Getting Stuff Done

I just came off a call with Rashik Parmar and a small group of IBM colleagues who are thinking about how we can make our colleagues more effective in the way they collaborate by reducing the volume of e-mail they receive and need to process. Anyone familiar with Luis Suarez and his personal project A World Without E-Mail.

Based on work Rashik has done in this area, we are starting on a personal three part exercise:

  1. Filter: Automatically categorise routine mail and place it in folders suing rules. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you do not need and switch to an RSS Reader where that is more appropriate.

    Automatic categorisation makes perfect sense for me as it mirrors what I already do – manually moving such mail to a “To Read” folder when doing my initial pass through my mail, and going and reading it later (if and when I have time) – even if I know there are many messages I will never go and read, it is simply psychologically easier to file them that to delete them. Automatic filing via a rule is often also easier than unsubscribing.

    Personally, I plan to try categorising this mail into a number of folders – since that is just as easy for the rules, but it makes it easier to differentiate mailing lists that I really should go and read (but not now) vs. lists that are interesting (but I don’t really have to read) vs. those which are on a topic I don’t care about now (but might care about at some point in the future – and may want to catch up with then).

    Note that automatic filing does not reduce mailbox size – but I don’t have a problem with that as a combination of automatic filing of attachments and automatic archiving of old mails keeps my mailbox size under control (if not the archive size!)

    I have to admit, I have never really got on with RSS Readers. Part of the problem is that they become a second inbox – and (for me) needing to check two places is worse than overloading one. The Notes inbox has lots of tools (folders, flags, rules, archiving, free text search, swiftfile, … and even a form of tagging) for handling everything that comes in, and I am dissatisfied with having to cope with another way of doing some of that. So my history is littered with RSS readers I used to subscribe to a bunch of content, and then neglected. But maybe I will try again.

  2. Learn. Think for each e-mail: is an e-mail the right way to respond to this, or should I Sametime or Phone – or Blog and answer and send a link.

    It is important to realise that different people prefer different communications mechanisms. Personally, I don’t like telephone conversations – there is no “click to add to Activity” button, and having to take notes every time just adds to the effort required (thank goodness for my headsets!) Maybe if my memory was better it would be different. But there are people (why is it mostly salesmen?) from whom I never get e-mails, just voice mails (fortunately delivered to me as e-mails!)

    I already try to prune copy lists when I Reply All (and, of course, omit the attachments), and I use Sametime a lot. I will try to increase both of those things, and also try hard to blog responses when that is possible (although it still seems to me that I spend far too much of my time working without an effective network connection – we really need to figure out how to make wireless access work effectively on trains and finally deliver access on planes).

  3. Switch. Use Activities more instead of e-mail threads. Use Connections more for Collaboration overall.

    Yes, that suffers from the Offline problem too… and even more from the “another inbox” problem. I need far better tools to manage the 75 Activities currently on my active list. So I will have another go with taking selected Activities offline (I gave up because Notes 8.0 had definite restrictions in that area – which are hopefully fixed now).

    But there is still a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that the effort required to click on the link in a notification about an updated Activity is definitely a drop in productivity compared to reading an e-mail – especially as, in many cases, it is not clear from the Activities Notification exactly what the sender expects me to do. I think we need to work on promoting best practices for use of Activities too (a reminder that I put that project on a To Do list once, but never got around to doing anything about it).

    Incidentally, if we were inventing Activities now, would we still allow the inclusion of files in Activities – shouldn’t all be in Connections Files and linked from the Activity? What is needed is a dialog to upload a file to Files from the context of Activities.

So: Phase 1, analyse how much e-mail I receive each day during this week (to define the “from” state”. Phase 2, implement the steps above. Phase 3, evangelise the success I have to colleagues and co-workers.

It was really interesting in the discussion that “Getting Things Done” is clearly a great source of ideas for steps to take – although many people (me included) would find it difficult to move over to a structured mechanism like that. It is valuable as a source of inspiration and techniques, but what we need are a series of success stories that can inspire others and role models who can educate their colleagues rather than some sort of formal process to be adopted (Phew! Let’s hope we can avoid someone deciding to build a formal process out of this!)

Maybe I can get some traction around the mre vague concept of “Getting Stuff Done”.

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