10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral

From Chris Anderson – curator of TED.com

1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.
2. Short or Slow is not Rude
Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!
3. Celebrate Clarity
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.
4. Quash Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”
5. Slash Surplus cc’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.
6. Tighten the Thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what’s not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.
7. Attack Attachments
Don’t use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.
8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.
9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.
10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

Occupant Activity :: Not Even Considered

I’ve read a few articles lately about the amount and types of data that will be generated by Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). Every single article talks about the data that will be generated by the vehicle itself. I’ve yet to see anyone discussing the real value generated by these AVs. To wit; what are the people in the vehicle doing while they’re being transported from point A to point B?  Here’s yet another recent example…

Automakers have a choice: Become data companies or become irrelevant

While I don’t disagree with the headline, I do believe that of the various revenue generating data streams, the one that will require constant evaluation and examination is the Occupant Activity (OA) stream.

Continue reading

Pete’s Picks 2019-05-03


Pete’s Picks 2019-05-03

NYTimes: Microbots Robots Silicon
IT Managers… who owns what?
Augmented Reality will mean dystopia
VR Subscription for business
On living longer
Social Security taxable income max
Working with APIs without code
Effective/quick decision making
Also on living longer
30MPH E-Bike > E-scooter?
Drug trials need continuous monitoring
Go order from Amazon app
Smart prototypes for connected/autonomous cars
Neuromorphic computing breakthrough
Use AI to record your life story? YAWN
Pirated End Game broadcast on tv
Recent readings roudnup
Which workout type you choose says something about something
Hula-Hoop trick
AWS Wins! …?
I’m average!
TED talk: agnoring obvious problems
TED Talk: Three Ideas/Three Contridictions

Pete’s Picks 2019-05-01


Ford Grocery Cart
Ford Rolling Bed
Insomnia linked to…
Another database found open to public
O’Reilly AI Conference
The future of medicine could be your own body
Reality? Who needs that? We all do!
Downtime… How to talk to business leaders
Hawking theory takes a blow
Americans miserable in record economy
Women outlive men because…
Learning tactical driving
I have a crush on you, too
Micro-mobility needs dedicated travel space
Facebook F8 short video

The Secret Weapon

I’ve been owing you guys a review of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey for a while, now. Unfortunately for you, or fortunately – for me, the serendipitous order of my last few posts has lead me down a rabbit hole of learning to be effective, efficient and free of stress. All of this coincided with the start of biking weather and the windy season which pulled me outside more often than not. Now, you’re about to benefit from my readings and my learnings along the way. There were several dozen good take-aways from 7-Habits. I highly recommend that you read it. I’m not going to review it because there are literally thousands of good reviews out there. I’ve tried to find a way for others to read my highlights from the Kindle edition of the book without success. Some of the most valuable things that I took from 7-Habits were related to “putting first things first” and working in Quadrant II – Important but NOT Urgent things.

Anyway, after reading 7-Habits, and while I was trying to put the lessons learned into practice, I posted about the things that I would do to improve Outlook. One of those things was to allow hash tags that were searchable/categorizable. That lead me to an unsuccessful search for an outlook plug-in that would allow you to add tags to an email or accomplish any of the other things that I thought would be awesome for Microsoft Outlook. That search led me to The Secret Weapon. I’ll link that below… I don’t want you distracted just yet. The Secret Weapon allows you to set up and use the system called Getting Things Done in a 21st century way. Getting Things Done is a book by David Allen. I’d heard of it and even played around with the system when I first started using XMind. However, I’d not read the book. So, having stumbled across this system twice in 3 months and seeing how well it worked in XMind without having read the book, I decided it was about time to get the book and read it.

Getting Things Done is an easy read. It’s a considerably longer than it needs to be and it is clear that it was written before smart phones and PCs were ubiquitous, but the tips and tools he offers are really effective. I got everything that I need from the first 150 pages of the 250+ page book. The rest if really unnecessary when you apply the GTD system with The Secret Weapon.

I seriously suggest that you read the first 150 pages of Getting Things Done by David Allen. Check it out from the library. Don’t bother buying it. Hell, borrow it from me if you live nearby.
Download and read The Secret Weapon.
Download Evernote. Download Evernote for home and for work and for wherever else you have a computer.
Download Evernote for your smart phone. They have versions for all of the popular platforms.

Now, I have my entire life’s outstanding action items in one place – not floating around in the back of my mind. No need to try to remember those little nagging chores that you keep meaning to do. No more forgotten items at the store. Project management is a breeze with this system. I’ve even devised a notebook and note title system that I can use as a calendar so that my day’s required items and meetings don’t get lost in the shuffle. I now have nearly 100 different tags that are easily managed and organized by nesting and following a naming convention that works well.

My only wish now is that Evernote was an email client. If I didn’t have to move things back/forth between email and Evernote, my system would be seamless.

If you do decide to implement this system and you’d like to set up a calendar notebook, here’s what I did.
Create a notebook called Calendar
When you have items that are date specific that you need to remember or be reminded of something on a particular date, then begin the name of the note with the date in the format [YYYYMMDD HH:mm]. So, for example, if you need to be reminded that on June 5th at noon you have a Dr. appt, you might name the new note “20120605 12:00 Go to Dr Bob’s” Then, you can sort the notebook by title rather than by date created. Check that folder daily for things that you need to know today or in the coming days.

Let me know if you set this up for yourself and share tags that you think are keys to your own success with the system.

Ways that I would improve Outlook

Within MS Outlook, it seems that the electronic age has limited our abilities compared to what we had in the pre-computer era. Before the days of email, memos could be filed in folders of different colors, and we could add post-it notes or little notes in the margin to help with filing and adding context to the email. Further, our carbon copies were color coded to add some information about the purpose of the CC.

Here are my top three ways that we could improve productivity and make email communication more efficient, and effective by taking a step backwards in time.
1) Allow people to choose the color of or image representing each folder in the folder tree on the left. (colored file folders have been around for decades)

Doing this will give people the ability to associate people/places/things with the contents of the emails contained within. For example, if one were organizing a whitewater rafting trip with one’s friends, one might use a picture of a raft instead of a manila folder. Or, what about using color coding to indicate urgency of the emails within? For example, you could have a red folder for important/urgent emails that need action and a yellow folder for less important/urgent things.

2) Allow hash tagging (put a sticky note on a memo before you file it)

Speed up searching and categorizing of emails by allowing the sender AND the receiver to apply a hash tag to each of the emails. Hash tags added to the body of the email should travel with the email. Hash tags added elsewhere (by individual users) should only be associated with that particular email and should not travel with the email. Also, allow us to set up rules based on those hash tags.

3) Add custom address fields (color code the carbon copies)

To: and CC: are the only options we have? Really? Carbon Copy is the extend of our capabilities? We can’t even add color coding to the carbon copies – like Pink copy goes to shipping, or yellow goes to billing dept? Imagine how much easier it would be to manage the incredible volume of email that a typical manager gets if there were more than just To and CC. Imagine how much more productive we could be if we weren’t spending hours and hours every week reading emails that were intended for someone else, but we were copied on because… well… who knows why. Here are just some suggestions for optional addressing fields:

  • To:
  • CC:
  • FYI:
  • Action Required (AR):
  • Response Required (RR):
  • Input Appreciated (IA):
  • Feedback needed (FN):
  • CYA:
  • Looping You In (LYI):
  • Then, your email to the project manager could look like this…

    To: Cindy ProjectManager
    CC: Tom ProjectManagerAssistant
    FYI: Bill MyBoss; EmailGroupFromMeetingInvite
    IA: Dave FinanceDirector
    AR: Cindy ProjectManager
    FN: Alan ComputerProgrammer; Steve WebDeveloper
    Subject: ProjectName – Let’s talk about something

    I think we should have a separate conference call to discuss the topics that came up in today’s weekly meeting. I think Alan and Steve might have some good ideas on how we might overcome any obstacles. Specifically, they can speak directly to the web site’s current capabilities and any security issues. We’ll have to keep the budget in mind though! This one is getting close to the target cost already. I know Dave was keeping an eye on this one.

    Please provide a detailed list of enhancements that you’d like to see and schedule a meeting.

    Sincerely Yours,
    Pete ReallyGreatManager

    #ProjectName #BillingNo00123456 #WeeklyMeeting #NewIdeas #SecurityIssues #WebDevelopment #InterfaceDesign #UserExperience #FutureDevelopments

    Then, everyone can have rules set up to give the email the appropriate amount of attention. Since Bill was only in the FYI Line, he probably won’t need to read it and he can just file it away. Ditto that for everyone else on the original meeting invite group. Later, if he needs to get up to speed, the email is available to him but it hasn’t taken up any of his time before then.
    Dave can review the project’s remaining budget and comment if he thinks he should.
    Alan and Steve know that they need to reply with some meaningful feedback.
    Tom knows that he probably needs this information at the same level as Cindy, but isn’t officially accountable for it (unless Cindy says so of course).
    Cindy knows that her action is required on this.

    Everyone can file this away in the folder color/style of their choosing.
    Each can add their own private has tag to it and save it away with those tags.

    The Success or (likely) Failure of Windows 8

    My friend Trent posted this article on Google+.

    Five Reasons Why Windows 8 Will Be DOA

    So many large companies behave like Microsoft that it’s almost difficult to be disappointed by the list of things wrong with the Windows 8 OS. For example, it was the lack of evolved and well-thought-out development tools that buried the Wii – because programming for the Wii is expensive and difficult. Or… Why does the iPhone have so many more titles/apps (that’s applications for old schoolers or “programs” for the informed) than the Android market? Because, with the iPhone, you only have to program it once. If you can get it to work on THE iPhone, then there’s nothing else to account for. With the Android market, you have to worry about n different phones with n different screen sizes and so many different versions of Android still floating around out there with Bob only knows how much carrier-specific bloat-ware on those phones. Sure, you have to get it approved by the Apple people and they can yank it at their heart’s desire and it can cost you lots to get it approve, but you only have one version to write, one version to fix, one version to upgrade. This, by the way, is why Google purchased Motorola Mobility.

    Windows 8 does NOTHING to address that from a developer standpoint. There will still be machines out there running Windows ME (I just threw up in my mouth a little) that have to be addressed. Or, at least the architecture they’re running on must be addressed. Then, there’s the different input devices that your app/application/program will have to account for. Will it be running on a tablet, or a pc (x86 or 64bit?) or will it be running on a phone (which phone?) Or, worse yet, will it be on any/all of these?

    While the Apple model is restrictive and cumbersome, I think they may have just gotten this whole picture right – perhaps without even knowing it. They have control of the devices. They have control of the OS. They have control of the applications that get approved. They have the final say on who provides service (cell carriers) for their devices. From a provide for the lowest-common-denominator perspective, they may have hit the bull’s eye. My 14 year old daughter and my 75 year old father would be equally comfortable running any one (or all) of their devices. I don’t think I could say the same about Windows.

    For power users, there’s Linux/Unix. We’ll always have command line level control of everything we do in the hard-core/power-user operating systems. Microsoft doesn’t play in that arena any more, any way. Have you tried to do anything in Windows 7 that didn’t offer/require a wizard? Even the most simple things are made wizard-enabled with Windows 7. I suspect that Windows 8 will take that one step further and require that you use a wizard to figure out which wizard you need to change that user preference which, in the end, will be a one-line change to a config file that we used to be able to edit in notepad.

    I hope, in the battle between operating systems, the browser wins the day. Most things that end-users do on a computer today can be done through the browser. Even those things that require heavy back-end programming can get by with a web interface quite nicely. For everything else… command line will win the day. Get out your pocket-protectors, geeks… we will win in the end.

    Cognitive Surplus

    Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
    This book was recommended by Kantar CEO Eric Salama in a corporate email from September(ish) of 2011.
    It took me forever to get through. The ramblings of this author seem to run the gamut. It wasn’t until chapter 7 that he seemed to try to tie any of it together. Had the book been written in a different order, I probably would have been more into it and it would have made more sense.

    This book had the potential to be inspirational and world-changing as he points out all the potential good that could be done if we would come together as a society and use social media for more than cats with funny captions. He points out some fantastic examples and talks about how they came to be, why they survive and what makes them truly special. I wish I would have taken notes as I read this book because it would make it easier to write this review. Unfortunately, I did not. I’m not going to go back and re-read it in order to assemble this review, either. You can’t make me. I don’t want to.

    If you are aware of sites like donorschoose.org and ted.com then you’re aware of the positive potential of society when we act together. If you’re older than 30, then you’re aware of how the internet grew to be what it is today. If you’re a geek, like me, then you’re familiar with how we went from AOL to individual web pages to geo-cities to myspace and then to facebook. We clearly don’t know what’s in store for the future and we can’t predict how people will use technology and thankfully, Mr. Shirky doesn’t make any attempts to predict what might be on the horizon.

    If, on the other hand, you’re not familiar with man’s ability to create a greater good and you think that the best the internet has to offer is /b/tards (oh, wait… you probably don’t get the 4chan reference) then you’re likely to get something out of this book. If you’re under 30 or over 70, then you may learn something from reading this book.

    There weren’t any take-aways in this book that I could apply to my daily life.
    There weren’t any inspirational quotes that I could pull from it.
    There weren’t business practices that will make me a better leader.
    There were no dog-eared pages when I finished.
    There were no markings in the margins.
    There were no highlights.
    I never sent an email to my friends telling them they needed to pick up this book… now.
    About the only take-away from this book is: Next time, take notes as you read that way you can do a proper job ripping a book you don’t like.

    The simple fact of the matter is, this book bored me.


    Empowered by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler is a great book.

    The book starts out by answering the question “Why?” Then, they go on to answer “What?” Finally, they give detail what’s possible when you’ve empowered HEROS in your organization.

    Why? Why do you need empowered employees? The story of Dooce and Maytag or David vs. United (United breaks guitars) are just two examples of why you need empowered employees. The old days of having very few people with the ability to influence a large audience are long gone. Just about anyone who has reached the end of their rope has the ability to influence the masses. Doubt that? Check out the reviews on Amazon.com. Sure, some of those are professionally written, paid-for reviews. Most, however, are just written by your average consumer who was either so pleased with a product that they had to tell someone, or they were so disappointed that they had to voice their frustrations to as many people as possible.

    Real world example that came up as I was reading this:
    Papa John’s Example

    What? What is an empowered employee? The short answer is that they’re customer focused and motivated to find or create the tools that they need to make the customer happy. The empowered employee isn’t locked down by rules and regulations. No; instead, they’re likely to be the ones out there bending the rules trying to find ways to gather the tools they need or access those web sites that are blocked by the company’s firewall. They’re using their own tools and their own personal technology (cell phone/tablet/laptop) gadgets etc to get the job done. In an empowered workplace, these employees are supported by IT and management. They help to shape the tools, processes and ways that employees interact with the customer and client.

    This book made me realize just how handcuffed I am at work and I’m a HERO! Hell, my department’s mission is to build the tools needed by HERO employees. From a typical employee standpoint, I have access to tons more tools and resources than the average employee at my company because I’m one of the few who have admin rights on my pc and I have the know-how to get around blocked web sites. They must feel completely hamstrung. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be.

    I recently said (several times) – in regards to a multi-million-dollar project for which I manage the online data collection, “Imagine how cool this project could be today if they’d have given me free reign to implement my ideas on this project over the past 4 years.” Instead, I’m unable to serve the customer (survey taker) or improve the quality of the product that the client is paying for. It’s frustrating.

    Since I’m in IT and I’m a HERO (by this book’s definition) I have the greatest opportunity to make a significant impact. I’m going to do just that. This company needs to be shaken and if that shaking has to come from the bottom up, then that’s what I’ll do. The book goes a long way to pointing me in the right direction as to how I can make a difference and implement change and create an environment that empowers each HERO in the organization. My next step is to open the eyes of those who hold the keys that have everyone locked down. I’ll do that.

    • If you are an IT manager at a company that locks down employees laptops and restricts web sites, you need this book.
    • If you’re a manager at a company that locks down employees laptops and restricts web sites, you need this book.
    • If you’re an executive at a company that locks down employees laptops and restricts web sites, you need this book.
    • If you’re an excitable employee who’s constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience and you’ve had a hard time getting management to listen to you, you need this book.
    • If you’re someone concerned with the direction of your company and you’re watching missed opportunities to make social media work on the company’s behalf you need this book.