Posts from March 2008.

New release on the way! Contacts, documents, new dashboards, and more!

We’re really excited about some of the new features we have coming soon to IMS.  Here’s a quick update on what we’ve been working on, plus an opportunity to get an early look and start providing us feedback on the new stuff.

ClearContext IMS 4 Upgrade

Our next release will be a free upgrade for all licensed IMS 4 users.  In our last product plan update we hinted at some prototype projects we’ve been working on.  Based on initial feedback to those projects, we decided to roll a few of them into this near term release.

  • button_contact Contacts and Documents – The IMS Dashboard currently pulls together emails, tasks, and appointments related to a project.  Now we’re adding documents to that list – helping you deal with all of the attachments that flow through email.  We’ve also extended the product to not only let you manage the tasks and activities around a project, but also find and interact with all the contacts related to a specific project or subject.  Stay tuned to the blog for more details about other cool stuff we’ll be doing around contacts and documents in Outlook.
  • DashboardNew Dashboards – The current IMS Dashboard is focused on projects.  But lots of emails that clog up your inbox are notifications of some sort that can be analyzed, processed, and organized for you automatically.  We don’t think you should have to manually process all the social networking requests, log file reports, corporate announcements or various other types of status and notification emails that arrive every day.  We’ve developed another type of dashboard to automatically manage this sort of processing.

Those and other new features are part of our plan to have IMS address the issues outlined in Deva’s Inbox Thesis blog post: 

The volume of information that  people (people in this context refers primarily to “information workers” but is rapidly growing to include just about everyone) receive via email is far more than they can process effectively using the sequential processing of individual messages for which most email clients are designed.  At the same time, the information and the range of tasks/actions that flow through email are increasing in scope, importance, and variety.  This necessitates new means of information processing consisting of the following elements: prioritization of incoming email, categorization of information, aggregation of related information, and context-specific actions for different types of information.  This allows users to process information more effectively by taking advantage of the context of the information to provide a set of relevant actions to deal with information at a higher level than a single message basis.

Based on your feedback, we’re also making a number of improvements to the existing IMS 4 features.  These include:

  • Better data display and interactivity in the project dashboard
  • Performance enhancements related to message scoring, threading, synchronization and startup
  • Numerous other enhancements you have suggested to us on our forums (Thanks!)

cc_ims_prod_logo_small_beta So how do you get to see all this cool new stuff?  We’ll be opening up the beta in stages.  If you’re interested in getting a look at early, pre-release software, send an email to beta at clearcontext dot com.  We’ll put you on the top of the advance preview list and notify you when a beta version of IMS is ready for download.  Honestly, I can’t wait for you to get your hands on this stuff and let us know what you think about it!

Research: The Cost of Email Interruptions

You might be interested in the results of this email research:

"By taking a “typical” employee and making some hypothetical assumptions it is possible to determine the amount of time that can be saved through implementing the guidelines mentioned above. If an employee has set up the email application to check for email every 5 minutes then it is possible, if (s)he is a heavy user of email, that there could be 96 interruptions in a normal 8-hour working day. However, if the email application was set up to check for email every 45 minutes then the amount of possible interruptions is reduced to 11 per day. For example, if it takes on average 1.5 minutes to read and recover from an email and the employee is interrupted every 5 minutes, then this would only leave the employee 3.5 minutes before the next interrupt. However, if the employee was interrupted every 45 minutes and the emails had accumulated to a total of 9, then it would take on average 6 minutes to read all 9 emails and recover from the interruption. This would then leave 39 minutes before the next interruption, allowing the employee more time to get on with “real” work."

The research was completed in 2003 – I suspect the numbers become worse with the increase in email volumes and technology demanding our attention over the last few years.  Net net, use Do Not Disturb or turn off your email notifications altogether.

Email ‘a broken business tool’

The Guardian calls email "a broken business tool" in a Sunday article.  Some facts:

"The average employee spends an estimated 90 minutes to two hours a day wading through hundreds of messages, suffering interruptions and distractions with every ping from their PC or BlackBerry. Worldwide email traffic has now hit 196 billion messages a day, according to the research firm the Radicati Group, and is predicted to reach 374 billion per day by 2011."

Tom Jackson, a senior lecturer in the information science department at Loughborough University, has an interesting solution to the problem:

"Jackson, who has provided email training to clients including the Danwood Group and Leicestershire police, has also designed a program which can name and shame bad emailers within an organisation. ‘It will go through all the emails you’ve sent and give you a score. It looks at how many people you sent it to, did you "reply to all", how big your subject line is, whether the message is well written. It gives a ranking of good and bad emailers, which can be a shock and make people reconsider what they’re doing."

Though I am personally pro-training and anti-shaming when it comes to email management, we have heard from many who are interested in finding technical solutions to help employees understand the implications of their personal email management style.  Maybe better knowledge of the potential impact your message will have on others is part of the puzzle?

Thanks to customer Patrick who forwarded both this and last week’s BBC article!

BBC News: Email is ruining my life!

A quick Friday note – the BBC has published an article on email that’s part history, part problem, and part solution.  Here’s my favorite stat from the post:

"On average, we spend 52 hours a year just dealing with our junk mail."

They also mention the mixed results Deloitte saw from Free Email Day and give five tips for taking control of the Inbox (Filter spam, target email, write carefully, reduce interruptions, get training).

Intelligently Empty Your Inbox

Yesterday Jason Clarke at Download Squad published his take on clearing a bulging Inbox.  His process, deemed Inbox 0.5, involves decreasing the number of messages in your Inbox by half every day until it’s cleared.

If the psychic weight of being an Inbox Piler is taking its toll, there are a number of similar recommendations for clearing your Inbox and getting to zero email bounce. In addition to Jason’s Inbox 0.5, there’s Merlin Mann’s Email DMZ (Michael Linenberger recommends a similar process) and Deva’s Ten a day plan.

All of these plans have their merits and I can attest that, whatever process you use, the feeling of relief you get when you keep your Inbox count low is well worth the effort.  If you’re concerned that you’re going to drop some important messages when cleaning house, use a variant of our Vacation Email Triage recommendations to jumpstart the process and intelligently dump messages from the Inbox:

  1. Remove all low priority messages from the Inbox
    • Use ClearContext IMS to prioritize your entire Inbox. 
    • Switch to the ClearContext Prioritized view (ClearContext > Inbox Views).
    • Highlight all messages in gray.  These messages are from unknown senders, are not addressed directly to you, and are likely spam.
    • Delete all of these messages or alternatively move them to a processed mail folder if you are worried about missing something.
    • If you really want to clean house, consider removing all messages in black as well.  These are still from unknown senders and/or were not sent directly to you.
  2. Use AutoAssign to automatically categorize and file informational messages
    • Highlight a newsletter or other informational letter in the Inbox.
    • Select ClearContext > Create AutoAssign Rule from Message.
    • Craft a rule that will assign a Topic and file to a Topic folder.
    • Check Apply rule to Inbox messages now and click OK.
    • Repeat for additional newsletters, corporate announcements, etc..
  3. Manage your Inbox, one conversation at a time
    • Make sure are in a ClearContext Prioritized view.  You may need to switch to Prioritized by Week or Prioritized by Day if you are finding stale messages at the top of the Inbox.
    • Follow the steps in the Manage phase of the IMS Daily workflow to act on your remaining messages conversations.  IMS will automatically group all message conversations together to ensure that you don’t repeat work that someone else has already completed.

The Internet’s Killer App

Email is the Internet’s killer app, so it’s no surprise to me that, when given the opportunity, the web luminaries at the Future of Web Apps conference chose to design an app to help them with email.  In a panel that was given 40 minutes to design a new web app from the ground up, the group spent the most time working on an app to help manage email.  From moderator Erick Schonfeld’s TechCrunch post:

"But the app we ended up spending the most time brainstorming was one that Digg’s Kevin Rose dreamed up to help him manage his e-mail. He can’t keep up with it all, and wanted to come up with a way to stop offending people who he never gets back to by sharing some of his e-mail data with them. The concept was a site that keeps stats on your e-mail usage that your friends can check to see how far behind you are in responding to e-mails in general. (”It’s not you, it’s me”)."

Of course, this doesn’t really help.  Regardless of what system you have in place, you respond to the messages and people that are most important to you.  Letting someone know that you’re a really busy guy and that they’re not important enough to merit a personal response isn’t going to make them feel better. The key is to put in place technology and methodology to increase your efficiency and get more done so no important messages fall through the cracks.  See Deva’s Inbox Thesis for more on this subject.

CNET’s Caroline McCarthy took the opportunity to sound the email death knellAs I have said before, nothing could be further from the truth.  Email is going to have a place in the business world for a long long time and, when it goes toe to toe vs. today’s newer collaboration tools in an enterprise setting, you’ll find that email’s so-called replacements sorely lackingThe comments on the CNET article seem to agree.

The ClearContext Free License Program Loika has written a very flattering review of ClearContext IMS on his PreMagination blog.  In addition to a detailed explanation of how the product has helped, Drew writes:

“Recently my demo expired and while I already deeply appreciated the tool, that appreciation has been further emphasized due to the tools absence.”

Lucky for Drew, our long-standing, free license program is still in place.  Write a review of the product in a public forum (blog, website, discussion forums, newsletters, etc.), send us a link, and we’ll send you a license that will unlock the trial version of IMS.  It’s really that easy.

Here are the details:

  • We don’t care what the subject matter of the forum is, as long as it’s in good taste.
  • We don’t expect a dissertation.  Just post a few paragraphs that clearly show you have used the product.
  • Post in a venue that gets some traffic.  Brand new blogs that were created solely to post the review don’t qualify.
  • Reviews posted in the ClearContext discussion forums are not eligible for this program.

That’s it.  Follow the guidelines above, send us the link, and we’ll send you a license.

And Drew, thanks for the help putting the word out about ClearContext!  Drop us a line at support at clearcontext dot com and we’ll get you a key.

*** The free license program has been discontinued. This blog post remains up for reference only

Taking a Virtual Break

Over the weekend, TechMeme pointed me to an interesting piece in the New York Times.  In a lot of ways, I have the same problem as Mark Bittman; namely:

"…I had developed the habit of leaving a laptop next to my bed so I could check my e-mail, last thing and first thing. I had learned how to turn my P.D.A. into a modem, the better to access the Web from my laptop when on a train. Of course I also used that P.D.A. in conventional ways, attending to it when it buzzed me.

In short, my name is Mark, and I’m a techno-addict."

Mark’s solution was to enforce a technology free day (or two) for the last few months.  And while he eventually found the benefits to be extremely rewarding, it wasn’t easy:

"On my first weekend last fall, I eagerly shut it all down on Friday night, then went to bed to read. (I chose Saturday because my rules include no television, and I had to watch the Giants on Sunday). I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop. That forbidden, I reached for the phone. No, not that either. Send a text message? No. I quickly realized that I was feeling the same way I do when the electricity goes out and, finding one appliance nonfunctional, I go immediately to the next. I was jumpy, twitchy, uneven."

That, IMO, is exactly why taking a break or going through some sort of detox can be a good idea. 

Merlin Mann at 43 Folders nails it though, when he says the problem is not the technology but the way we use it:

"Let’s be brutally honest, here — I can “work” at my computer for 10 hours and do nothing but dick around with Wikipedia and YouTube. Heck, even if I do “work stuff” like email and “research,” I can easily trail off in a hundred directions that have nothing to do with my initial task. Is that the fault of the computer and the internet? Maybe, kinda. But, no more so than I can reasonably blame this crappy hammer for that awkward birdhouse I built. Stupid hammer."

Both articles are really interesting reads, if only to get you thinking about how and why you use technology.