cell phone voicemail box is also full (I like the fact that new messages can’t be left there, so I have little incentive to clear it out).

How do I deal with email now? I scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages. People I know who don’t waste my time, or who I have a genuine friendship with. Or descriptive subject lines that help me understand that I should allot a minute or more of my life to opening it and reading it."

To which our CEO Deva responds Hi Techcrunch, I can solve your email problems:

"’I scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages.’ – NO, NO, NO!  Nobody with any volume can do that and stay on top of email.  By analyzing your email history and all sorts of contextual clues about incoming email, this is something that can be done automatically Prioritized_inbox
– and we do.

Jeremiah Owyang rants in Email Consumes Us:

"Ironically, most of my social media peers and I still use email as one of the main ways to communicate back and forth to each other But even more, there are more inboxes to check, twitter, facebook, linkedin, I’m getting business messages from these tools and I’m sure you are too."

Deva’s response:

"As I’ve been writing about for a while, the very nature of email itself is changing.  Two major things have changed about email in the past few years.  The volume (duh, more!) and the nature (it’s no longer just individual messages, it’s projects and tasks and collaboration).

Yet email clients are still fundamentally designed to process messages one by one and treat them as independent units of data.  That approach just doesn’t scale and doesn’t reflect the type of connected and context-rich information contained within email."

If this sort of thing interests you, I encourage you to read the posts in full, including the 100’s of comments on the TechCrunch post.  Commenter’s advice to Arrington falls into three broad areas: get an email processing methodology, use technology for better filtering and management, or hire an assistant (if you don’t have the luxury, see my previous two links).

I’m pleased to see a problem that we have been addressing for years get some attention.  As Deva mentions in his posts above, our next release will get us even closer to our vision for email automation – prioritization of incoming email, categorization of information, aggregation of related information, and context-specific actions for different types of information.

Root Causes of Email Overload

I’m a little late to the game on this, but last week Lifehacker pointed to an interesting post by Dan Markovitz on the root causes of email overload:

"For example, I’ve spilled a lot of electronic ink (fortunately, electrons are cheap) telling you how to manage email. But I’m now wondering whether my advice has merely been addressing the symptoms, and not the actual problem. Which is to say, I’m giving advice on how to handle email once it’s hit your inbox. But perhaps I should be focusing more on the root cause of all those emails."

Dan makes a good case for running more analysis on the content of email to see if you can help alleviate the problem before it gets to you. 

Here’s my advice to Dan and anyone else who is looking to keep their Inbox leaner:

Read the comments on the LifeHacker post for more suggestions on tackling the problem.

Using Inbox Alert to Show High Priority Messages Only

inbox_alert_options

Have you bought into the idea that you should only check email a couple of times a day, but you are worried that you will miss a really important message?  Our Vista Gadget is designed for you.

  1. Download and install the gadget from here
  2. Once it’s installed, click the wrench next to the gadget for configuration options. image
  3. Select the priority you want to filter by from the Filter By Priority drop down.  I suggest High or Very High.
  4. Click OK.

Now, when you’re ready to focus on your work for the day, select Do Not Disturb, minimize Outlook, and let the gadget tell you if a really important message arrives.

For more information on the gadget, see the ClearContext Inbox Alert User Guide.

Email Overload: Attention Deficit Trait

Something for you to think about over the weekend.  David Sengupta at Ferris Research had this to say about the problems of Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)  – symptoms of ADD brought on by an "interrupt-driven lifestyle":

"Consider some hypothetical calculations (plug in whatever numbers make sense in your company):

  • 1/2 hour per day wasted productivity per employee 
  • Assume an 8-hour working day — that’s 1/16 lost productivity 
  • So for every $100,000 individual on email, you’ve lost $6,250 per year

Whatever way you slice the numbers, this is a big cost."

I think that most of his assumptions are conservative, but you get the idea.  Check out our savings calculator to run some numbers for your team or company.

BTW – I started to take the ADD self assessment test that he links to, but I got distracted…

Outlook 2007 Performance Issues? Here are Some Tips…

I have not personally experienced this issue, but there continue to be reports on the tubes of native Outlook 2007 performance issues.  In most cases, an upgrade to Office 2007 SP1 and some mail file maintenance will resolve the problem.  But if you continue to experience issues, here are some pages that will help you troubleshoot:

I’m particularly fond of the last tip.  I advise folks to try and keep their primary mail file small, but if you’re an Exchange User and you want to leave your entire mail file on the server, setting up some sync filters might be just what you need to keep things running smoothly.

Getting the Most Out of IMS

Visitors to the blog will notice a sidebar section titled "Getting the Most Out of ClearContext."  This is a collection of posts/informational pages that should help maximize the benefit you get from using the add-in.  If you are new to the product or haven’t had the chance to check these out, go ahead and take a look:

Quickly Add Messages to an Appointment or Task

Here’s a quick little tip that I use all the time.  After you’ve created a task or appointment, you may receive information in a subsequent email conversation that you want to include with the original item.  Open the task or appointment, then drag the message from the Inbox onto the open item.  Outlook will automatically attach a copy of the email.

imageHere’s a real world example.  I’ve got a business trip next week.  I initially created an appointment out of the email regarding my meeting using the Schedule button.  IMS pasted meeting information into the appointment automatically.  Later I booked a hotel.  When I received the hotel’s confirmation email, I dragged it from the Inbox into my appointment.  Now I have all the information I need right there in one appointment.

As an aside, if the information you want is part of the same email conversation that you generated the task or appointment from, this step isn’t necessary.  Open up the RelatedView to see all messages, tasks and appointments in the email thread.

You Don’t *Have* to Empty Your Inbox, But…

We pride ourselves on building a highly flexible Outlook Add-in that can be adapted to your individual email management process, whatever it may be.  So, whether you’re a piler or a filer, there are features in IMS that will ultimately help you save many hours a week and reduce your email and job related stress.  Along those lines, we continue to invest in new features to help both kinds of email users.

That said, I’m decidedly in the filer camp and start to feel some amount of anxiety when my Inbox has over 10 messages in it.  Because of this, I find myself having a lot of interesting conversations with folks who are the polar opposite; people who begrudgingly empty their Inbox only when they have to due to size limitations.

It looks like Merlin Mann has encountered the same time of resistance, so he has posted his take on what to do if your organizational culture is such that you receive many long, conversational email threads throughout the day that require more than a few minutes of your time:

“Every time I give the Inbox Zero talk to a tech-heavy group — and most especially when I talk with engineers — there’s pushback on a couple issues. First, a lot of techies say they love it when everything gets routed through email, and second, they think an Inbox-Zero-type methodology isn’t particularly useful for the type of communication that they get all day long. And that’s conversations. Lots of conversations.”

For folks who match this description, Merlin has posted six tips that map very nicely to IMS features – threading, processing, filtering, standards, muting and save and search.   It’s definitely worth taking a look if you’re still weighing whether emptying your Inbox will work for you.  And if you do decide to take the plunge, see this post in intelligently emptying your Inbox.



 Log in.