Tags: productivity

Using Email Autoresponders to Maximize Productivity

Using Email Autoresponders to Maximize Productivity

Beyond • March 16, 2016

An estimated 108.7 billion emails get sent daily. About 40 man hours are lost each year to email overload. Add to this that email overload is one of the biggest workplace hindrances when it comes to managing our day to day. It’s possible to push through the email grind and come up on top by actually hacking emails to boost productivity. Here’s how you can do that. The Three Things You’re Doing Wrong There’s absolutely no reason you should be checking every email that comes through in your inbox. Yet, most employees say they feel pressured to respond to emails quickly – particularly those in fast-paced office environments like tech, new media and start-ups. It doesn’t have to be this way and in fact it shouldn’t be this way and it causes several problems if that’s how you’re going about your day. First, if you’re checking every email that comes, you’re distracting yourself from that’s ahead of you and letting someone else dictate what the priority is. Second, checking everything at once means you’re also more likely to let an email slip through the cracks. Just because you’ve checked it, doesn’t mean you’ve handled it. Third, you’re setting clients and colleagues up for very high and unrealistic expectations. You’re training them for instant gratification and acting in servitude, coming running to them whenever they ring the proverbial bell. It’s ridiculous. Stop doing it. Two Things You can do if Your Workplace is Email Obsessed If you’re in an environment where email response time is crucial or you’re always on the look- out for emails from certain senders, there’s a couple things you can do to manage your time better. First, set up email pop-up notifications on your desktop or phone. I prefer having the pop up on my phones so they’re appearing on a clean uninterrupted slate. Personally, I have too much going on on my monitor and so pop ups there are still likely to get lost. You’ll be able to see streamlined messages popping up on your phone, allowing you to ignore what you don’t need for a later time and respond to what is more urgent. If everything tends to be urgent in that company culture demands a faster response, then shoot out a little response that lets people know you’ve seen the email but will follow through later including asking any questions you might have. This way, you’ve done your due diligence but you also haven’t wasted brain cells trying to jump on this task right now. Shelve it for later in your project management tool such as Wrike. You can have a task each day just for email requests and have a bullet list or checkbox of what needs to get responded to. Once you’ve checked it off and better understood the task, you can project plan for that task accordingly in a master calendar. There’s a lot of pressure to not only reply immediately but to also get it done immediately. Stop that too. You can’t get it all done as soon as you or anyone else would look. Learn to always look to your project management big picture before committing yourself. That said, there’s still a better third option. Use Email Autoresponders to Segment Your Day Set up a daily autoresponder to trigger from 6am till about 2pm. Have that responder message say that you’ll be checking emails from about 2pm-4pm (or whatever time works for you). Add that for anything urgent, you can be called at a certain number or reached out to in some other preferred way. You can also add that you’re doing this for the sake of productivity so you’re able to take advantage of as much working time as possible. This solution makes everyone happy: senders know what’s going on, you’ve responded immediately, and you’re not interrupted by emails until you choose to be interrupted.


Read More
In 2015, the Challenge is Increasing Productivity without Losing Your Soul

In 2015, the Challenge is Increasing Productivity without Losing Your Soul

Beyond • January 28, 2015

We’ve all heard the tired workplace phrases like “optimize your time” and “prioritize your tasks,” and you’ve especially heard this if you’re in a bustling start up with a mountain of work teetering toward an avalanche. The challenge we’re faced with is to perform the impossible, to prioritize our time and optimize tasks when there just aren’t enough work hours in the day. If you factor in meetings, fielding questions, answering email and so on, the fact remains that you have a pretty limited bandwidth in which to actually work. And with productivity being a relentless buzzword in 2015 as it was in 2014, the question I predict that is going to run the gauntlet this year is: how do you increase productivity without losing your soul? “Losing your soul” is an important risk to mention. We can all increase productivity. We can show up to work earlier, stay later, eat lunch at our desk, web surf a little less, socialize with our peers less...and have a little less soul at the end of the day. The fact is you shouldn’t have to consistently and unreasonably come in earlier each day or stay later. This is important time you need to yourself, to pursue your passions or spend time with your family to unplug and recharge. You shouldn’t have to eat lunch at your desk. It’s important to get out of the office, get some fresh air, and be in a different physical space for a while – which is also why I’m suspect of any company that offers free lunch when we all really need that time away. Moving on, web surfing is an important task breaker that gives micro mental escapes from a series of tasks. It’s a privilege, that when treated with respect, shouldn’t be an issue for productivity. The 10 or 15 minutes you might save in a day when not web browsing isn’t worth what you’re losing out on – which is a chance to introduce a new thought or idea to your mind in the form of small creative interruptions that actually trigger productivity. It’s the same as getting up from your desk to walk around the building for a while – it’s something your mind needs … which brings us to socializing. Socializing with your peers is important for team building and creating rapport. Again, when done within reason, it shouldn’t take away that much time for your day. So we’re back at the question of how do you ‘optimize’ your day without sacrificing these small treasures that are part of creating a positive workplace environment. The dilemma for any company facing this problem is in finding a way to increase individual productivity without turning your workplace into a machine in which each person is little more than a cog. Across the good handful of companies I’ve worked with on consulted for, by far the most successful, effective and relaxed environments were those that offered limited task interruption. The ideal combination was an open work space (an open floor concept that encourages collaboration and synergy, but one in which there were set times for interruptions). This means that questions for team members were saved for meetings and project discussions were also saved for either email communication or meetings. The approach is successful for one key reason and that’s the limited level of interruption such an arrangement is able to ensure. You can read those emails at your leisure when you’re done with a task and meetings are something that can be planned for. Conversely, when each time a team member had to stop and address an outside question or task, they were set behind on their ongoing task by anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, which doesn’t include the time it takes to mentally “get back into” what you were doing before. If productivity is the name of the game in 2015, find out what interruptions your employees are facing on daily basis and put an end to it. And if your team suffers from group think – something I discussed in an earlier blog post this week – then opt for an anonymous online survey by Survey Monkey. This way you’ll get real answers (and possibly even suggestions for solutions) without anyone being put on the spot or throwing others under the bus.


Read More
The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Play and Time

The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Play and Time

Beyond • February 21, 2014

Finally we come back to time, the number one reason why people feel they cannot be productive. People mislead themselves in thinking they need extra time to be creative. On the contrary, the ideal time to think up your best ideas isn’t when you’re in the office; it’s when you’re off doing something completely unrelated. The subconscious needs time to saturate in thought, to sort through ideas, and play with concepts. It can’t do this at crunch time in a hectic environment where you’re expected to perform at peak capacity. It can however do this when you’re off enjoying a leisurely walk, taking a shower, or are ‘unplugged’ in some other way. Managing your creative time begins by training your brain to step out of the 9-5 trap. The 9-5 trap is what I call the ‘zombification’ of the modern worker, when at 5pm hordes of bright motivated people switch off their cerebral cortex to sit in hour long traffic so they can go home eat, watch meaningless TV, and go to bed – when really this is the time your brain is ready to escape in a whole different way. When you’ve clocked out, you shouldn’t be checking out. You should be using this time as a creative play, intermingling necessary tasks like driving home and making dinner with exploratory play that entertains meandering thoughts and connected dots. Here you’re not trying to arrive at a moment of inspired genius. Rather, you’re just toying with ideas without any expectation. The practice mirrors a player’s interaction with a Rubik’s cube, where each turn is often little more than an experimental move until you get closer to the final form – at which point each move forward is increasingly strategic, yet still made without fear of error even though often times we’ve just made a mess of it. In fact, this is how children learn and it’s a method we can learn from. Play is important theme in how children learn. The idea of embracing the ‘messy’ (or error-filled, as often encountered with a Rubik’s cube) develops a conceptual frame of mind that entertains non-linear thought. A Developmental Science study featured in a NY Times blog post by Dr. Perri Klass furthers the dialogue by adding that this concept of “messy” isn’t really about making a mess; it’s about digging into problem and exploring your environment with a sleeves-rolled-up attitude. In a business setting we can use this thinking to help steer away from “right answers” and “explore real world challenges that include ambiguity and doubt.” We’re already seeing this sort of attitude more widely adopted in start-ups and new media-based companies where traditional business culture has become a relic. These groups think playfully, create playful environments, and as a result have experienced record-breaking success. What used to take 20 years to achieve is now being secured in just handful of years simply through exploratory business models that require playful thought. The ability to play is something both small and large-scale businesses have difficulty adopting. The reason isn’t money or rigid organizational structures. The reason involves lacking a willingness to play. Yet being creatively productive is within reach for both groups. Entrepreneurs can encourage creative play in the workplace through strategic exposure to a field of ideas, people, and experiences that can act as a bridge from banal to creative. Take yourself, or your employees, for example. You may not have the time to indulge in creative thought (what I earlier referred to as Einstein’s theory of combinatory play) outside of the workplace, but you can carve out a time at the office. Take for instance something as simple as lunch. Instead of treating lunch as a mandatory task that has to be checked off, why not treat lunch as an experience? So tomorrow, ditch the usual lunch-time hot spot in favor of a new bistro or coffee shop. The idea is to look forward to the experience, to enjoy that change in environment that forces your neuron’s to “wake up”, and start giving your brain a little more material to work with later when it’s “unplugged.” Meanwhile, productivity has lapsed or been compromised through our subtle way to infuse creativity. Productivity 1: Creativity 1.


Read More
The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Productivity Pitfalls

The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Productivity Pitfalls

Beyond • February 20, 2014

In my initial post on this three part series, I discussed the underlying reasons why our current trend for creativity and productivity was fundamentally at odds with itself. Simply put you cannot simultaneously push both creativity and productivity – not unless you first understand the core meaning behind creativity, as covered in the preceding post entitled “The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Cultivating the Creative Thinker”. With a solid grasp on what it means to be a creative thinker, we enter the realm of productivity with the ultimate goal of offering a sound strategy that empowers creative productivity. In the West, we have a love-hate relationship with stress. We wear stress as a badge of honor, offering a daily public service announcement about how stressed we are, or how we’ve hardly had anytime to eat, step away from our desk, or catch more than just a few hours of sleep. We suffer from a diminished ability to discriminate between being a hard worker and a workaholic. On the same note, most people are also fairly poor at telling the difference between productivity and keeping busy. Someone who is a slave to their work, for example, cannot get things done despite being a workaholic. They may be working 50 hours a week but they’ve no more put a dent into their goals as the week before. Here’s why. Productivity pitfalls include tasks that might appear to be moving as forward, but in reality they’re just moving us sideways. The delay in reaching your destination is much like when you’re swimming far out in the ocean just around the rift before the waves break. You might be focused on moving forward getting back to the beach, but despite your earnest efforts, you’re simply moving laterally and getting nowhere. The same thing happens in the workplace. You have a project deadline but there are any number of irrelevant tasks busy but not productive. The inability to filter emails is one of them. Another is digging so deeply into the details of the project that you’re paralyzed from moving forward in achieving any concrete benchmarks. A third (of many) involves content overload, which leaves you pulled in many directions and makes it difficult to regain focus in the wake of an information flood. I’ll give you a real life example from my own experience. As an avid curator and content writer, it’s my job to know everything that’s going on in several different industries. Naturally, there’s an archiving issue since I also need to be able to pull any piece of research data, past articles, or content at any given time. I thought of archiving all my links and reading material into Evernote, but (after much procrastination and playful thought) opted instead for using Pocket. Pocket was not only faster and a better system of archiving, it also saved me about 3 weeks worth of work. Sure it would have felt good to archive all this mined date, but where’s the purpose in that? It would have been a devastatingly lateral move that I couldn’t afford. The sooner you can start questioning your methodology, the better off you’ll be in discerning ‘busy work’ from real productivity. Ask yourselves whether your task makes you feel better or whether it gets you one step closer to our proverbial beach. Then there’s the issue of resources. The number one under-appreciated and over-utilized resource is energy, especially as you get older. You might think it’s time, but it’s most certainly energy; I’d argue time is a close second. For example, I may have 5 hours of time each day (whether in chunks or spread out) to work, but I only have so much energy. If I allow my energy to be depleted with drop-in visitors, unnecessary phone calls, internet browsing, etc., then I’ve wasted my energy on other people’s demands, their needs, and their interests – thereby lowering the acumen I need to work efficiently. In order to be productive, you need to be very selfish about where your attention is spent. Even if you had all the time in the world each day, you only have a static amount of mental (and physical) energy to perform. The more energy you allow drained on irrelevant factors, the less resolute you can expect to be when it come time work. Entertain the occasional distraction since your brain needs a break from long periods of focus, but don’t become snared by serial distractions whether in the form of people or technology. Being exhausted and mentally drained also does very little for your creative output. As Creative Bloq shared in a blog post entitled “Four Secrets to Enhancing Creative Productivity,” “unfortunately, most people are typically overloaded and exhausted mentally and in a stressed state when trying to produce good work.” In order to efficiently produce your best work, you have to learn how to manage your creative time.


Read More
The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Cultivating the Creative Thinker

The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Cultivating the Creative Thinker

Beyond • February 19, 2014

Since the tail end of 2013, I’ve seen a flood of posts alternating between productivity and creativity tips. On the one hand, we’re pressed to toil away at lightening speeds in the never ending quest to perform an inhuman number of tasks. All this productivity is meant to poise us at a performance pinnacle, sadistically aligning with a cultish need to thwart sleep and measure success by a barometer gauging our time-crunching “busyness”. And then there’s creativity. We’ve simultaneously discovered the imperative for creativity, derived from (as I perceive) a flexible marketplace that allows us to stretch ourselves to think outside the box. Increased workplace flexibility and a spike in new media tools and technology have opened up a new space for a flourishing exchange of ideas. As with any time in history where cultures meet in an open space, we raise the benchmark by reaching new heights through exploration and collaboration. In more recent times this open space has been introduced in several dimensions: first, by start-ups redefining challenging traditional business model, and secondly by business needs that continue to evolve as necessary in order to cater to a diverging audience. Social technology has also changed how we define ourselves, how we view each other, and how we interact based on those presuppositions. Not only are we building a greater number of bridges connecting people and ideas, we’ve also begun building a more fibrous bridges within ourselves. We’re no longer content with business as usual; just as our environment, as individuals we’re seeking innovative new ways to stretch limits. We want be productive and we want to be more creative about what we achieve within our hours of productivity. The blinding irony of this creativity-productivity paradox is that we’re simply unable to do both or be both. At its core, productive creativity is an oxymoron that (while it can be conquered) leaves us presently in a workplace limbo. In fact, we’re failing at both because in a culture of instant gratification, we think simply reading about creativity/productivity tips is enough to get us creative and productive in nature. This is where we’re wrong. In order for us to be creative, we need to understand the theories behind creativity; and in order for us to be productive, we first need to assess what it is that we’re striving toward. This three part post not only aims to sift through the creativity-productivity fog we’re currently in, but it gets you through to the other side. I’ve been curating on this subject since December 2013, when I first noticed the paradox, and have boiled the list down to roughly 56 key posts on the subject (please leave a comment if you’d like the full list), which I’ll refer to in an effort to construct a functional two-way bridge between creativity and productivity. We can begin by answering the question, “what is creativity?” In business, creativity is ideation that’s either revolutionary or that diverges in an expressive way that merges “life as art” with nuts and bolts utility. Yet contrary to the myth, creativity isn’t exactly playful nonsense; it means more than just something most of us learned in art class. At its core, creativity is a lens through which we view the world. In fact, even you’re brain knows that the process of creative thought is not a fun-filled path; it requires discipline. A Fast Company article entitled “The Science of Great Ideas – How to Train Your Creative Brain”, points out the three areas required for creative thinking: (1) the attentional control network, which aides in targeted focus, (2) imagination network, and (3) the attentional flexibility network, which “has the important role of monitoring what’s going on around us, as well as inside our brains,” relied upon for switching between the other networks. Clearly, even your brain has a system for creative thought, one that respects a need for discipline and focus – and one that physically begins restructuring neural pathways the moment you start thinking differently. Your brain also knows that creative thought includes the ability to accommodate multiple streams of information and thought-exchange. James Webb Young, author of A Technique for Producing Ideas, understands this concept. Like Albert Einstein, who believed that combinatory play was the secret to genius, Young believes that “an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements,” and that “the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.” However, new ideas won’t come to people who lack passion for their field, who clock out at 5pm, or who lack a healthy curiosity about things. New ideas come to people who expose their mind to new information, thereby providing their brain with the saturated material it needs to ‘play’. When we talk about genius, when we discuss ground-breaking new ideas, we’re simply often drawing attention to people who offer us a new way to think about something. In this way, being a creative thinker doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel; it means you’re able to think about the wheel in a new way.


Read More