Many people use their email as a sort of to-do list, knocking off tasks reactively as they go through their messages one-by-one. And to some extent it makes sense; their inbox is constantly overflowing with email and they’re fighting to regain control.
However, this approach can be a huge productivity drain that not only distracts them from the bigger picture, but also means they’re allowing other people to dictate their work days, rather than ceasing the reigns and structuring their days strategically.
Here are three tips to help you take control of your inbox — before it takes control of you.
1. Remember that Not All Email is Created Equally
The first thing to realize is that not every email is created equally. As a business owner, an email from a client is likely much more urgent than one from another company pitching their services. It’s important to have a system in place — whether manual or automated — to prioritize emails so that urgent ones don’t get buried.
One solution is an app called Sanebox, which creates a new folder called SaneLater in your email. Over time, the app begins learning which emails you tend to prioritize over others. The app then places emails it deems as low priority into your SaneLater folder, and sends a summary at the end of the day of all emails placed there. This way, only high priority messages ever show up in your inbox, giving you the peace of mind you need to get on with real work. Low priority messages can then be processed systematically at a later time.
2. Use Apps to “Do It” or “Defer It”
David Allen, author of the popular productivity book Getting Things Done, coined the “do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it” principle. The “do it” part suggests that if a task will take under two minutes to complete, that it is best to take action on it immediately. The same principles can be applied to email.
To help your respond to emails in under two minutes, try Google’s Canned Responses feature for Gmail, which allows you to create template responses for common inquiries. And if an email contains a task that will take longer than two minutes, try an app like Clear Context, a plugin for Outlook, which allows you to instantly convert any email into an actionable task on your calendar.
3. Consolidate Your Subscriptions
When you sign up for a new software tool, conference or white paper, you’re often opting in to subscribe to emails, such as newsletters and promotions. Even if they are interesting and helpful, in most cases you should not be reading these emails right away. They can also clutter up your inbox and cause you to miss other important messages. To prevent subscriptions from getting out of hand, use an app like Unroll.me to organize them, which will consolidate all your subscriptions into a daily or weekly “rollup”. Unroll.me can also be used to mass-unsubscribe from emails you’re no longer interested in.
So don’t let your email dictate your workday. Cease control by keeping your inbox free of clutter so that you can focus on more important work.
Welcome to the new age of co-working where teams are no longer geographically bound within office walls. We can now enjoy anywhere, anytime access to our team, projects and files thanks to the cloud. But the challenges of ensuring that your team is meeting deadlines and your project stays within budget still exist no matter where you or your team are. Throw in language barriers, cultural differences, different time zones and increased difficulty in monitoring performance, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. With a little effort and understanding, your remote team can work as efficiently as your in-office team. Here’s how.
1) Spend extra time getting to know your team. Before you do anything else on a remote project, understand who your team is, what their roles are, what they have done for the company previously, and where they are located. This will help you best allocate your resources and manage your team’s time. Sharing a file with people outside of who necessarily needs to see it and work on it will only serve to confuse your team and hinder progress. Worse yet, holding a conference call for the entire team where only a few members are needed will waste everyone’s time and may send out the wrong message that you yourself don’t know how to run the project.
2) Set goals within the team early on. This is especially important when managing remote projects as working towards common goals will help unite a disparate group. Don’t leave any details to the imagination, either — include desired colors, fonts, outcomes, and samples. This will help serve as a specifications documents for your team to reference. It’s also helpful to include desired outcomes, use cases, and a Q&A section. The closer you can get your specifications documents to the outcome, the better.
3) Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Collaboration in the cloud has helped move us forward and out of an archaic business communication system. But sometimes, nothing beats a good-old-fashioned blaring ring of a phonel. If a certain teammate has become unresponsive on shared documents, email, or the company chat, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call. There may be some unforeseen issues that a simple phone call can help clarify!
4) Get the right tools for the job. Once you’ve got the people, plan and goals in place, you will need the right tools to help support collaboration and knowledge transfer throughout the project. We suggest a combination of the following:
- Social intranet platform for sharing and collaborating on documents (like Jive Software)
- A task management tool to share and assign tasks (such as Producteev)
- Conferencing and online meeting services for remote meetings
- Instant messaging tools (we’re partial to Adium)
- File sharing tools (Box, Dropbox)
With these tools in place, no matter where you and your team are working from, you will be able to still keep things on track.
5) Keep the team updated in real time. Nothing hurts more than knowing that you are working on something that has already been done. Communication is key in keeping all teammates on the same page during each phase of the project in order to maximize output from the team and minimize disruptions to productivity. Status updates from team members help communicate what tasks have been completed and what else needs to be done.
Your remote projects can run smoothly and efficiently if you do your due diligence ahead of time and keep communication open and flowing throughout the entire duration of the project!
Welcome back! Did you have a great time with friends, family and loved ones this Thanksgiving? Excellent! Now you can start digging yourself out of at least half a week of work. Take the initiative to organize yourself and your work to avoid the post-vacation burnout.
- Catch up on corporate communications. Sit down, focus and start from the bottom up. One of the biggest things to tackle when you come back from vacation is managing your overflowing inbox (still using email?), notifications from your social collaboration platform, or updates on your task management app activity stream. Once you have understood what has happened (or hasn’t happened) with your projects you can better organize your time for the work ahead.
- Create two task lists, personal and work-related, of all the projects and items that require your immediate action this week. Pay special attention items that have deadlines, require action from others or a group meeting. Add due dates to tasks and get reminders in your email or push notifications on your mobile devices to stay on top.
- Set priorities on each task so you know which ones need to be completed now vs. “now now.” This saying comes from a buddy of mine who used to live in Kenya. Kenyan time dictates that if someone says the bus is coming NOW, you have about 15 minutes before it arrives. If the bus is coming NOW NOW, you have about 3-5 minutes. If the bus is coming NOW NOW NOW, it’s already left. Hah! A pretty good joke for a Monday, right? No? Ok, moving on.
- Break up tasks into more manageable sub-tasks. A task like “Complete and submit RFP for Company XYZ” seems daunting. Break that down into steps like “1) Set up meeting with legal to review RFP guidelines, 2) Set up call with engineering team to recap technical product specifications, 3) Determine pricing with product and deployment team, 4) Compile list of 3 customer case studies, 5) Complete template and submit RFP to Company XYZ by Dec 31st, 2014” and sweet success seems that much closer!
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. Take a look at the sub-tasks ahead of you and see who you can assign them to in order to help you complete your projects faster. Utilize colleagues or outsource work to freelancers with services like odesk to get organized and lessen the load. If you can’t delegate things at the office, delegate what you can in your household. Technology is always your friend with this as several apps can help you with securing resources and overall project management. Services like TaskRabbit act like virtual personal assistants to help lighten the stress from everyday chores like cleaning the house, doing the laundry or balancing your bank statements. Or try Google Shopping Express and have everything on your shopping list delivered to your front door by the time you get home!
It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you return to work from a long vacation, but with these simple tips you’ll bounce back in no time!
Ever get stuck in meetings that drag on and on and get virtually nothing accomplished? We’ve all been on the phone during conference calls where we go through the weather forecast, weekend plans or baby announcements from each and every single participant before anyone even begins talking about what needs to be talked about! There is a time and place for catching up and unfortunately project meetings are neither of those. Don’t be annoying; be that person everyone refers to as the boss that gets $#!% done!
Make an agenda. Stick to it.
Even if you aren’t 100% sure what you need to talk about during the meeting, bullet point a few top line tasks and leave room for discussion later on. Address the agenda once everyone (or enough) people are in the meeting to get the ball rolling.
Set meeting end times to 5 minutes before the top of the hour/half hour.
This is a trick I learned from Project Managers at Google. Set meetings to end at the :25 or :55 hour mark as meetings always (I debated between saying tend to or typically, but this happens too often to not be considered a truth) run late. We get caught up in debate or just plum lose track of time—those 5 extra minutes are crucial to making sure you wrap up everything that needs to be discussed in the meeting and that you don’t 1) make your participants late for other meetings or 2) make people who are waiting for your conference room late for their meeting. If we all become a little more conscious of others time as well as our own we’ll prevent that snowball effect of late meetings that really throw off everyone’s day.
Remind everyone how much time we have in the meeting and address heftiest item LAST.
This requires a little bit of planning. Like, 2 minutes of looking at your agenda to determine what will most likely drive the bulk of the conversation. And while it seems counter-intuitive, you will actually accomplish more by getting the little things out of the way and saving the latter half of your meeting for the big discussions. The time constraint might even encourage faster resolution. We hope.
Thank your participants for their time.
It’s a small and simple gesture that shows your appreciation for people meeting today (which is a rarity what with the advent of this thing called the “Cloud” and “Social Collaboration”). Understand that everyone has taken time out of their busy schedule to meet you at this specific date and time. Don’t hold them up and don’t waste their time lest they dismiss your meetings in the future…
Take things offline when available.
Simple rule—if it doesn’t pertain to at least 90% of the participants of the meeting, table it and take it offline. Make a note of when you will be following up with participants, create another separate meeting if needed or collaborate online.
Remember that one meeting that left you stunned at how efficient and productive it was? Let’s make that EVERY meeting.
Your Partners in Productivity
Yesterday we released a new design for the task list as well as a few minor improvements to the Producteev UI.
Up to 4 assignees can now be displayed in a row. A circle with the number of extra assignees will be displayed in the event that a task has more than 4 assigned users.
The task project is now displayed in the task list next to the assigned users. Clicking on the project title lets users move the task to another project right from within the task list.
Check boxes in the task list are now represented by circled rather than squares to avoid confusion with bulk selection check marks.
The labels are now accompanied by a colored icon.
And finally, new help tooltips have been added in various locations. You can hover over certain actions to see what you can do.
These changes as well as a few minor UI updates are now available in the Producteev Jive integration as well.
What do you think?
The Producteev Team here has been hard at work building tools to help import your tasks from other task management applications to Producteev. Why make the switch? Producteev is the only completely free task management application on the market. Producteev is available for the web, desktop, iOS and Android devices. You can have as many users and create as many projects as you need to get work done; all for free.
Today we released the Do.com import tool.
for more info on how to import your data!
Time management is an essential skill that many of us have, unfortunately, NOT mastered. It’s the reason why we’re late for work, why meetings run long and why we usually can’t get our butts out of that office chair by 5:00 PM. We then compromise by working through lunch or, worse yet, working on the weekends. Managing your time at work these says is less about keep work strictly at work (because, let’s be honest, who can afford to do that anymore when we are so connected?) but keeping a healthy work life balance with effective task management. Let’s get started with a few basics that will help you establish a foundation for helping you get what needs to be done on time everyday of the week.
Set yourself up for four solid hours of work each day.
I know, your overachieving self probably aims to get in a full eight hours of work done each day. But just think of all the legitimate distractions you face during the 9-to-5 like meetings, last minute requests, urgent fixes and technology issues that may prevent you from actually getting work done. An once your work flow is interrupted, it takes a while to get back into the groove of it. If you’ve set yourself up for more work that you can realistically finish in one day, you 1) end up staying much later than intended and 2) set yourself up for feeling of failure and disappointment. Be realistic with what you can humanly handle and set those expectation with your colleagues and peers. Make a to-do list for your weekly tasks and projects and reinstate those feelings of accomplishment as you check more and more things off that list!
Do a 4pm wind-down.
Set aside the hour before your workday ends to wrap up. Don’t set any meetings for this time. Go through your Producteev tasks, emails and if someone is making a request, notify them that you will get back to them first thing tomorrow morning. If you coworkers are sending you last minute requests frequently, you should share this list with them as well! Make a generic checklist of all the things that need to wrap up everyday, focus on that, and give yourself a pat on the back as you wrap up and leave the office at 4:59 PM.
Repeat after me: “There will always be work.”
You won’t ever really finish everything that needs to be done. The best you can do is prepare and schedule yourself for the work that needs to be done to meet those deadlines. Once you acknowledge that there will always be works that lingers at the end of the day (and know that you can address that the next morning) you will feel a huge weight lift from your shoulders. Reorganize tasks, give yourself a much needed break and prepare for tomorrow!
These mantras will not resonate with everyone, but if you can take away one thing from this, know that you can achieve a better work/life balance with just a little organization in your day.
Until then, stay productive!
We’ve been talking about this for months and it’s finally here… the new Producteev Activity Stream!
You can access the activity stream by clicking on a project and choosing between the Task and Activity view for the project.
We’re continually rolling out new features for our users so check back again soon for more updates!
Do.com (formerly Manymoon, acquired by Salesforce back in 2011) announced that it will discontinue its services on January 31st. Over the past few days we have received a variety of inquiries from Do.com users asking for migration paths to Producteev. With that in mind, we are introducing a one-click import tool that will be available within the next few days.
Please visit www.producteev.com/do for more information.
We want you to know that Producteev is the only completely free Do.com alternative on the marketplace that is backed by Jive Software, the leader in social business collaboration software. Use Producteev with as many people and for as many projects as you need for as long as you need it. With over 100,000 businesses using Producteev as their go-to task management solution, rest assured, we’re are not going away anytime soon.
- Totally, utterly, completely free.
- Cloud-enabled desktop, web and mobile apps
- Unlimited users
- Unlimited projects
- Dedicated technical support team
- Active user support community (powered by Jive!)
Please bookmark and enter your email at producteev.com/do for continued information about the Do.com migration tool. We look forward to having you!
All the best,
The Producteev Team
Good news, iPhone users!
The iOS 7 version of Producteev is now available on the App Store. On top of providing full iOS7 compatibility, this update is all about “I don’t know what they changed, but I’m glad they did it” (see before/after screenshots at the end of the post). You will immediately notice a color change with way less contrast (that’s Senior Engineer Julien Rousseau's magic touch).
We’ve also slimmed the font to make the app a little more clean and readable. You may also notice a simplified calendar/date picker tool which we will go into more depth about next time. The new look and feel of the app leads to a better experience and users can focus on getting things done. Many thanks to Producteev iPhone developer Jerome Miglino!
Before / After:
This update is also packed with tons of little changes, improvements and fixes. Since our launch in May, this is the biggest update we have released! If you don’t want to update to iOS 7, the app remains fully compatible with iOS 6.
Until next time!