3 ways to reduce email friction

In this post I would like to share just three very practical ideas that can make dealing with email much easier and effective.

Filtering

Processing email on regular basis can be a daunting task especially if you receive dozens of email per hour. One of the easier ways of reducing the amount of email in your inbox, aside from changing your email address and not telling anyone, is using filters.

Setting up a filter is very easy. Grab the message you want to filter and look for the message options by either right clik or a selecting the actions from the panel on top of your message window. Next define your criteria like sender, subject, whether your address is in to: field or cc:. This way you will determine which emails get filter out and which not. Lastly decide on the action, whether the message should be deleted straight away, archived or moved to specific folder.

Why it’s worth considering? It takes away time and effort necessary for processing messages which are non-actionalbe or non critical updates. Here is an example. If you subscribe to a number of newsletters that you want to read occasionally, set up ea filter to move those emails from the inbox to a specific folder. This way you don’t have to manage them manually and you can focus on more important emails. Thing to remember is to actually review that folder otherwise it’s becomes this “dust gathering” folder that you avoid. If that’s the case better unsubscribe from those newsletters completely.

Subject line

Very often we need to communicate a single sentence or a brief update that takes one line of text. Best way to pass it is to type it into the subject box. This way the recipient  knows straight away what’s is expected and can skip opening the message.
Instead writing an email which has a subject line “Monthly report” and inside the a one liner ” the report is ready” try putting “monthly report is ready” into the subject line. It’s clear, simple and gets to the point.
One thing to remember when using this method is to be aware of spam filers. Some can pick up messages without text in the body and flag them as spam. If you use auto append signature to emails this will sort the issue.

Keyboard

Throughout the day everyone of us makes a hundred of mouse clicks and moves to find the right option, to change a font, to create a new message or a task. Very often going through these steps can be completely avoided simply by learning keyboard shortcut. Here is a challenge for you. Over then next 3-5 days try to record the functions you’ve have used the most when working inside your email client. Once you know find out if you can use them through a single combination of keys rather the mouse.

You may think that the savings are just minimal and that it’s not worth the hassle but if you compound the savings over a longer period of time you might be quite surprised how much you’re actually saving.

to start with here are some basic keyboar shortcust for MS Outlook and Gmail

MS Outlook keyboard shortcuts:

  • CTRL+N – New item
  • CTRL+SHIFT+A – Appointment
  • CTRL+SHIFT+C – Contact
  • CTRL+SHIFT+M – Message
  • CTRL+SHIFT+J – Journal entry
  • CTRL+SHIFT+N – Note
  • CTRL+SHIFT+K – Task
  • ALT + S – Send
  • CTRL+R – Reply
  • CTRL+F – Forward

Gmail keyboard shortcuts:

  • c  – Compose
  • /  – Search
  • k  – Move to newer conversation
  • j  – Move to older conversation
  • p – Previous message
  • o  or <Enter>  – Open
  • e  – Archive
  • r  – Reply
  • a  – Reply all
  • f  – Forward
  • #  – Delete

Do you have your favorite methods for dealing with email? If so please share them in the comments section.

Projects and mind maps go hand in hand

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been discovering how well projects and mind maps work together.

I subscribe to the GTD based notion that anything that takes more than two steps is a project. As result my project list grows at a very fast pace. For the moment I’m fine with that and using a mind map to manage that really makes a difference.

Also projects from a key element of my work so it’s easy for me to think and work “in projects”. As in my workplace pretty much everything is a project setting up my workflow around this makes much more sense.

In the last couple years I’ve been using Outlook to manage projects and actions. Outlook is great for creating action lists, unfortunately projects don’t fit into it well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to handle projects but was not very successful. Unless you buy a special add-on (not possible in my workplace) your choices are limited. Finally, I’ve settled on using categories to separate actions and projects and waiting for’s. Project details were recorded in the notes section. That was sufficient but not great.

I had my project list in plain view but nothing more, unless I’ve opened each project I couldn’t see what’s next, where the project was, etc.

Recently I’ve discovered that I can get installed a Mindjet’s MindManager Pro on my work computer. I immediately requested access and began transferring all my stuff into a mind map.Thanks to embedded Outlook sync I’ve exported all my projects and tasks into a single dashboard like map.

Initially I thought I’ll be using a single map for everything, projects, actions, ideas, calendar etc. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that this only lead to visual overload and makes managing tasks more complicated. I’ve settled on creating a dashboard like map which includes my current, future and closed projects. In addition I’ve added links to other maps which include my current goals, someday/maybe items etc.

My projects reside in mind map however actions are synced/inputted to Outlook. It’s purely practical reason. Outlook is open whole day for me so it’s easier to focus on the actual things to do in there.

Why I moved from Outlook to MindManager? and

Why MindManager or any other mind mapping software will work?

  • Single place. Having all in one map provides better overview of my commitments. I can see straight away how many projects are there and what’s their weight. In addition projects can be broken up by tasks so I can see how big is the project or what’s involved in it.
  • Focus. I can select a project with it’s sub tasks and move to new branch This way all I’ll see is that one item I should be focusing on. There is no distraction from seeing other items on my list.
  • Defence against distractions. Having an outline of tasks necessary for each project makes it easier to jump in and work on it for 15 to 30 minutes. And when ever someone interrupts I always know where I was and what’s next.
  • Tracking. Adding a quick update to mind maps is very easy. Something happened, an idea occurred, new task I can simply add those things when needed. Very often projects change direction and so the related tasks. Using mind map allows to capture all these things so that your list is current and up to date.
  • Archiving and reference. Once project is done I file away with all it’s notes, completed subtasks etc. If there is a need to go back and check what was done I can always do that and have a clear overview.

I’m still at a stage of refining the whole setup and workflow but the results are very encouraging. I can see that I’m handling a lot of stuff. This is good for two reasons I can show that I’m doing a good job and juggle a lot of projects. On the flip side if I struggle to keep up rather than let things slide I can ask for help and pass a well defined project to a colleague.

If you have access to any mind mapping software my suggestion is to try it out, see if you can improve on your work performance.

Celebrate

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An important part of being productive is acknowledging the effects of your work. You need a time to enjoy the progress you’ve made or the number of tasks you’ve completed. To put it simply you need to celebrate your success from time to time.

Enjoying your success is not about showing off how much stuff have you completed and how productive you are. It’s about noticing the progress and change that you’ve made by completing those actions.

I think many times we are selling ourselves short by focusing on all the outstanding items. This does not serves us well it creates more negativity and does not improve our wellbeing. As success breeds success taking time to look at your successes makes it easier to repeat them. You can see your self that you can do it and what are you capable of.

Your @Celebrate list. If your are using any electronic system to manage tasks creating ‘Celebrate’ list is very easy. In Outlook you can create a new view. Remember the Milk (my current tool) allows you to set up a smart lists where you can define the task to be displayed. Set them to show you tasks completed in last seven days.

If you prefer paper perhaps you could enjoy the number of tasks that have been crossed off.

Enjoy your success weekly. Take couple minutes on Friday and review your list. See how many tasks have you completed. You might  spot  some important projects or things that were long overdue and they are now done.

Get your self a treat like a good coffee or something you like and use this opportunity to enjoy it while reflecting on the stuff you have accomplished.
I’m pretty sure this will help you finish work week on a positive note and set you up for good weekend.