The Productivity Power of a Comma

If you’ve ever had to participate in a telephone conference call on your mobile phone, especially while on the go, you may have experienced the frustration of entering security codes to gain access to the call.

I’m probably on at least a dozen of these calls each week, and typically the calendar invitation has an 800 number to call, along with a notation that after dialing that number the participants need to enter a 6-9 digit access code.

So the invitation often looks something like this:

Call: 866-555-1212 Access Code: 1783256#

Clicking to dial the phone number on my calendar app is simple enough, but then I find myself flipping back and forth between the phone and the calendar app to remember and enter the access code before time expires.

I’ve been unsuccessful in this more than once, delaying the start of meetings, which of course wastes the time of everyone on the call as we’re waiting to get started.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this problem.

Here’s a tip I got from Greg Matthews in a meeting last week that can solve it. His invitation followed this format:

Mobile 1-click dial-in (USA): 8665551212,1783256#

The comma between the phone number and the access code is the key. With one click on a mobile phone, it enables all of the non-host participants to join the call without having to fumble for the access code.

Can we all adopt this convention, please?

Email Flood Relief

81st Ave Oakland flooding
81st Ave Oakland flooding (Photo credit: mr. nightshade)

In the New York Times Bits blog, Nick Bilton has a thought-provoking piece called Disruptions: Looking for Relief from a Flood of Email.

He confesses filing email bankruptcy to get out from a mountain of 46,315 unread emails, and explores some reasons behind the phenomenon of email overload and burnout. He also highlights one creative (and less extreme than bankruptcy) solution:

Some people have come up with their own solutions to the problems email presents. Luis Suarez, lead social business enabler for IBM, decided to take on his inbox several years ago, and by all accounts seems to have won.

He said he had moved most of his communication to public and social platforms. When people contact Mr. Suarez by email, unaware that he is not a fan of that route, he scans their email signature for a social network they use and then responds in a public forum, whether on Twitter, Google Plus or LinkedIn. This way, he says, he can deal with several messages at once.

Over the last few years, he has managed to get his inbox down by 98 percent. He rarely uses email anymore.

“If email was invented today, it probably would not have survived as a technology,” Mr. Suarez said. “Social and public sites are much more efficient.”

I agree that social networks can be much more efficient, but taking email contents to public forums needs to be done with care and consultation. For example, sometimes I get questions by email, and I ask the sender if it’s OK to answer in public on SMUG or elsewhere. That makes the answers more accessible to others who may have the same questions, and also invites others to share their perspectives, which may be better than mine. But going public without permission is bad form, as I see it.

I also would recommend David Allen’s Getting Things Done for some good thoughts on avoiding the need for email bankruptcy. And while I have some basic disagreements with Timothy Ferriss

in The 4-Hour Workweek as it relates to the purpose and meaning of work, he does have some good tips on managing the email beast.

What do you think? How have you managed (or not) the rising tide of emails?

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A Tale of Two Daves

Two guys named Dave have had life-changing impact on me, and I recently noticed several similarities in their approaches to life.

David AllenDavid Allen is the Guru of GTD (or Getting Things Done), and reading his book by that name eight years ago made a huge difference in my approach to dealing with the potentially bewildering blizzard of “stuff” that knowledge workers must manage just to stay afloat. Much of the early content in this blog (in the pre-SMUG days) was about David Allen’s practical tips, and I have no doubt that the psychic space he helped me create gave me the breathing room so I could approach the opportunities presented by the social media revolution with creativity instead of just being overwhelmed.

Dave RamseyDave Ramsey, about whom I have written here , helped to give our family some financial breathing space with his old-fashioned teaching about budgets, avoiding debt and getting control of spending. You may have heard him on the radio (which is where I first encountered him), and he’s also written a best-seller called The Total Money Makeover.

Here are some of the similarities I’ve noted between the two Daves.

Start small and win little victories. With Dave Ramsey it’s his Baby Steps, creating a mini-emergency fund so the next unexpected bill doesn’t force you to get out the plastic, and using the debt snowball to build momentum. With David Allen it’s getting the email inbox to empty.

Follow some simple rules that put you ahead of 95 percent of the world. David Allen has the two-minute rule: if the needed action to get any “stuff” you’re reviewing from its current state to the desired state is less than two minutes, do it right away instead of putting it on a list for later follow-up. With Dave Ramsey it’s developing a family budget and using an envelope system for spending in various categories. Both Daves say those little things help create momentum that provides motivation to persevere.

Review Progress Periodically. David Allen says the Weekly Review is the key to winning at the game of work and the business of life. Dave Ramsey’s plan calls for a monthly assessment of how actual spending aligned with the plan…and with income.

Scream with Delight Upon Reaching Milestones. Dave Ramsey has his Debt-Free Fridays, in which his listeners who have paid off the last of their debts (or everything but their house mortgages) call to tell their story and then scream into the phone: “WE’RE DEBT FREEEEEEEE!!!!” at which time Ramsey plays Mel Gibson’s “FREEEEDOMMMMM!!!!” shout from Braveheart. David Allen doesn’t have a public ceremony like that, but GTDers feel similar euphoria when they get their email inboxes to zero.

Don’t let failures and imperfections discourage you from the journey. It’s been several years since I first encountered the two Daves, and I would have expected more progress and consistency than I’ve achieved. But even imperfect application has enabled me to accomplish much more than I otherwise would have. And just this morning, I had the opportunity to scream…

“MY INBOX IS EMPTYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!”

Are you familiar with the two Daves? How have they helped you?

 

iPhone 5: “A whole extra row of icons”

That’s how my good friend Reed Smith deadpanned on the “amazing productivity improvement” he’s seen with his new iPhone when he was in Minnesota for our Social Media Week at Mayo Clinic.

That reminded me of some video I shot comparing my iPhone 4s with our #MCCSM Medical Director’s new iPhone 5:

Looks nice, but not worth breaking my contract that still has a year to go.

Not that I deserve a medal for this or anything…

…but tonight as I fly to Tampa to be on a panel sponsored by The Atlantic and National Journal in conjunction with the Republican National Convention, I am experiencing a level of relief that I haven’t had for several months.

Last Monday, after a summer full of travel both for work and for my son Joe’s AAU basketball, I hit an unbelievable six-year high-water mark for unresolved emails, and took this screen shot:

Lots of reasons, but no good excuses.

After six days of dedicated effort during breaks in my daily routine (and several evenings of just plowing through messages), tonight I finally reached my GTD goal:

 

Since I first read Getting Things Done by David Allen in 2005, I have found its principles extremely helpful. When I started this blog, GTD was one of the main topics. I would particularly recommend this post I wrote in November 2006. which links to some of the important lessons I learned.

I’m glad to be on the right side of the email tsunami again.

Now I hope a literal hurricane, Isaac,  doesn’t cause too many  problems in the coming week.