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.

Use This Leadership To Get Things Done

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There are all these productivity systems out there, and I find this one thing is often underestimated. Speed.

We don’t live in a world where what comes in is controlled and steady. If you are like the typical knowledge worker, it is absolute chaos on a given business workday with calls, emails, meetings and requests.

That’s because it is so easy to move information around. When it was slow and awkward, we could react with a steadiness to our work.

Furthermore, large industrial companies had all these managers, specialists and workers silo’d in their limited roles and functions. That model was inspired by the assembly line and we could afford the daisy chain flow of work. It looks silly today from this vantage point because our tools and technology are ridiculously efficient and connected.

The average person carries a supercomputer in their pockets and can get what they want wherever and whenever.

That also means that a request becomes work for another person. It’s why workdays can feel overwhelming. You have to react to all these unknown and unanticipated requests.

It’s why I believe the key skill today is making meaning and moving to action. It is personal leadership. The faster and clearer you are then the more the chains move towards your goals. That is assuming you have your goals clear as well.

And here are a few strategies to make speed and clarity work for you in the daily trenches and get things done:

  1. Master email. Most knowledge work gets done by email. Your vendors, prospects, clients and teammates understand email. Keep it simple. It hasn’t died. It is rarely used well, however. Learn shortcuts, drive speed and move communications quickly.
  2. Make people react. Start your mornings with rituals. One of these is to get your requests out there. Again, send twenty emails out there. You typically need other people to get your tasks done. Simply get things out of your head and email the people you need. The hot potato is in their court and they have to react. It’s an easy way to drive tasks. I would encourage using this instead of task lists as well. Simply use emails to start the processes you need to get done with other people.
  3. Say No. When you are unclear or don’t have enthusiasm behind something, simply say, “No.” It’s the fastest way to get things off your plate and complete projects. In fact, start your task review this way. If you really miss an opportunity, or it’s that valuable, the request will come up again. Most things simply don’t matter.

Your goal each day is to clear your workload and push it onto others to react. You can lead from your world in this giant information ecosystem by staying simple, focused and decisive.

Then, use that freed up time and mind space to be creative. That’s what allows for further leadership and working on the things that matter to you. You may need training to make this happen. I would highly encourage the investment. You deal with this chaos every day and it makes an immense impact on your overall results.

4 Google Apps System Review Tips

A team working in Google Apps is comprised of a bunch of individuals. The advantage of Google Apps is that everyone is collaborating and executing within one system. However, over time, each user may not be using the system in the most efficient or ideal way for the highest levels of success.

Knowledge work comes at us fast and furious. As business cycles naturally slow, you can take the time to review best practices for your Google Apps system to increase each user’s adoption. Here are a few items which are worthy of review:

  1. Keeping a zero inbox. Help users adopt shortcut keys and develop the habit of a zeroinbox mentality. They can move their email to action quickly and keep their mind free to be ready for whatever is coming at them. Furthermore, this avoids clutter.
  2. Collaborate in Google Docs. If users are keeping documents locally rather than in the cloud, show them the steps and benefits for uploading and creating Google Docs. They can easily share and modify documents in real-time with other team members to ensure there is a relevant and fresh library for ongoing use.
  3. Sharing knowledge in Google Sites. If people are keeping information for themselves, they are depriving the overall team of their value. Knowledge sharing in a Google Site which is searchable and a repository for best practices, FAQ’s and specific problem solving saves cycles for problem solving and serving your customers. Drive the behavior if it has been lost or start it anew if it needs to be started.
  4. Working in real-time. Demonstrate use cases for Google Chat and mobile device usage. Provide guidelines for etiquette and how to work collaboratively wherever and whenever a person is working. This helps for problem-solving issues as they happen and driving team dynamics.

You may have launched your system with the right training and expectations. However, over time, users may fall into their own habits. Reviewing best practices for your organization after users have become familiar can align your team to desired behaviors and increase your productivity. Fill the gaps and use natural business cycles to drive further adoption.

How can these tips help your team?

 

Google Apps Is About Actions

Collaboration is great, however, it is a means, not an end.  Action is what matters.  As knowledge workers, we have to work at light speed because the people who interact with us every day push work on us easily.  We are bombarded with email, content, projects and other forms of ambiguity.

If you can convert information into action quickly, then you move the ball forward in the value chain.  Everything has to convert to action and the speed by which you do this will determine your value in your world.

Here are some ways to be action-oriented in your use of Google Apps and drive execution:

  1. Filter the noise. Differentiate your inbox between what is non-actionable and actionable content.  Anything that is not actionable, archive it or delete it.  Do it quickly.  It becomes an obstacle to action.
  2. Think Next Steps. Always ask, what is the next step.  If you see a threaded conversation continue, be sure to break out the actions by asking, “What is the next step?”  Get concrete and become a master at converting concepts to action.
  3. Delegate with follow-up. You may have to set actions for others.  Be sure to follow up.  Keep a copy in a special label in your email and use this to check back on your requests.
  4. Set Appointments. If you need to set time and space for dialogue or making something happen, convert a dialogue into a calendar event quickly within your threaded communications.  This moves it off of vague back and forth conversations to a place where you can drive focused dialogue.
  5. Capture Tasks Everywhere. Google Tasks should be accessible from your mobile device or any browser.  If you think of something as it crosses your mind, capture it and quickly get it into your task list.  This clears your mind and helps set you up for the next task.  Take the extra step of using a verb to start the action.  It forces clarity on your next step.

You have to determine what the next steps are.  Google Apps enables  you to move fast within this process if you are shaping your thinking and behaviors to align to action.

The pace of knowledge work will only increase.  Your ability to focus and get work done is critical and using Google Apps around this working framework will make the most of this system.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment below.

Faster Gmail Productivity

Your Google Apps system should be your slave, not your master.  If technology overruns your life, then you are continually at its mercy when interruptions bombard your work day.  The easy interface of Google Apps Mail and speed of processing allows you to move quickly in and out of your email.

The technology is not enough, however.  The habits and systems you develop for yourself will help increase your productivity.  Here are some tips for helping you move quicker through your days that I use and advise my clients to implement for higher levels of success:

  • Stay on the keyboard. You can use shortcut keys and move much fasterthan with point and click.  See if you can move through your email with only keyboard clicks.  Here are some key ones:
    • CTRL+J: Next
    • CTRL+K: Previous
    • e: Archive
    • #: Delete
    • s: Star (for action)
    • r: Reply
    • f: Forward
  • Set up your messages to auto-advance. When you process a message, the next one should automatically come up to save an extra click.
  • Make one of three decisions:
    1. Delete (the majority)
    2. Archive (to save and search later if needed)
    3. Act (use Stars to act later)
  • Check your email separately.  Keeping it on all day relegates you to hyper-responsive mode.  Protect your focus and process your emails hourly or at set times.
  • Set filters. For emails you can read later, create a filter rule to label the inbound email and skip the inbox.  For predictable responses, create a respective filter rule.

Your work is email, but your life does not have to be.  Using a few simple strategies should help you focus on actions and decisions which is the point of email.  It needs to be quickly moved to one of these 2 things and not disrupt the important work you have to accomplish in your other ongoing projects.

Which of these will help you move faster?

Google Apps Tasks For Productivity

Google Apps appeals to users because of its elegance and simplicity.  We all have random tasks which need to be captured.  These tasks move us forward with clarity on next steps or a parking place for next steps.  In knowledge work, we need only focus on decisions and actions to drive outcomes.  Having an integrated system which we can operate from in one place in a web browser or mobile device speeds up our execution.

Google Tasks is primarily accessed within your Google Mail or Calendar application.  You have an easy way to capture and complete items that are coming at you quickly all day.  Here are a few best practices for using this aspect of your Google Apps system for increased productivity and collaboration.

Separate Task Lists

Your tasks can be naturally divided into lists.  The speed for creating a task or a list uses minimal amount of clicks or returns.  Simply input lists that make sense and remove what does not.

I like to keep both actions and ideas.  Thoughts come from conversations, reading or just thinking.  Thus, lists like:

  • Ideas
  • Articles
  • Technology
  • Research

all make sense to explore later when it is convenient.  When you are within a context that makes sense, you can review your lists and keep control based on the context of your lists you have created.

Mobile Sync And Cloud Computing

Google Apps is in the cloud.  This means that your data is real-time, managed and maintained by Google and accessible from any internet device.  Ideas come to you.  Tasks become urgent within the frantic pace of your days.  An Android device, iPhone or smartphone have apps which sync your mobile tasks with your Google Tasks. Simply set them up and ensure they sync.

When I have a thought that needs to be captured or an action which comes to mind, I can input this quickly within Google Tasks on my mobile device.  At a computer, I can act online if need be.

The reverse is also true.  You can keep a list of items tracked online and when you are mobile, you can review them when the context is relevant.  Your data persists and can be managed whether you are working online or mobile.

Capture And Review

You likely work from your email throughout the day.  Google Tasks persists as a minimized window popped in the Google Mail interface.  Keeping this up keeps you ready.  You can add any tasks prompted by phone calls, email, or your thoughts.  Any input could trigger a task which has meaning for you.

Use the list to review regularly to keep in touch with what needs to get done.  Eliminate things that are no longer relevant.  Clarify tasks that need more definition so that you have concrete next steps to take.

This tool keeps you moving forward.  Rarely use dates unless there is a true date commitment.  These tasks are associated  with Google Calendar and will show up within your Google Calendar view to prompt you for a day’s commitments.

Streamlined Action

Your personal workflow can step up with Google Tasks acting as a convenient and easy capture of things you need to get done.  The game of knowledge work means remaining flexible, moving fast and translating inputs into action.

With an integrated cloud computing app, you have the opportunity to increase your productivity and keep your systems in sync.

What challenges do you find in managing your tasks daily?

 

Keeping a ZeroInbox In Google Apps

Google Apps is built to help you keep a zero inbox.  This is a strategy of execution which helps you towards higher levels of productivity and having peace of mind.  It maps to the reality of today – relentless onslaughts of information inputs in your life and the need to keep moving.

As a knowledge worker, your job is to make decisions and move to action.  Your inbox becomes the place to consolidate information and drive towards action.  Here are some Google Apps strategies teams can adopt for increasing productivity:

Star And Filter Incoming Messages

Your inbox is not a place for keeping messages.  It is a place for collection.  Every message has these three decisions:

  1. Delete: This is the majority of your inbound emails.
  2. Archive: Keep any messages for searching on as part of your archive records.
  3. Action: Things you need to do.  Star these if you cannot act now.

When you open an email 17 times, it is because you have not made a decision.  These are the three decisions to make and Google Apps makes it easy.  The shortcuts are:

  1. Delete = “#”
  2. Archive = “e”
  3. Action = “s” for star

I keep a zero inbox this way.  I can move through my hundreds of daily emails quickly by moving from collection to a bucket that makes sense.  This keeps your mind clear and ready for anything.

Review Your Action List

Your Starred items should be reviewed as much as you need to keep in touch with your commitments.  This includes replies, research, writing, calls, errands or whatever may need to happen next.  If you have an Android phone, these filters can be viewed with the inherent sync between the Android platform and your Google Apps system.

I like to clear out my Starred items by week’s end when it reaches a threshold of discomfort, usually about 20 items.  When I need a change of pace in work or can knock out a few, I will attack a subset of the list.

Much of knowledge work is continued vigilance and keeping in motion.  There is a natural energy to what you are motivated to work on .  My advice is to allow this to frame what you work on and use Google Apps as a smart filter for storing your next steps until you are ready.

Speed Differentiates

Google Apps is a fast, agile and accessible system.  Our consulting team has helped many organizations delight in Google Apps because of speed and collaboration.  Data that is accessible and able to be worked on within a team context moves the ball forward in project work continually.  This is an asset when considering the alternative of operating in individual silos and serial tasking.

Of course, your computer competency, decision-making and action orientation will become the bottlenecks if you are not a fast knowledge worker.  Today, we are all executives.  Google Apps removes friction in the execution of often vague knowledge.

The zero inbox strategy affords you the opportunity to perform at a high level, and Google Apps lends itself nicely to both execution and collaboration.

How have you found increased productivity in Google Apps?  Comment below.

Auto Advance To Next Message After Reading

To increase your productivity in Google Apps mail, be sure to enable the Auto-Advance feature in the Labs tab of Google Apps.  It is listed within the Settings->Labs area:

This will enable a listing in the General Tab.  From there, be sure to choose:

Reading Your Email Fast

You can focus on keeping your zeroinbox by moving through your email quickly by Starring for action, deleting or archiving.  Once you take an action, the next message will appear rather than the default of going back to the inbox and selecting the next message.  The subtle change will increase your processing of the inbound information coming at you.

 

Star = Action

Every day you will be inundated with email. This creates work for you because you have to apply attention and do something.   An email requires one of two things:

  1. Action
  2. Decision

You typically have to do something or decide on something.  It is a game of hot potato as a knowledge worker. You move information to one of these two ends.

In Google Apps, a best practice is to keep a zeroinbox.  Your inbox does not have meaning.  It is merely a container.  There is one of four things to do with an email:

  1. Delete it (this is 90% of your incoming email)
  2. Delegate it (forwarding to another person to act on)
  3. Do it (if it takes less than 2 minutes)
  4. Defer it

Each email requires attention.  Opening it more than once means that you did not apply attention and make a decision.  It is wasteful.

For those emails that need to be deferred, simply:

  1. Star It
  2. Archive It

This will filter it by the Star symbol and then move it out of your inbox.  Click on the Starred items frequently in order to review your list of action items.

You can even set up a filter to email yourself tasks and Star and Archive it.  This will allow you to do quick brain dumps and know where your actions are.  When you get time, act on the Starred items and remove the Star when it is complete.

Now you will have a fluid personal process to improve your productivity.  Act with speed and precision to keep clear on your work.

 

What If

Many businesses and workers are facing times of uncertainty. The business climate today is a testing ground for ideas. We all ask ourselves the key question which triggers any forward movement or holds us back from opportunities. We ask ourselves, “What if…?” Your thoughts will reveal whether you do business as a cynic or a winner.

You might be asking yourself questions that are focused on problems:

  • What if I can’t find another job?
  • What if I am not good enough?
  • What if my luck in this business I found runs out fast?
  • What if my idea fails?
  • What if I keep losing customers?

It’s easy to think like a cynic. It’s the lazy way to exist. It takes zero creativity. If you believe business will be done the same way as it always has been, then your strategy to doing business relies heavily on hope, which is a poor strategy. The world around you changes fast. The rules keep changing. Your challenge today is far different than what the old economy required.

We need less good boys and girls and more creative trailblazers. You have all the tools and resources you need to be successful. But you must ask the right, “What if?” questions. Take note of the ideas that abound.

Here are the thinking patterns of the winners I enjoy collaborating with in business:

  • What if we can make it easier and simpler?
  • What if I invested in my business further?
  • What if we could find a new market for what we can do?
  • What if younger people have the answers?
  • What if we could stop making chaos an excuse for not executing?

Playing to win requires a fully engaged mind. The exhilaration of creating and problem solving is risky, but rewarding. Asking the right set of “What if” questions and implementing new ideas will put you in the middle of the game of prosperity and opportunity. Align your thinking, yourself,and your company to this habit of creativity and problem solving.

Here’s a parting question, “What if you became a better knowledge worker?” Would this be more valuable for your customers, and in turn, help grow your business? An intentional response to that question may change your reality quickly. Go to my resource on productivity and keeping a ZeroInbox here to take a next step.