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Let me begin by caveating this post with two things. Firstly, What I say about my job, may not be what you say about yours. We all do different things. Second, I’m going to be ranting a lot about email in general and MS Outlook in particular. I know it’s the ‘reliable old plough horse’ of the corporate world, but there you go. Its not its fault per se. Its ours.

One of the characteristics of my jobs is dealing with a lot of ‘input’, and finding the right ‘output’.  Unlike previous roles, I don’t spend a lot of time preparing documents, dossiers or actually any tangible output like that.  I also don’t spend a lot of time in ‘workshops’. Not in the sense of a productive, challenging, useful workshop. We do have lots of ‘meetings’ though – but that’s another story.

A lot of the input I have comes ‘in’ in the form of email.  Other channels open to my colleagues are face to face, phone, instant chat, yammer, conference call;  You get the idea. nothing crazy, but several channels nonetheless. Most though, come in via email. perhaps 95%. Most ‘processing’ by me and others is done via email. Most outputs are done via email. Official notes, company notes, system updates come via email. I’m basically drowning in email.

So I started to wonder at how to fix this, and here’s where I’ve got to.

  1. Outlook rules:  Long overdue for me to get set up, my rules separate out the ‘on copy’ versus the ‘on copy but Richard is mentioned’.   Things direct to me, from another human get into the inbox.  Any calendar noise goes to a special folder, and other system announcements (like Yammer) of low value, but useful nonetheless go somewhere else. I wish Outlook could do more.
  2.  Maker Time:  I’ve tried to get this working.  I tried a Tuesday. Annoyingly the rest of the business world refuse to acknowledge some away time, so I’m trying Fridays. In general, having some time to ‘create’ and think up solutions to difficult problems helps me progress my role
  3. Mobile phone apps: Apart from phone calls, my smart phone apps don’t buzz me. If I go looking for them, there they are. They don’t go knocking on my brain.
  4. No email Friday mornings:  This one might get me fired, I don’t know. I’m going to switch off Outlook for Friday mornings, whilst setting an Out of Office (etc) to tell people to call me or IM me. I’m not not contactable, I’m just doing it different.
  5. Running and early starts. I run most mornings. On the work day morning I don’t run, I try to get in for 7am. This gives me the extra nudge to clear out emails and things that I’ve neglected to do.

There you go. No amazing new techniques, just a trial of things I think will work for me. If you too are drowning, the only advice I’d give is that there are many many suggestions about how to manage being more efficient and productive- but you’ll have to find things that fit with your job and your life.

I have a few questions about this:

  1. Why do systems/platforms and other non-humans ’email’ me? Surely there’s a better way by now?
  2. Why does my Outlook Calendar / MS Exchange insist on telling me useless information by email?  With a layer of basic Artificial Intelligence, it could relay the information about meeting invites, acceptances and so on via a different means, highlighting the useful stuff (x can’t make it, y has added a comment)
  3. Talking of AI, why can’t it handle getting in my diary in the first place, without having to even bother me?
  4. Is there a ‘collaboration platform’ out there centered around communication with a wide audience (who are NOT on the platform?)

My money is on Apple or Google fixing this part of my life soon. Hurry up. Email me.

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