Handwritten notes and never-ending paper notebooks

Even I like having a new, empty paper notebook. I just can’t read my handwriting. Also, I know I’ll lose it and that irritates me when everything I ever type is saved safely all over the place. Plus, how do people use paper notebooks? How fast do they fill them and then what happens? Have they shelves of these things?

Rocketbook says hang on there, William, enough. Rocketbook is a paper notebook that you scribble away on and its pages are saved to the cloud. Dropbox. Evernote. Google Docs. You snap a photograph of the page with your phone and what is written on the page determines where it’s saved. So handwrite during a meeting, then take a mo to photograph the page and before you’ve put your phone away, the Rocketbook has saved that note to, say, an email that it is even now sending someone.

That covers my problem with potentially losing the book but there is also that business of filling up all the pages. Honestly, this sounds like a joke but it’s serious: put your Rocketbook in the microwave oven and wait for a bit. Every note on every page is erased and you have a crisp, new notebook.

I read that and think you must need special paper: yes, but that’s what the Rocketbook is made of. I read this and think you must need special pens: sort-of. The have to be FriXion pens by Pilot which I’ve never heard of but apparently are common.

There is nothing here to help with my handwriting but that’s my problem. Your pen work is much better than mine, you might love this.

One thing. This is an Indiegogo crowd-funded idea except it’s no longer an idea: it’s achieved its target by more than 3,500%.

Something to put off: safely defer emails

Right now, this minute, I have one email in my inbox and it is killing me. I’m going to bet money that you have a lot more than one, maybe thousands more, and if it isn’t maiming you then that’s only because you’re ignoring it. This is a big deal and it is a big sapping not just of your productivity but of your will to live.

There are ways to deal with this and as you can guess from that one single bloody message in my inbox, I’m using some of these ways. There is one that I am not, have not and until lately haven’t even thought about: deferring emails. Say an email comes in and you don’t want to deal with it now. You can have it vanish and come back tomorrow.

That’s just putting things off, that can’t be right, it can’t be useful but some people live and swear by it, including David Sparks who was as cynical as I still am:

I made fun of deferring email when I first heard of it. It seemed dishonest and gimmicky. However when I tried it out, I quickly became a believer. There’s a lot of email that can stand be putting off for a little bit of time but isn’t worth the extra work and baggage that come with adding it to your OmniFocus or other task manager database. In that case, deferring email really works.

When you’ve got a good email deferment system in place, you get used to seeing an empty inbox so when something shows up, you take it seriously. Simply leaving emails in your inbox (or for that matter any other email box box) results in you getting used to having a bunch of unanswered email and, in my case, malaise and despair. I’m much happier putting an email off for two days and getting it out of my sight than having to see it there every time I open my mail client. Maybe this is just psychology, but it works.

Deferred Email – David Sparks, MacSparky (8 July 2015)

He uses a service called SaneBox but there are others, some of which will take action on your mailbox for you. There are ones I’ve just learnt of, for instance, that will grab all the emails you get from nominated people and bunch them together into one digest at the end of the day. I’m extremely wary of that because it means you’re giving a company complete access to your emails. All of your emails. If you’re thinking that’s a shrug, it’s only email, it’s not like you’re giving them your bank account passwords, answer me this: how does your bank handle your forgetting your password? It emails you a replacement. Stopped you shrugging, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless, if you know and trust a service that does this digest stuff then I can see the advantages. And I am slowly becoming persuaded by SaneBox and the like. Read the full piece by David Sparks for more general information about what these things do and how they help plus some very specific detail of how he uses them.

Un-send an email if you’re quick and on Gmail

It’s not quite what it looks like, but if you’re a Gmail user and you switch this feature on, you can now have between 10 and 30 seconds to change your mind about sending an email.

Around the web this is being touted as a way to stop the hellstorm of an ill-thought, kneejerk angry email you sent in a fury. I think more practically it’s going to be to save you some of the times you forget to add the attachment you meant.

Here’s what Google says:

Previously a popular feature in Gmail Labs, and recently added to Inbox by Gmail, today we’re adding ‘Undo Send’ as a formal setting in Gmail on the web.

‘Undo Send’ allows people using Gmail to cancel a sent mail if they have second thoughts immediately after sending. The feature is turned off by default for those not currently using the Labs version, and can be enabled from the General tab in Gmail settings.

Google Apps update alerts: Undo Send for Gmail on the web (22 June 2015)

It isn’t really an undo. It’s a not-do-so-quickly. What happens is that the email just doesn’t go when it says it does, it waits in a little limbo for a moment. That’s why you can have a brief time to ‘unsend’ it but you can’t, for instance, undo the bitter message you sent yesterday to your ex.

This also isn’t new. It’s a feature in other email services but Gmail is definitely the biggest one and it’s so big that you can bet money both Microsoft with Outlook and Apple with Mail will surely introduce it soon.

Read the full piece for a bit more detail.

So switch email off, what’s the problem?

You get too much email and – more importantly – you react to it too quickly. Even if you’re the sort with self-control enough to not reply to someone until you’ve given their question proper consideration and maybe looked up if it’s one g or two in ‘bugger off’, you still react too quickly. You react to the bleep.

So stop the bleep.

Of course you want to know what’s going on and of course you want to be responsive. But it’s rarely significant to the other person whether you replied in an hour or a picosecond and it is always significant to you. Reply to emails at the top of the next hour and you’ve just got yourself something like 59 minutes uninterrupted working.

Except of course it is interrupted. It’s interrupted by the bleep or the red flag or whatever your system has.

But your system has an off switch. So switch it off.

On iPhones, for instance, just go into Settings/Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and then click on Fetch New Data.

It will be set to Push but turn that off and then make sure everything is set to Fetch. Beneath that there’s a definition of what fetch means plus how often it will do it.

email off iPhone

Mine’s set to check for new emails every 15 minutes there but I will regularly change that to Hourly. It’s a shame you have to dig down all these levels to it, but once you know it’s there, you’re away.

I have no idea why my iPhone has a holiday calendar, by the way. I just schlepped through a storm trying to get Google Calendar to play nice and when it finally did, I had a holiday calendar on there. I’m leaving it well alone.

The best time of day to do anything productive

Fast Company doesn’t share all its working out but its article by Stephanie Vozza has specific advice on when best to get things done, particularly when you’ve got to work with other people. Two examples:

If you want to get a reply to your email, consider sending it early in the morning, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Reply rates are highest in the morning—about 45%—according to the Yesware study.

Fewer emails are sent during these time slots, lowering competition. The study also found all weekdays to be equal. So don’t worry about the day; focus on the morning, instead.

Monday-morning meetings are a staple at many companies, but if participation is low, there’s a reason why. Only one in three employees is likely to attend, according to a study by the online scheduling service WhenIsGood.net: “If you have a meeting at 9 a.m., employees will need to prepare the day before, or turn up underprepared,” research coordinator Keith Harris told Inc.. If they’re not prepared, they won’t come up.

Get more participation by holding meetings at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, the company found. Tuesday afternoon stands out “because that is the furthest you can get from the deadlines at the end of the week without bumping into the missed deadlines from the week before,” said Harris.

The Best Time Of Day To Do Everything At Work – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (23 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

How Email became the Most Reviled Communication Experience Ever

Am I the only person who actually likes email? Apparently so.

It wasn’t until I heard that a colleague had nuked his personal email account—on purpose, for good—that it hit me: Email is the most reviled personal technology ever. Mat Honan, the San Francisco bureau chief at BuzzFeed, was so fed up with email that he did the 21st-century equivalent of unlisting his phone number and ripping the cord out of the wall. (He couldn’t do the same at work, but I suspect he wanted to.) This abject fear and loathing of a telecommunications technology, and the radical step Honan took to escape it—not mitigate, not reframe, not “fix,” but escape—got me curious about how we got to this point. What are the actual, fundamental design flaws—if any—with email? What makes it such a huge target for “fixing,” yet so resistant to it?

How Email Became The Most Reviled Communication Experience Ever – John Pavlus, Fast Company (15 June 2015)

Read the full piece for advice on coping with email plus a little history of it. I enjoyed the history more but seemingly I’m a freak. I’m okay with that.

Ignore emails that don’t ask you a question

That headline is the entire story. To save yourself time, to save headaches and most of all to save those pointlessly ongoing email conversations, don’t reply unless they ask you something. I don’t know that I’m capable of ignoring email but I learnt that I should try from this interview with a CEO I’d never heard of before.

She’s Kristin Muhlner who runs NewBrand Analytics. Haven’t heard of that either, but.

I love email. I’m probably a rare breed in that regard. I love it because it allows me to work asynchronously and to consume vast amounts of information rapidly across the business. But unless I’m specifically asked a question, I don’t respond. If a CEO responds, everyone thinks they need to respond back, and that kicks up a lot of dust.”

The Many, Many, Many Things You Should Say “No” To At Work – David Zax, Fast Company (1 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Coping with email overload

I like email. But:

Email. There is too much of it.

Every minute something like 200 million emails are sent. Day and night, billions of emails—big and small—ping from computer to computer. The average worker spends nearly one third of his time on email each week, sending and receiving 120+ per day. Business email is expected to grow from 108 billion emails sent and received per day in 2014 to 139 billion in 2018.

Like many people, I knew I had email overload. I knew that I was increasingly a slave to my inbox. I just didn’t have the clarity to really understand how bad it had become.

For my recent honeymoon, I decided I would take the longest break from email that I had ever taken: roughly two weeks (the previous record was probably not much more than 48 hours). As in, total email abstinence. I committed to myself and now-wife that I would take a complete break from all things email. I didn’t open it, I didn’t check it, I actually disconnected my accounts from my phone and my laptop.

In their place, I left a 2,000 word autoresponder where I laid out my reasoning: In the last decade I’ve received something like 150,000 emails. I’ve had anxiety attacks, I’ve interrupted meetings, parties, and major life events for the sake of supposedly urgent email intrusions.

This Is What Email Overload Looks Like – Ryan Holiday, Thought Catalog (20 March 2015)

Read the full piece for what happened in response to that 2,000-word autoresponder and what life lessons the fella learned.

Free video: “Taming Email with OmniFocus”

There’s a company called Learn OmniFocus which does lots of video training and for what I’m sure is an entirely affordable and good price if I could ever get around to looking into that. Their latest video, though, is free. Yes, it’s promoting the service as a whole but it’s not doing so by leaving you with a cliffhanger.

Take a look at this video advice on how to use the superb OmniFocus To Do software in conjuction with your email. To the advantage of all humanity.

More grandmother, eggs and email advice

Given that I’m just after admitting to you that I have today followed my own advice and it worked – and so I am therefore feeling good about the day but also a bit unbearably smug – there is something else.

One other thing I’ve done today that I swear up and down in the The Blank Screen book that we should all really, really do – and we don’t. I try. But today I did it and it worked.

I didn’t read any emails until the top of the hour.

Right now, for instance, it’s a few minutes past the hour and I can see that there are two emails waiting for me. Wait. Three. I should really also switch off that notification –

– and the phone just went. Well. Other that that, I’ve been good. And it’s helped.

So. Switch off your emails and only let yourself read or write any at the top of the hour.