Do You Have Thousands of Emails in Your Inbox?

ZeroInbox Book for ProductivityI wrote the book, ZeroInbox, a few years ago to help business clients with a fundamental bottleneck in their workflow, their inbox.

I have trained executives, teams and workshop attendees on this methodology to increase speed, clarity and consistency in managing the relentless flow of email in business.

I think a lot of people simply give up because they feel overwhelmed and end up having thousands of emails in their inbox.

You miss a lot of opportunities, become unreliable, and bottleneck projects when you can’t manage your inbox effectively.

I would say that email is our work when it comes to knowledge work. It’s ubiquitous and a tool that each person knows how to use without extensive training in a specialized system like a CRM or ERP software tool.

And the better you can manage your inputs and outputs, the higher impact you can have getting things done.

Furthermore, you can take advantage of opportunities that you just can’t seem to get to or entertain because you are clear, ready and action-oriented.

When you are cluttered, it’s hard to make space for the bigger opportunities.

If you feel stressed or can’t seem to get on top of your email, then you have a process problem. It’s solvable. But you have to want to solve the problem.

Take a look at my productivity resource page to set up the process for your inbox and start the daily habit of speed, responsiveness and mise en place.

Peace of mind is possible. This is a fundamental piece of getting to the higher level good stuff in your work. Don’t let it get in the way.

Help, I’m Never Getting to the Important Work

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I understand. It can be really comforting to do what is urgent and stay in the groove of knocking out tasks. In a given day of work, there’s always the tasks that have to get done to keep pipelines moving, make customers happy and ensure our teams are motivated and productive.

However, that nagging feeling, for those business owners and executives that need to move the needle, will be there. Being busy can keep you from giving attention and focus on what really can 10x your business. You feel busy. You are getting things done. The problem is that you may not be getting the right things done.

It’s out of reach because distractions and busy work give you that dopamine hit and attachment to the work that simply has to get done.

If months have gone by, then consider, like someone who realizes that a personal trainer helps them get fit, to get clear and get the important work done. Get above the noise of your business and see what matters and does not matter.

The reality is that most things do not matter and a very few things matter immensely to help you grow your business. And if you are working on the low-level, have-to-get-done items, at the expense of the most essential opportunities, you are not being effective. You are allowing urgent demands to numb you into feeling busy and productive at the cost of big growth.

You do have to be productive so you don’t bottleneck your commitments to your customers. That’s worth making an established, reliable habit in your work.

However, if that is all you do – get busy work done – then you will struggle to grow your business. You are only refining and making what already exists optimized and at some point, it’s a diminishing return.

Are you getting the right things done consistently?

Why You Need a Knowledge Base

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Where does your knowledge reside?

When you are small, you can run and grow your business in your head. In the early days, it’s hard to think that you play many different roles because you do different jobs yourself. You can be the salesperson, accountant, marketer, product development manager, HR administrator and many other roles without calling these out as you move from task to task.

But, when your demand grows, you can’t do it all. You need more people to help grow the business and make your customers happy.

If you are under $1M, most of your effort should be on selling. If you are past $1M, you have to make the business work. Either way, your business is about knowledge. How things get done to create a customer and deliver your product or service consistently becomes harder when you scale up.

A knowledge base is a place that organizes the knowledge that’s in your head. It helps everyone on your team understand how to do their job clearly and interact with other people doing their respective jobs.

Furthermore, a knowledge base has the following benefits to growing a business:

1. Facilitates Onboarding and Training

It is a systematic way to help a new person get started and be productive in their hired job. It also provides professionalism, job satisfaction and clarity for new employees that could otherwise be disoriented, overwhelmed and frustrated in a new role.

2. Makes Information Sharing Efficient: 

A place that is structured and searchable makes it easy for your team members to get what they need, when they need it. If you have to keep answering the same question many times, rather than allowing people to find answers for themselves, you are the bottleneck in your business. It’s not a great use of time. Document it once and let it be consumed many times.

3. Increases the Value of Your Business

If you want to sell your business, what will you sell? Having systems that are clear and a methodology for growing easily and rapidly is extreme value to a buyer who wants to know how to operate the business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, then the information required to execute consistently is in your head. You can’t step out. You are the business.

4. Forces Clarity

How you do things now may change later. Having a system that is continually living and updated helps everyone stay clear for their own job. And information that is documented and does not make sense in context of your business goals or handoffs to other jobs can be debated, clarified and updated. You can push on refining your methodology as new realities emerge during business growth.

5. Helps You Lead

A large complaint of employees is that they see dysfunction from management or ineptitude. You can lead with clarity and conviction when your team sees commitment to systems, process and order. Furthermore, you can open up ideas and ways of doing things through continuous improvement to a knowledge base that should welcome better ideas and ways of executing from the people doing the work. Your leadership can center around knowledge rather than charisma. It takes the pressure off you and focuses it on business systems, where it should be.

Growing Your Business

The more people you get involved the more complexity you have to manage in your business. Clarity becomes a bottleneck to growing your business because you have to take time to explain, manage and oversee how things get done.

Furthermore, the jobs that have to get done are continually changing. You want the best ideas and approaches available and clear for everyone in a system that is repeatable and continually improving.

Here’s a resource to help you get started on building your knowledge base. It can help you start a critical piece to effectively growing your business.

How Do You Make it More Expensive?

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When we think about a problem, we like to solve it. Our brains are suckers for the open loop and we want to close it. If you are asking how to make something cheaper, you get solutions and thoughts on cost-cutting or quality cutting. And those that are super efficient at making things cheap have extreme scale to amortize such costs.

If you ask how to make something more expensive, you have to think about value. How do you make something worth more? How do you become worth more?

There are plenty of people that crave better. They can easily get cheap merchandise. But, they can’t always get that exquisite taste, feeling of quality or identity to name a few reasons why we pay more for the things we love.

What if you took the challenge to look at your prices? What would it take to make the value worth double? What would that look like? Can you add a thoughtful gift? What if you followed up with custom service at the right timing? The extra effort or concierge service could easily increase the value perception if you package your offering with some creativity.

Increase the value before anyone even asks. Sometimes it’s cost. Other times it’s care. Then, if you get traction that is repeatable, you can see if the value warrants an increase in price.

In a crowded marketplace with so many options for cheaper options, it would be hard to compete in categories that have people thinking about the low-cost option.

Become more expensive. It’s a fantastic way to differentiate and push yourself to be desired more. It’s not free. But it’s worth it.

Technology Darwinism

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Automattic, the makers of this blogging platform, WordPress, bought Tumblr for less than 2% of it’s previous acquisition price of $1.1B. The hype has  died with another platform. And technology darwinism, survival of the fittest, the tried and true, is brutally pervasive.

Social can make you feel like something is happening. But, it’s hard to find a lot of testimonials of a complete stranger doing business through a social post.

We don’t have 5 different Facebooks with equal power. We have one that dominates. It’s still to be seen if it persists or if the world flips from privacy issues or attention fatigue to sink the ship.

Automation can be alluring and you can bring in so much technology that noone buys into using it in your company. Whether you move the needle of ROI can become overlooked by technology and the perceived power it holds.

Anyone can make their world more complex. And most people do. What if you could take a step back and remove what you have built up in your life. See what matters and doesn’t matter? The guys at Yes Theory deleted social media for 30 days and the outcome was life changing.

Maybe you find out that you can consolidate platforms. Perhaps you see a lot more time returned to you so you can put it to things like creativity and strategy.

We tend to like to add things to our lives rather than subtract. As technology consolidates and some platforms die or limp along painfully, I think of it as natural evolution on a hyperspeed pace. Our collective groupthink helps to filter and see what matters and doesn’t matter – what adds value and what does not.

In our own work and lives, we should speed up our decision-making so we can enjoy the outcomes of what is better at the end of the long cycle of technology darwinism that eventually weighs itself into our lives. Whether we are strategic or intentional can make the difference on reaching our goals faster.

Don’t Hold the Hot Potato

We remember the game as kids. The hot potato moved around the group and your job was to touch it and pass it. You were part of the game of movement. You lose if you hold on too long.

When you are dealing with information, you are holding the hot potato. The next person needs you to pass it. Your team member, boss, customer, vendor, or consultant needs the information you have.

If you hold on, you affect getting paid, creating opportunities or making customers happy. You become the bottleneck. And bottlenecks jam up the flow of deals and projects that keep moving despite your productivity or lack thereof.

Whether we like it or not, the game of hot potato never stops. We can just get better so the flow keeps going. It’s harder when you have to add more creativity to the flow of the game. It takes time, deliberation and accuracy if you have to come up with a creative solution to a problem.

If you are simply clerical, it can become boring. Getting paperwork processed, bills paid or HR forms filled can be tedious. That’s the temptation of letting robots do what we get bored of so human beings don’t hold the hot potato on critical path work.

Think about where you are in the game and how you handle information flow. The great news is that you can get better. You can become more effective by anticipating the work coming your way this day, this week or this year. You can be ready to execute.

Then when you get the pass, you can get the work to the next person that needs it quickly.

That’s how you play and win. It’s how you contribute when you are in the knowledge game.

Do They Want to Solve the Problem?

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It can be hard to decipher whether people want to truly solve the problem you are thinking. But that first question can save a lot of trouble in projects, relationships and business if you can get what people want.

Solving the problem you are thinking matters may not be the priority. In your work with others, they may want something else instead:

  • To look good in front of their boss
  • Documentation to cover for their ____
  • A feeling of importance
  • Feeling secure just in case
  • Their gain your pain
  • Ideas and strategies they can claim as their own
  • Appearing busy

Listen carefully and observe your customer or the team you are working with. The clues in behaviors, inaction, focus and interchange can reveal what really matters and whether solving the problem is really what matters.

Then it’s up to you to figure out if you want to give them what they really want or bow out.

If you are not making progress in your work with someone, think about that simple, question, “Do they really want to solve the problem?” It can save you a lot of wasted energy and grief.

How to Be a Resource Maven

Today, we have too much information and technology, not too little. And information and tools are cheap and accessible.

You can create value for others by curating information and sharing it specifically and personally. Sure, people share on social media, but it gets drowned out and is hard to consider in the scrolling sea of noise.

Here is what I like to do to provide value to the people I seek to help:

1. Save Helpful Content Using the Google Keep Chrome Extension

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I am a heavy user of Google Keep. It’s part of your Gmail or G Suite setup. It’s searchable and can easily hold lists, notes, links and research in a virtual sticky pad environment. It’s also now in your sidebar of Gmail to search as well.

The Google Keep Chrome Extension installs on your Google Chrome browser. When you are reading anything on a website, simply click the extension to save the link so you have it to recall anytime. You can also add notes on the fly and label those notes for categorizing. It’s fast, convenient and you are able to keep moving through information quickly.

When you want to find old information, simply search for what you are looking for. You can do this in your browser or your mobile app. All your knowledge, research and gathering ready to be found.

When you are seeking to be helpful to a prospect, client or friend, review content in your Google Keep to share. Be sure to share personally. If by email, add your insight, opinion or advice.

2. Read Blogs on Feedly

Feedly became the go to RSS feed reader after Google shut theirs down. It’s convenient in your web browser and mobile app. I like Seth Godin’s exhortation to Read more blogs and what the value is for you personally.

Blogs are deliberate, thoughtful and keep you current on your interests in your industry and in the world. Save articles. Share them with people you care to connect with and help. It’s easy to do with the social sharing or email controls in Feedly.

Organize your Feedly by topics and carve out a few minutes each day to gain insights and read powerful articles. You can add my blog from my RSS feed.

3. Keep a List of Article Ideas

When I am in conversations, engaging the world or reading, new article ideas pop up all the time. I keep a list on my Gmail Tasks called “Articles” and add to it regularly. It keeps me attentive to what is going on around me. I am a writer and I love finding insights and creating content around those insights.

I like Anne Lamott’s thoughts on being a writer, thus an observer in the world:

If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold.

You notice more by keeping thoughts in a convenient, accessible place. Letting your eyes observe and your mind wander and make connections happen when you are out in the world. Having a system where you keep ideas for content is powerful for keeping a pipeline of worthy content going. You can write an article or an email to someone elaborating on your thoughts.

Being Valuable to Others

There are a few ways to create value, but having resources that you can share in personal ways does require a process that is easy to manage. I keep my resources continually building and try to match those in timely ways for my clients and friends. I try to add a bit more than might be reasonable to each interaction with people.

You can share resources in one-to-one emails, newsletters, blog articles and on social. In a crowded world, it is valuable to bring solutions, insights and focus to people’s problems. Be that resource and you become valuable. You become that person people know help them and not waste their time and attention.

Be a Lateral Thinker

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When we are buried in the details of our work, it’s hard to look around and see connections to worlds outside ourselves. We can be talking to the same people within our crowd, read the same blogs, and look at the world through a myopic lens.

Some of the big ideas of today such as taking software platforms, connectivity, mobile and cars can produce inventions like Lyft.

A company like Stripe took their expertise in coding and made connections into financial tech and banking. It was daunting, but rewarding as they brought their lateral thinking to the problem of making online payments easier.

If you straddle different worlds, know the culture and nuances of different segments, you can powerfully introduce solutions that connect the dots that might escape a specialist’s trained mind. Lateral thinking is value add in this increasingly complex and polarized world. There’s extreme efficiency and speed occurring on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there’s high complexity which requires creative, consultative solutions.

Bringing outside, fresh perspectives can change the way a problem is solved.  If you are a lateral thinker, you can open up the conversation to new possibilities.

You can notice and exercise a few approaches in your work and interactions:

  • Be sure to play in different worlds deeply rather than invest fully into one area of work day in and day out.
  • Meet new and interesting people that think about their fields intensely. Ask great questions and learn.
  • Keep great notes and think of how new perspectives create new solutions for your problems. Test them out and see what comes of trying different approaches. Then share them to help others.

If you can connect the dots you become valuable to others that are conventional in their practice. Your contribution increases.

Think about your domains you invest in. How can they merge or collide in a way to create even more value?

The world is getting more efficient on the whole. But, the creativity and lateral thinking opportunity is there to be applied to multiply those efficiencies.

Too Many Moving Parts

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You may have to build a business with 100 employees. Maybe a 1,000. That’s the manpower tax to help get your product into the hands of your customer.

Instagram had 13 employees serving 30 million users at a $500M valuation at one point. That’s leverage. Compare that to the 145,000 people Kodak employed in the industrial age in 1988.

We are lucky today. Technology allows us to do a lot more with less. I am not sure, even with that leverage, why human nature, when given a choice between the complex and the simple, tends to choose complexity. It’s one of those boggling mysteries to me.

When you build a business with too many moving parts, you have a lot of cost and management. It’s common and easy to do. Adding takes much less mental and emotional focus than subtraction.

There’s likely a simpler business to be in than the one you have designed. You may have to be more thoughtful about what you are doing, but that may be what is holding back your ability to grow.

Can you work with a vendor and get rid of a lot of headaches in your business instead?

Are you moving irrelevant information around?

Do you have systems that you have outgrown?

Are you living in the past?

Constant pruning is a necessary business skill. It allows for the new. You can get rid of dead weight and functions that simply don’t add value any more.

What moving parts are you currently managing that doesn’t make sense to have around anymore?