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Archive for the ‘Email’ tag

Embrace Grit, Enjoy the Journey, and Always Be Reading (Sunday Reads #11)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.

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Getting Creative Work Done

If you struggle to declutter your magazine pile, a technique called ABR – Always Be Reading may be for you.  As someone who spends many hours a week focused on helping people read more (with a Kindle preferably) this approach sounds interesting, and is actually pretty aligned with what I personally do.

Are you a manager?  Your late-night or very early-morning emails may be hurting your team.  Being always-on hurts team results in a big way.  I’ve been in the habit for years of delay-sending the email I write after 6:30pm on Friday or over the weekend until late Monday morning.

If you’d like to form successful habits, you need to know what motivates you.

A recent study showed that heavy cellphone users report higher anxiety levels and dissatisfaction with life than their peers who use their phones less often – and another showed a correlation between stress levels and the barrage of alerts and notifications.  This app automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone or iPad each day and helps you set limits.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 22nd, 2015 at 8:47 pm

5 More Ways to Protect That Time!

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This post is a follow-up to Protect Your Time: 8 Ways to Stay Focused on Important Stuff.  Can you tell I care about this topic?

Refocuser palm clockI work with lots of people who are booked all day long, 8am-6pm, every single day of the week.  Most of these people complain that they have no time to do any “real” work since they’re “sooooooo busy” all the time.  Yet sitting in a meeting with a laptop open only half paying attention isn’t real work, and most people know that 🙂

Still, they let their time get abused left and right and don’t realize that they’re ultimately in control of the situation.  Heck, they may not even identify it as a problem to begin with.  They’re busy right?  Who has time to think about producing, creating, or <ugh> leading anyway?!

When you break it down, time is the purest and most ultimate resource we have for action.  We don’t own many things completely and totally, but time is one of the things that we get to choose how to spend.  And as we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, your life is the sum of what you choose to focus on – so spend it wisely, because you aren’t going to get it back.  How you spend your time is going to impact your life in ways greater than your money, relationships, or job alone ever could.

It’s easy to look at a situation like being booked all week and think it’s unavoidable.  If you’re in a role with a decent amount of responsibility, it’s also easy to assume that responsibility has to equate to meeting attendance and being “busy” all the time.  But of course, it doesn’t… and never will.

Having responsibility for something important means that you’re a decision-maker of some sort.  The best decisions are made based on experience, instinct, and data.  And there are ways to gain practical experience, hone your native instinct, and collect and synthesize data outside of meetings.  In fact, you could make an argument that the more time you spend in useless meetings, the less opportunity you have to gain that experience or practice your craft.

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Written by Mike Torres

May 9th, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Protect Your Time: 8 Ways to Stay Focused on Important Stuff

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Click for photoHappy Monday! If you value your time – and who doesn’t – you need to be be protecting it at all costs.  It’s far too easy to spend hours each day doing things that don’t end up resulting in personal or professional gain.  You pick your head up at the end of the workday just to realize that out of all the things you got done, none of them were particularly meaningful.

This happens to everyone… at least once!

The key to good time management is to protect your time from the unimportant in order to focus on the important.  It’s really that simple.  But in practice, it can be difficult.  Because it sometimes means being a jerk.  Or at least coming across like one to people who enjoy time-wasting activities because it’s the only way they know how to work.

We have a word at Microsoft we use when our time is wasted: randomize.  I was randomized by him.  Please don’t randomize me.  This meeting is going to be randomizing, we can do this over email.  What a randomization! I’m not exactly sure where it came from – likely from the comparison of wasting time to a random number generator – but the basic idea is that if something is randomizing, it’s to be avoided at all costs.  I suppose it’s nicer than saying “you’re wasting my precious time”, especially for people who don’t know what the word means in context.

Don’t be randomized!

The single biggest time-waster in the corporate world is the all-too-prevalent meeting.  Most meetings are 50 minutes of people hearing themselves speak and 10 minutes of useful dialog or conversation.  You may not be able to avoid them completely, but you can sure as hell try.  More important stuff happens outside of meetings than in them.

As you may have read in My Day: The Way I Work, Rest, and Play, my workday can easily be filled from 9-6 if I’m not careful.  This certainly isn’t unique to my situation; it applies to lots of people.  Many people end up using evenings and weekends to “catch up” instead of for much-needed downtime.  Not fun.

Worse, they’ve convinced themselves that their job is to go to meetings.  I don’t know anyone whose job is just to attend meetings – or just read email for that matter – no matter what role they’re in… and for those who think it’s their job, my guess is that they’re filled with guilt because their contributions are severely limited.  They’re not actually doing anything.  Also not fun.

No matter what you do, you want to maximize your contribution.  You want to spend more time creating and producing than consuming.  You want great output.  You want to be someone who pushes the boulder another foot up the hill each and every day.  You don’t want to run in-place like the people around you!  Unless you’re a full-time hole puncher with 30 years of experience, you have something unique and significant to contribute.  Useless meetings take away from that.  If they’re not wasting your time directly, they’re still breaking up valuable opportunities to find flow in your work.  Meetings aren’t where you’ll make your mark.

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Written by Mike Torres

February 15th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Staying Focused With Microsoft Outlook: Email

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Time to get tactical; too many posts recently haven’t been!  This post is focused on Microsoft Outlook 2003 and 2007.

Since 1997, Microsoft Outlook has been my email program of choice.  Sure I’ve dabbled with web mail like Hotmail and Gmail for my personal account, but for anything “serious” I always come back to Outlook.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that I work for Microsoft and therefore couldn’t escape Outlook if I tried, but I continually find Outlook to be an absolute gem for email and for productivity in general.

Part of this is due to the fact that email, calendar, notes, to-do items, a corporate directory, and umpteen other important “modules” are available in a single application.  Another big factor is comfort of course – 12 years in a single program means there isn’t much I don’t know about it at this point.  But for all intents and purposes, I love using Outlook and always have.

This post is about dealing with email overload in Outlook.  It assumes you’re likely in a corporate environment with Microsoft Exchange and that you know a thing or two about Outlook already.  It also assumes email has a chokehold on your life, and you want to learn how to escape with your sanity.

The principles and techniques in this post are things I’ve learned and used over the years and have taught to hundreds of others at Microsoft through “brown bags”, 1:1 coaching, and seminars.  Special thanks go out to Omar Shahine, Michael Affronti, and Trevin Chow for lots of brainstorms and conversations about Outlook email – much of this comes from them.  Omar’s actually my partner in crime as we’ve given talks on Outlook together a few times.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, let’s start with 7 basic email principles which aren’t specific to Outlook use:

  1. Reserve your inbox for important items.  Any distribution lists or other types of email you receive that are just of the “FYI” variety (shopping receipts, Netflix shipping reminders, Facebook notifications, etc.) should be filtered away from your attention automatically.
  2. Deleting and archiving email should be a one-step (or one-click) action.  Delete without prejudice and archive anything you think you’ll need to refer to at some point, but don’t worry about having deep, nested folders.
  3. Never read an email twice.  When processing your email, every time you open a message use the 4Ds discussed as part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  Delete it immediately, Do it immediately, Delegate (or forward) it, or Defer it by converting it to a task or appointment.
  4. Emails that need follow-up (either by you or by others) should be converted to Tasks or Appointments.  Convert an email to a task with a due date if you want to do it on that date, and convert it to an appointment if it’s time-based (i.e. pick someone up from the airport).  If it’s mandatory that something get done on a certain day but it doesn’t matter what time it’s done, I usually book time for myself on my calendar anyway just to make sure it happens that day.
  5. Tasks should be broken down into two important categories: “Next Actions for you” and “Waiting on from others”.  While there are other categories and lists you can use in Outlook, these are the two most critical.
  6. Bounce your inbox at zero as often as you can – ideally a few times per week.  This means “seeing the white” in your inbox and knowing 100% of your email has been processed.  See Bouncing at Zero for more information about this.
  7. Bounce your daily task list at zero everyday.  Your entire task list will never be empty, but every single day you should know what you’ve accomplished and rebalanced your items for the future (i.e. don’t just ignore them!)  Again, bounce at zero!

There are a dozen more principles I could list, but I want to keep this post a) short and b) more about making things happen than about platitudes.  As Bruce Lee said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply”.

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Written by Mike Torres

May 17th, 2009 at 5:17 pm