I am absolutely addicted to Evernote. It has completely changed the way I keep myself organized. EVERYTHING I encounter goes into Evernote and everything gets tagged. Although I love the system, in the beginning I found it difficult keeping up with my note tagging responsibilities. This made my tags less useful because I could not rely on the information they returned when I searched them. To solve this problem I developed what I think is a unique method for tracking untagged notes.
The first step was to prefix each tag with a two letter prefix which signified the tag "type." For instance, all of my tags which represent the subject of a note begin with "SU)". So I have "SU) Sales," "SU) Negotiation," "SU) Management," etc. Likewise, all of my tags that represent the companies mentioned in my notes begin with the prefix "CC)". So I have "CC) Acme Enterprises" and "CC) XYZ Company" etc. I created a group of tags for each of the following categories: subject, company, next action needed, and priority. Each category has its own prefix.
Once all of my tags were renamed to include their type prefix, I created a saved search to find all notes which do not have a subject tag. For me, this custom search looked like [-tag:SU)*] (without the brackets). Likewise, the custom search for finding all notes without a company tag look like this [-tag:CC)*] (without the brackets). I created a saved search for each category of tags.
Now, periodically I click on these saved searches and retrieve all of the respective untagged notes and I have a tagging party. This method is easy to implement and it will help keep your notes properly tagged. So, if you also use Evernote and you are a fan of tagging and being organized, I hope you find this tip useful.
For many (if not most) people, the email inbox is a continuous source of stress and information overload. Gaining control over your inbox may seem like an impossible task. Use this strategy to quickly get a handle on your inbox and keep it under control long term. I have used this technique for several years and it works. I will provide setup instructions for Microsoft Outlook 2007 but you can implement a similar scheme in most email platforms.
The goal with this email management technique is to touch each email only once and to process each email quickly and efficiently. Then, once an email has been processed, never see it again (unless you want to).
In my "How To Work Efficiently" seminar I suggest that the email inbox should be for "pending action" emails only. This usually means emails in which you need more information before they can be processed. Using this approach, your email inbox becomes a pseudo task list. In fact, I tell people who need me to do something to email me because my inbox is my to-do list. Now, obviously, for this strategy to work long term, your inbox must remain uncluttered. This is where the rubber meets the road.
Before we get started, to summarize the last two paragraphs, this technique is about keeping your inbox clean of everything that does not require further action, processing emails quickly and touching each email only once if possible. In order to start using this technique, you need to first clean up your existing inbox. For many, the best option here is to create a folder named "Old Inbox" and move your entire inbox into this folder. Then, move back into the real inbox only those emails that are pending action. Once your inbox is as clean as it is going to get, follow these instructions to setup some email handling preferences.
1. In Microsoft Outlook 2007, sort your email inbox so that the newest messages are at the top (if not so already) by clicking the "Received" column header to sort the column by received date.
2. Click on the "Tools" menu. Then, click "Options."
3. In the "Options" window, on the "Preferences" tab, click the "Email Options" button.
4. In the "Email Options" window, under "Message Handling" find the option that reads "After moving or deleting an open item." Next to this option select "open the previous item."
5. Click "OK" until you have closed all the option windows.
Now, here is the meat of this article. Once a day or once a week, depending on your schedule and volume of incoming email, start at the BOTTOM (oldest emails) of your email inbox and open the last email. On the ribbon bar in Outlook 2007 there are two big buttons "Delete" and "Move to Folder." These buttons are your friends. With this last email in your inbox open, click either the "Delete" button or the "Move to Folder" button depending on which is appropriate. If you implemented my suggestion of using only one email folder named "Processed" which I mentioned in part one of this article, then the "Move to Folder" button is really easy. Once you have moved at least one email to the "Processed" folder, the "Processed" folder will always be the first option on the "Move to Folder" drop down menu.
If you processed the last email as described in the last paragraph, you probably noticed that the next to last oldest email automatically opened on your screen. Now all you have to do is process this email the same way. Then, the next oldest email will pop up. Continue until you reach the top of your inbox.
The reason I suggested starting at the button with the oldest email is because if you start with the newest emails, many times you will never reach the oldest. What will happen then is the oldest emails will accumulate and go unresolved. If these happen to be customer emails at the bottom of your inbox, the customer could be looking for a new vendor while you are looking at your newest emails. Starting with the oldest emails first forces you to process them in a timely manner.
I hope you find this two part article useful. Please comment if you have any questions, comments or rants about this article.
I have seen some elaborate email folder structures in my time. Some I would even describe as works of art. So much so that they could probably fetch a decent price at a Christie's auction. These elaborate folder structures, beautiful as they may be, are also, at the risk of offending, a colossal waste of time.
With the full-text searching capabilities of today's modern email platforms, email folders make very little sense. If you need to find an email, just search for it like you would search for a web page on Google. Modern email platforms even have their own search syntax to help you find the appropriate email.
In my "How To Work Efficiently" seminar, I suggest having just one folder named "Processed." (That's right, ONE folder.) Every email that is still pending action remains in the inbox, every other email goes in the "Processed' folder. Part two of this "How To Handle Email Efficiently" post will be a lot easier to implement if you limit the number of folders you use to somewhere between one and five.
If you are still reluctant to move away from your email folder work of art, consider how much time you spend just looking for the right folder to drop emails into. If you summed up all this email folder search time, I guarantee you would be surprised by just how much time is being wasted looking for appropriate folders.
Now, I can hear the masses muttering "I can't move to a single folder, how would I find an email sent from John Doe last month if I don't have a folder for John Doe?" My answer "from:(john doe) received:last month" in the search box (Microsoft Outlook 2007 - Similar syntax exists for almost every modern email platform).
One way to make your email inbox a little easier to manage is by color coding your emails. This can be done in one form or another in just about every email platform including Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, and GMail. I typically suggest no more than four colors, otherwise all the colors in your inbox may give you a headache which would be counterproductive. I suggest a color for each of the top three or four categories of emails in your inbox. Mine happen to be red for customer emails (higher priority), blue for internal work related emails, green for personal and black for everything else.
In GMail, you would use "Labels" to color code the emails and "Filters" to automatically apply the labels to incoming emails.
In Lotus Notes, you can choose three colors. These colors can be automatically assigned to each matching email by clicking on the Tools menu, then Preferences, then the Message Marking tab.
In Outlook, you can color code emails by clicking on the Tools menu, then Organize, then Using Colors on the left of the organize area.
Color coding emails in this way will allow you to quickly prioritize your emails at a glance. In my seminars, I suggest only checking emails twice per day because of the time it takes to refocus each time an email interrupts your train of thought. If you work in an industry where responsiveness is paramount, however, color coding your emails will allow you to quickly respond to customer emails while putting off vendor emails until the end of the day.
Many articles on blogging tout benefits like increased website traffic, corporate branding, product marketing, increased revenue, and even self-expression. However, there are many other less obvious reasons you should blog. I have listed nine of them below. I'd like to hear your thoughts. Post comments below and tell me what less obvious benefits you have experienced. Here is my list:
1. Thorough understanding
I have listed this benefit first because I feel it is the most important benefit I have experienced. We have all heard it said that, if you really want to understand something, teach it to others. As with teaching, blogging forces you to think and express your thoughts in a simple and organized manner. Blogging helps refine your thoughts and forces you to thoroughly understand your subject matter and your point of view.
2. Greater awareness
Blogging well means having something interesting, noteworthy, or educational to say. In order to keep fresh ideas flowing you will likely develop a habit of paying closer attention to what is occurring around you. You will listen to conversations more intently, you'll watch TV differently, and you'll read articles differently, you will always be looking for something to which you can add value by relating the subject matter to your own specialized field of knowledge. You will find this to be an excellent source of new ideas in your professional life as well.
3. Deep thinking
Surprisingly, although we live in a knowledge worker society, deep thinking is still rare. Many people still come to the office and go about their daily tasks without thinking deeply about anything. It is easy to become a creature of habit and just go about our daily routines. Writing a good blog entry requires you think deeply. You must consider other points of view and how you will defend your point of view when it is questioned. In the end, you will be better versed in your topic than you were before you wrote the blog entry.
4. Original thoughts
Original thoughts are even rarer than deep thinking. A lot of what we know we have acquired from our surroundings. If you force yourself to blog regularly and blog well, you are more likely to foster original thoughts as a result of the greater awareness and deep thinking that comes with the territory.
5. New relationships
Putting yourself out there for the world to read can be a bit intimidating. However, one of the benefits of doing so is discovering people like minded people. While not all people will share your opinions, most are open to dialog. If you make yourself accessible, new relationships can be fostered.
6. New opportunities
As a follow-on to number six, with new relationships come opportunities. We all know that we are more likely to do business with people we know. Discovering new relationships sometimes results in new opportunities.
7. Keep up with Internet innovations
I have stated in previous blogs that at the rate the Internet is evolving, if you are not making a concerted effort to stay up-to-date, you are likely falling behind. New online tools and services are being released seemingly every day. Blogging will keep you in and around Internet innovations where you are more likely to stay abreast of what's new and what's coming.
I have heard it said that real leaders share their knowledge because they want to make those around them better. We all have unique knowledge, backgrounds, experiences, personalities and points of view. Your opinion is unique and valuable. I encourage you to share it.
9. Personal branding
Everyone has a personal brand whether they know it or not. I have heard it said that your brand is the assumption people make about you before you walk in the room. Blogging can help shape your brand. The content of your blogs can help you brand yourself as funny, sassy, intellectual, helpful, etc. Be careful, however. Your brand must be authentic or you will brand yourself as dishonest and manipulative. My suggestion here is just be who you are and put the readers needs above your own. Then, your brand will happen naturally.
What are some other less obvious benefits you have experienced? Do you agree/disagree with any I have listed? Sound off.
In this first entry I would like to introduce my plans for this blog. One of my passions is helping people use technology to work more efficiently, stay organized and be more effective. (Proof that you can find someone passionate about almost anything.) I am one of those people who will spend 3 hours to figure out how to save 30 minutes. That doesn't say a lot for me, but it might benefit you. In this blog, most of my entries will deal with tips, tricks and strategies to help you be more efficient, organized and effective.
I am also very interested in hearing your experiences. My goal is for us to learn from each other so we can all become more effective. Then, with a highly productive week behind us, maybe we can all leave early on Fridays.
Now, on to the first blog:
Small inefficiencies throughout your day can add up to significant amounts of wasted time. I don't want to sound like the guy who says you can save a million dollars over a lifetime by using a dab of toothpaste instead of a dollop. However, when it comes to time management, we waste a lot of time on seemingly inconsequential things. For example, if each person in a 25 person company receives 10 spam emails per day, and it take 5 seconds to handle each email, the company will waste 126 hours per year just on spam. This does not even take into account the distraction caused by the email and the time it takes to get refocused.
Nearly everything in your office affects your productivity in some way. Consider the following:
- The layout of your computer screen
- Do you routinely have to minimize windows to get to the icons on your desktop?
- Do you routinely have to navigate the start menu to find frequently used programs?
- The software you use for your to-do list
- Do you take notes on paper and have to retype your tasks into your to-do list?
- How easy is it to organize and prioritize the items on your to-do list?
- The type of cell phone you use
- Can you reply to emails from your cell phone?
- Does your cell phone wirelessly synchronize your notes and to-do list from your computer?
- The phone system you use
- Do you have to manually type phone numbers or can you use TAPI to just click a link and dial from your CRM system?
- Do you have to lookup people's extension or can you transfer a call by drag and dropping the call on your computer screen?
- Does your phone ring every time someone calls your company? Do you glance at the caller ID every time the phone rings?
- The ergonomics of your desk
- Do you have multiple monitors so you do not have to constantly switch between software applications?
- Do you sit facing distractions like a window, a hallway, or a television?
- The workflow within your office
- How do you disseminate information within the office?
- Do you have to manually follow-up on tasks assigned to others in the office?
- How you manage your inbox
- Do you have 3000 emails in your inbox?
- How much time do you spend in your inbox each day?
- Are you using macros to automatically handle certain types of email?
I could go on for pages with seemingly minor things that reduce efficiency and cause distraction. Most of these "minor" things, however, affect your productivity tens if not hundreds of times per week and they all add up to significant time. Like the spam example in the first paragraph, something as simple as a few unwanted emails can have a major impact on your company's productivity as a whole; over three solid weeks of full time effort in the example above.
The point of the blog entry is just to get you looking at your surroundings with an eye toward efficiency. In future blog entries, I'll begin sharing specific suggestions from my "Working Efficiently and Staying Organized" seminar. If you have any productivity suggestions from your own experience, please share them.
I'm one of those people who tend to Google something and follow as many of the resulting links as possible just to check out different company's websites. I've started noticing a fairly frequent trend – most websites are just really bad. I don't think small companies are alone in the website funk department, because there are some larger companies out there who have terrible websites too; but there's a very important difference between a crappy enterprise corporation site and a crappy small business site. For the large enterprise, a website is an additional method of advertising amongst other methods. For the small business, a website may be the chief way for customers to obtain information about the company and its products/services. This places small business owners at a significant disadvantage compared to larger businesses when the website is horrible.
As part of my research, I checked out 50 websites of small businesses in different segment. For the most part, they were service businesses but a few sold products directly on their website. So let's see if your own website could use some help attracting or even keeping visitors. Websites that suck often are:
Too tough to navigate
A lot of sites suffer from navigation issues. Personally I think it's because of the design methodology used to build some websites – the site map and layouts should be done before a single line of code is written. Good website navigation (1.) makes it easy to find what you want through intuitive placement of links, (2.) makes it easy to know where you are on the site at all times, (3.) gives you a way to go back to where you were without hitting the back button or re-visiting the homepage, and (4.) always presents links to contact the business and return to the homepage regardless of what page you are on. One last note – every page should have a link to your site's privacy statement, and a copyright statement, usually positioned at the bottom of the page.
Rough on the eyes
This category contains a lot of offenders. You must strike a balance between colors you like, or colors that represent your business, and colors that are easy on the eyes. For example, a site that uses a bright yellow background with white foreground lettering and green links can be tough on the eyes after a few minutes. This will tend to cause visitors to look elsewhere. When it comes to color, go for softer tones based in the same hue as that bright yellow or neon green you might like. This will result in a softer look for the site. Another problem in this category – sites with weird fonts. For starters, your site should employ style-sheets and use font-families as opposed to individual fonts; this ensures cross-browser/cross-system support.
Too verbose or not verbose enough
A website is a mix of an online brochure and the elevator sales pitch. If your website doesn't work that mix then you'll end up with a site that either contains way too much information for a person to absorb (or perhaps believe) or not enough information to compel the visitor to move forward with your company. So to strike a balance, think of it this way. Your home page is where you make that elevator sales pitch. Summarize what your business does and provide a mix of visual and textual elements to compel further discovery on the part of the visitor. The rest of your site should be the brochure. Basically what I'm saying is – your home page shouldn't require the user to scroll under most circumstances. For your interior site pages, break up the monotony of paragraphs by using bold headers, pictures that illustrate the point or show your services in action, and bullet points to emphasize your services. Don't overdue the bullet points though!
There was a time, and I remember it well, when things like site counters, waving American flag GIFs, redundant animation, blinking or twisting link buttons, and neon colors were common place on websites; a time when a business could make its own website using front page 2000. My friends, that time is long gone. Your website, no matter what your business is, is your company's digital sales executive. Enough said.
Difficult to figure out what the company does
This can happen easily if your business does a lot of different things, like sell products as well as services. The best way to handle this is to use menu-based navigation to separate services and products into their individual components. Introductory pages can be effective for showing relationships between services and products but still provide direct links as well.
Simply put, if the last entry in your "company news" section is dated from 2 months ago, or you last press release was made in 2007, just remove that section from the home page. Remember, the front page is your sales pitch. Your customers will get turned off instantly if they think your site is neglected or if the business is no longer making headlines. Same goes for awards and accolades. If your business won a chamber of commerce award in 2005, then the right time to display that on your site's homepage would've been in 2005…
Way too busy/flashy
It's the opposite of cheesy – all flash websites with music and futuristic sounds when you click on links might "seem" cool, but not for professional websites unless your business is producing games or flash websites. Background music is almost always a no-no in web design today. Most importantly, if your site has a lot of links, do go for buttons – stick to text and use CSS effects to help customers know when they're on a link instead of just regular text.
Again, your website is your digital sales executive. An effective website should be logical, intuitive, informative, and aesthetically pleasing; its content should provide a mix of that elevator pitch as well as an online brochure. Your website, properly designed, could be as effective for your business as an inside sales person at a larger company.
Last time I went over the first three basic steps to creating a sound security for your organization. Now that we've communicated with our organization, analyzed the business and its technology operation, and composed our policy, it is time to go through the last three phases to ensure smooth implementation, and ease acceptance as well as enforcement.
Step Four: Collaborate
We communicated the need, so now let's communicate the results – share the policy with all departments, not just the stakeholders. Start an open dialogue with the management and executive teams to ensure their acceptance of the policy. Tweaks prior to the policy's formal implementation will be needed, and that's okay. This is the step where those changes can be comfortably be made BEFORE the policy goes into effect organizationally. In my experience, collaborating with the entire organization helps dramatically with adoption as well as adherence.
Step Five: Implement
Plugging it all in is the hardest part – you can quote me on that! Implementing a real security policy can be tough, especially in situations where one didn't exist previously. Hopefully your collaboration effort and prior communications efforts helped soften the blow and get people prepared for the implementation of the policy.
Implementation within the IT organization should happen prior to the policy being brought to the employees. For the IT department, adoption should be simple, and should actually help define the operation; setting up parameters for operations that may not have existed prior to the development of the policy.
The steps you will need to take to get a policy implemented within your organization will differ depending on the business you're in. If you are in a business that offers services to other companies, and those services require you to handle the client's confidential information, you may need to develop a slightly less detailed and more targeted version of the security policy for the customer's usage. In most cases, presentations with employees and a presentation for HR to give to new employees (if your organization is large enough) will suffice. Again, communication wins the battle when it comes to implementing any type of control policy or framework in your organization.
Step Six: Evolve and Assess
This should go without saying – once you've completed your organization's new security policy, you are not done…on an annual basis, the policy should be evaluated, with amendments made to the policy. Sections should never be removed, but amended. This is important for continuity. Additionally the policy itself should contain information on how amendments are made; under what circumstances; and how those amendments are made in the policy itself.
Think of your new security policy as a living document, that should evolve as the business itself and the technology operation evolves. Your security policy may be 15 pages, or it may be 50 pages depending on the complexity of your organization, but size is not half as important as organization and content. Even if your business has only a dozen or so employees, the invocation of a security policy will help formalize the technologies your organization uses, which will help ensure the security of not only your company's information, but also the information of your customers.
- The Trick to Evernote
- How To Handle Email Efficiently - Part 2 of 2
- How To Handle Email Efficiently - Part 1 of 2
- Color Coding Emails
- 9 Less Obvious Benefits of Blogging
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