Technology Tuesday: How to Win the Email War

This article from The Wall Street Journal caught my attention recently, “Zappos CEO Has His Own Way to Manage Email.”  In you didn’t know (and I didn’t), Wikipedia tells us that Zappos is an online shoe retailer that was founded by Tony Hsieh and he remains the company’s chief executive, though the company was acquired by Amazon back in 2009.  Also according to Wikipedia, the company has about 1,500 employees.

So how does Hsieh win manage his email?  Check out these blurbs from the article:

Several years ago, Mr. Hsieh devised an email management technique he calls“Yesterbox.” The idea is to go through yesterday’s messages today. That way, Mr. Hsieh says, “you know exactly how many emails you have to get through,” rather than constantly battling incoming missives throughout the day. At the end of the day, you can reach a point when you have no more email left to process from the day before, he says.

Mr. Hsieh says he often completes his emailing by noon. He rarely responds to a nonurgent email the day he receives it, and says the methodology has speeded up his email response time because he procrastinates less often on tough-to-write responses, which used to take up to several months.

On top of that he adds:

One of the toughest parts of the technique, Mr. Hsieh says, was training himself not to answer emails that come in that day, even if the response is a simple one-word reply. He first determines if the response can wait 48 hours without causing harm. If the response time doesn’t matter, as is the case with most email, he says he forces himself to wait until the next day to answer it. (He does, however, allow today’s email to be deleted, forwarded or filed—but no responses unless urgent.)

First off, it sounds like Mr. Hsieh’s job title should be changed from CEO to “Chief Executive Emailer.”  He’s the CEO of a company with billions of dollars in sales and “he often completes his emailing by noon.”  Unless he’s normally arriving to work late, he’s spending about half of his time emailing people — plus, he’s bogging down his billion dollar organization because he’s waiting 24 to 48 hours before replying to his emails.   And, to make things even crazier, there are texts and groups of texts that are thrown on top of the problem:

Given his strict system, Mr. Hsieh turns to another technology to ensure that he doesn’t miss pressing messages. “Anything urgent I prefer to just use text messaging,” he says.

This sounds like insanity to me but, unfortunately, this is the world in which many of us live and work.  You can probably tell by my tone that I’m not a fan of Mr. Hsieh’s system, but in reality, that may be the best he can do when managing a billion dollar company with thousands of employees.  However, try that system in a smaller work place and you’ll likely find yourself literally being thrown under a bus.  Take 48 hours to respond to a co-worker’s email and you’ll find yourself constantly chaffing that co-worker.

So what do we do? Well, that probably depends on our role within an organization.  If we’re order-takers, our response is probably a little different than if we are change-drivers (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those).  If we’re order-takers, we need to process and sort an email in a way that pleases and helps our superiors.  If we’re change-drivers, then we have an opportunity to change our email culture.  Here are a few ideas for change-drivers:

Examine our own email practices.  A good place to start is with ourselves.  If we want to change the culture and if we have the influence to change a culture, our first look should be inward.  If we’re constantly griping about emails, then first take a look at the example we’re setting.  Do we respond promptly to email?  Do we help keep the flow of work going?  Do we bombard others with emails as attempt to empty our own inbox?

Recently, I’ve studied my own email practices.  I found that I hardly ever send off-topic emails and almost all of them provide clarity, instruction or correction to things that are very important.  But I also found that I send too many of them.

If we want to change the email culture, we need to first figure out how we fit into the culture and how we are influencing it.

Send less email.  If you are a change-driver, then you probably send too many emails.  I speak from experience.  As I mentioned above, my emails are important and cover important topics.  But emails from change-drivers tend to feel like hammers.  People cringe when they see these messages pop up in their inboxes.  We may think they inspire and clarify, but instead, others tend to see these messages as a slow-drip torture treatment.

We’re probably not getting away from email any time soon; some messages absolutely have to be sent.  But if you want to change the culture, perhaps the first thing we should do is slide the keyboard away from ourselves.

Keep the process moving.  If you are a change-driver, chances are people need your feedback to keep assembly line moving.  (Unfortunately, I’m using the assembly line as a metaphor.)  If that’s your role, and if your response to emails is necessary to keep things moving along…then keep things moving along.  Don’t wait 48 hours to respond.  You may not want to be notified every time an email arrives, but perhaps you could take a peek once an hour and respond to the items that will improve your workplace efficiency.

Delegate authority.  If you’re the main cog that keeps the assembly line moving, maybe you need to think about training others to help with the decision making.  This is especially true in situations where you are making the same routine decisions over and over again.  If you can share your logic with others, the plant won’t stop moving if you are away from your inbox.

Pick up the telephone.  I abhor using the telephone.  I cringe every time it rings and look for any excuse to send callers to voice mail.  Telephone calls interrupt our schedules and can run on for what seems like forever as callers ramble about whatever comes to mind.  But using this old-school technology is very handy for reducing email overload.  Instead of 30 emails throughout the week, perhaps a 10-minute call mid-week could cover the same ground?  Instead of scheduling an hour to skillfully craft a 1,000 word email, perhaps a five-minute call would suffice?  It’s definitely easier to tap out a short email instead of dialing the phone and talking for 30 minutes, but isn’t a pat on the back better when you can hear the giver’s voice?

Schedule more meetings.  I enjoy meetings about as much as telephone calls, but like using the telephone, something as simple as scheduling a meeting can improve how your organization works.  Could a 15 minute meeting save 100 emails a week?  Sure it could.  If your team is working on a project, periodically schedule brief face-to-face meetings to solve simple issues.  This is a much more effective way to get things done versus having to read dozens of emails.

How we handle email is tied to where we work and our position at work.  At times, reading and responding to emails may just be our job.  That may be all there is.  At other times, we may be able to effect change.  In those cases, take a step back and consider suggestions like these.  Often times simple or overlooked ideas can generate big improvements in our work flow and office culture.

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Tuesday Technology: Here Comes iOS 10

In case you haven’t heard, Apple has put us on notice that another edition of the iOS software — 10 — will be coming at us this fall.  ZDNet describes seven of the most significant changes here, but without a doubt the biggest change is coming to iPhone lock screens:

Lock screen widgets: We see a lot from Android present on iOS 10, but that’s not a bad thing. With iOS 9, the iPhone was unlocked so fast with the home button fingerprint sensor that you rarely even saw the lock screen. In iOS 10, you have to press down on the home button so will spend more time on the lock screen. Swipe in from the right to launch the camera and swipe in from the left to access your widgets. The widgets are very similar to what we see on Android Nougat, with some widgets offering even more information. You can customize the widgets that appear and if you add enough you may not even have to unlock your iPhone to get all the info you need.

Hmmm…do I like this?  At this point, I’m not really sure.

If I’m understanding the update correctly, we’ll be able to see more things on the lock screen — i.e. more notifications — by simply accessing the lock screen.  This seems like a good idea, but I thought the idea of a lock screen was to lock your phone.  Other than work stuff that is always be under super-secret password security at the app level, I don’t have anything on my phone that would be inappropriate for other people to see.  But that doesn’t mean I want other people — especially random people who could possibly pick up my phone — to see stuff.  A couple of examples of this come to mind pretty quickly.  A few years ago, a relative thought it would be a good idea to open my phone and take it for a test drive without asking me (I didn’t think this was such a good idea) and from time to time the kids will spy a text message between Sweet Wife and myself that they would have been better off having not seen.  (Nothing gross, folks, just a text message or two sent when mom and dad weren’t in such a good mood with each other.)

To me, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to open my phone with my finger and then open the app that needs attention.  But then again, what do I know.

I am looking forward to the update, though.  It’s always fun to check out what neat and new stuff has been added — even if I wind up never using most of it.


“Tuesday Technology” is a weekly series devoted to providing technology tips that help you figure out ways to do things or ways to do them better.  You read through the entire series by clicking here.

Tuesday Technology: QuickBooks and Complex Passwords

If you’re a QuickBooks user that has automatic updates turned on, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter an unpleasant situation the next time your program updates.

What is this unpleasant situation, you ask?  I’ll give you a two word hint: “Complex Passwords.”

Apparently, with the latest update, a security feature called “Sensitive Data Protection Setup” was added and with it, the requirement to set up a user name and password for every company you use in QuickBooks.  On top of that, the password can’t be of the “123” or “abc” variety.  Nope.  It must be at least seven characters long and include at least one number and one uppercase letter.  In other words, a complex password is required.

The interesting thing is that this is required.  It is not an option.  Once QuickBooks updates and you open a company, that company is then required to have a user set up and that user will have to have a complex password.

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It’s always good to have your computer’s data protected and that, of course extends to your QuickBooks data.  If your data is stored on a server, that server needs to be backed up and access to the server needs to be restricted.  If your data is stored on a workstation, the same goes for the workstation.  And up until now, protection your data was your problem.  But this update changes things.

If you operate an accounting firm of any size that uses QuickBooks, you were just handed a tremendous password management problem.  The same goes for the mom and pop company with one or two users.  Now, those folks who probably aren’t computer and accounting gurus to begin, have been handed one more really important thing to remember.

At first glance, it looks like this may actually decrease the protection of many QuickBooks files because having to remember such a long and complex password will mean that in many cases, one password will be used for all of users and for all of the companies.  Organizations that used user names and passwords most likely already had a workable system in place.  This change is likely to force those who were not choosing to use the password feature into an uncomfortable spot.

So why would QuickBooks do this?  I can think of a couple of reasons:

  1. QuickBooks may think they are actually improving data security with this enhancement.  (I guess this is theoretically possible.)
  2. QuickBooks may have just goofed and maybe they really didn’t want this feature to work this way.
  3. Or, perhaps they are forcing everyone who uses QuickBooks to become familiar with user names and complex passwords because they are working a plan to push the QuickBooks program and its data out to the cloud.  And any data stored in the cloud will need a strong user name and password system.

Whatever the reason is, though, I don’t like it.


“Tuesday Technology” is a weekly series devoted to providing technology tips that help you figure out ways to do things or ways to do them better.  You read through the entire series by clicking here.

Tuesday Technology: Drafts 4

A couple of years ago, while surfing around technology sites looking tips and tricks to use at work, I kept reading references to some sort of an an app called “Drafts.”  Mostly, Drafts would show up on lists of apps that folks just could not live without.  I read up on the app for a while and then finally bit the bullet, payed a few dollars and downloaded it onto my iPhone and iPad.  I’m really glad that I did.

Drafts, you see, is an app that is useful for anyone that uses text or types anything into their iPhone or iPad.  That’s a pretty large category of folks, but it’s true.  Using text or typing anything, includes such things as making lists, sending emails, sending texts, making appointments, and on and on and on.  And if you do these things, Drafts can help you do it easier and better.

How does it do so?  Here are the two main ways:

  • Drafts lets you type and store things (e.g. lists, thoughts, plans, etc.) and then save these things across your devices.  You can type something into Drafts on your iPhone and, almost instantly, you’ll see the same note on another device.
  • Drafts lets you take the stuff you type (e.g. lists, thoughts, plans, etc.) and lets you automate what you do with this information.  For example, I often email “to-dos” to myself.  Drafts lets me capture the “to-do,” and then with one simple click, I can mail this “to-do” to myself.

Drafts also lets you connect with other apps, such as Evernote, Dropbox and Google Drive.  So, accordingly, this lets you automate sending information to these apps.

If you want to learn more, visit the Drafts web site, or watch the video I’ve linked below.

 


“Tuesday Technology” is a weekly series devoted to providing technology tips that help you figure out ways to do things or ways to do them better.  You read through the entire series by clicking here.

Tuesday Technology: Printing Blues

Windows 10 has some nice features and a nice user interface, but it hasn’t always played nice with me.  Last October, I accepted the free upgrade offered by Microsoft and used the system for several months without any major problems, but over the last few months, things started to get very s-l-o-w.  Programs wouldn’t open, things would stick and stuff didn’t work right.  Not cool.

So, after putting up with that for as long as I could, I bit the bullet, wiped my hard drive clean and installed Windows 10 from the ground up.  For the most part, that cleared up most of the problems.  Except for one big one: Windows 10 didn’t like my trusty HP Laser Jet P2055dn that has been my workhorse since 2009.  For a while, Windows would throw up an error screen after every print job and I’d have to figure out a way to clear the error.  That wasn’t horrible, though it wasn’t very productive to stop and close an error message after each press of the print button.  But after a week or so of doing that, nothing.  Nothing, as in every time I pressed the print button — no matter the program — nothing happened.  I deleted and installed and yada, yada, yada, but nothing worked.  Nothing that is, except for buying a new printer.

So, that’s what I did.  I bought a Brother HLL5100DN off of Amazon for a cool $159.  This young fella will whip out 42 pages per minute compared to the 33-35 of the HP 2055dn model — which is probably the most important statistic to know about a printer other than how much the toner cartridges cost.  And speaking of toner cartridges, the high-yield Brother cartridge will spit out 8,000 pages for $106, while the 2055 will print 6,500 for $135.  That’s not a bad deal.

All of this sounds good, I suppose, except for the part where I remind myself that I have a perfectly good HP 2055dn printer, that worked like a horse for seven years without a problem, that is now sitting in my office doing nothing while I use this fancy new printer.  That’s not cool.


“Tuesday Technology” is a weekly series devoted to providing technology tips that help you figure out ways to do things or ways to do them better.  You read through the entire series by clicking here.

Tuesday Technology: Trello Tricks

Trello is a tool that helps you “manage your products and organize anything.”  It says that right on their website, so it must be true, right?

Well, Trello really is a neat tool that I’ve started to use some and “Agile Scrum for Trello” is a neat extension for Chrome that helps it work even better.  This tool adds things like progress bars, project labels and time tracking to your Trello experience.

It’s the right price – free – so you might was well try it out.

 


“Tuesday Technology” is a weekly series devoted to providing technology tips that help you figure out ways to do things or ways to do them better.  You read through the entire series by clicking here.

Tuesday Technology: Reinstalling Windows

This past week, I re-installed Windows on two different computers.  I’m not talking about some sort of “reload” where things are patched and fixed.  I’m talking about a burn-it-to-the-ground reformatting of the C drive Windows install.  Out of those two projects, I picked up a couple of tips to share.

The re-formats and re-installs were necessary because both of these Windows 10 computers were running very “clunkily” and programs were constantly freezing.  My office mate and I consulted with our “computer repair guy” and he thought the problem was likely caused — or made worse — by Windows 10.  He recommended a reformatting the drives and rolling back to Windows 7, or re-installing Windows 10 without going through the upgrade process from Windows 7.

With all of that said, here are those tips:

  • Most all computer guys would rather re-format your hard drive and re-install Windows than find and fix your problem.  First off, they are probably busy and finding a lot of our problems usually takes a lot of their time.  And even if they find the problem, fixing it may also take a lot of time — and then that may not cure all of our problems.  So, the easiest, and often the cheapest, thing to do is to re-format the hard drive and re-install Windows.
  • This is one more reason why you should always have a back up of your data, or store your data in the cloud.  During these two projects, there was only one file — a Quicken backup file — that I had to make (and this is because the Quicken backup didn’t want to play nice with Dropbox).  It’s too easy nowadays to back up data for us to leave data not backed up.
  • It’s always a good idea to keep a system re-boot CD handy.   If you have no idea what this is, you probably haven’t had to use one, but if you have used a re-boot, you know this is important.  This CD lets you start your computer without using the system files on your hard drive.  Being able to boot this way is key for a re-install project or if you have to fix certain problems.
  • Don’t forget to have a copy of your drivers handy!  If you buy a computer from a company like Dell, the computer will usually ship with a CD containing the drivers needed for your machine.  Keep this CD!  If you don’t have something like this, make sure your drivers are backed up to a CD or stick drive before you re-format your hard drive — because re-formatting your hard drive deletes your drivers!
  • Make a list of your applications (also known as programs for us old people) before you wipe out your computer and make sure you know how to re-install the programs once your system is re-installed.
  • Make sure you have access to the internet while you are in the midst of your re-format / re-install project.  Basically, without Google access, I would have never completed these projects.  All of my problems had previously been experienced by someone else and with internet access, I could find easy answers to my problems.
  • If you know a computer repair man, make sure you are on good terms with him before you start and keep his number handy.  To be sure, he doesn’t want to spend two hours on the phone with you walking you through this.  He’d rather do the project himself and get paid.  But on the other hand, if you can do this project yourself, you are keeping your guy away from a nuisance.  Keep in mind, though, that you may hit a brick wall and need help.  If you do, try Google first an then give your guy a call.

This isn’t your typical list of “how to re-install Windows,” but these things are important to know if you do try this project for yourself.  I hope they help.


“Tuesday Technology” is a weekly series devoted to providing technology tips that help you figure out ways to do things or ways to do them better.  You read through the entire series by clicking here.