How to tame the email dragon

Enter “how to tame the email dragon” in the Google search engine and about 2,300,000 results are available (in 0.50 seconds).

Fact.
The average length of an email is 50-100 words. Most emails are longer.[1]

Fact.
You spend at least 13 hours a week at the office[2] reading and replying to emails.
That is 650 hours a year![3]

Perspective.
It takes 12 to 13 hours to read John Updike’s Rabbit, Run.
Or (for non-readers) that is equivalent to a ten-episode Game of Thrones binge watching marathon.

Fact.
Most full-time employees work 1700 hours per year.[4] That means nearly 40 percent of your work life is engaged in reading and replying to emails.

NOTES:
[1] The Muse, Are Your Emails Too Long? (Hint: Probably), Forbes, March 11, 2014, accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2014/03/11/are-your-emails-too-long-hint-probably/#7e9f22965400
[2] Jordan Weissmann, Re:Re:Fw:Re: Workers Spend 650 Hours a Year on Email, The Atlantic, JUL 28, 2012, accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/re-re-fw-re-workers-spend-650-hours-a-year-on-email/260447/
[3] Megan Garber, You Probably Write a Novel’s Worth of Email Every Year, The Atlantic, JAN 8, 2013, accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/you-probably-write-a-novels-worth-of-email-every-year/266942/
[4] Joe Weisenthal, Check Out How Much The Average American Works Each Year Compared To The French, The Germans, And The Koreans, Business Insider, Aug. 17, 2013, accessed December 18, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/average-annual-hours-worked-for-americans-vs-the-rest-of-the-world-2013-8

Find four more hours in a day


Personal archeology.
Discovered these old sketch books in September. Looked at them. Placed them on a shelf. Lost them again.

Rediscovered the sketch books again this weekend. Marveled at how much time was invested. Considered how these books were populated with sketches of classmates,  drawings of roommates and other ephemera in a place and time were smart phones, tablets and laptops were not ubiquitous.

Question:
What would you be able to create if you were not glued to your smart phone for more than four hours[1] a day?

NOTES:


[1] How Much Time Do People Spend on Their Mobile Phones in 2017?, Hacker Noon, May 9, 2017, accessed December 11, 2017 https://hackernoon.com/how-much-time-do-people-spend-on-their-mobile-phones-in-2017-e5f90a0b10a6

How much time do you spend on Facebook?

FB-Screen-shot-2014-08-22

In a GTD[1] effort to increase productivity, I studied my online activity this spring using time tracking software. Currently self-employed, I wanted to make sure time is not wasted but used wisely.

For the most part, social media is out. Same goes for video games and online audio and video streaming sites (not that I ever play video games online anyone, but I do allow myself to listen to music and audio podcasts while working).

A couple times during this period I noticed that the weekly report showed that I spent four hours on Facebook. I was shocked. Maybe I left the computer on while running an errand (which could take hours due to my current rural location) and left the internet browser window open during that whole time. I made immediate efforts to close that open loop of un-productivity.

Those reports intrigued me and I wanted to find out how many hours most Americans spend on Facebook per day. According to a 2011 source, the average American spends

“15.5 minutes … on Facebook every single day.”[2]

But, as you know, three years ago is a century ago in the digital world. A 2013 study reports that an

“average user spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting and using social media and other forms of online communication.”[3]

23 hours! That is a lot of online time. But that statistic does not surprise me. As a professional graphic designer, I spend at least 40 hours a week in front of a screen. And now, most design and communication applications are cloud based or at least supported online. So, as you can see by the screen shot at the beginning of this post, much of my time is designing books, book covers and other marketing and print materials while listening to podcasts or music.

A month ago a new report says

“the average American now spends 40 minutes a day checking a Facebook feed.”[4]

That is a huge increase from three years ago — 280 minutes a week spent on Facebook. 4.6 hours a week. 18 hours a month! I can layout a 240-page book in that time and maybe have time left over to design the book cover (of course, that depends on editor and author changes and corrections, but I digress).

I am sure there is a lot of news from family and friends that I miss by avoiding Facebook. But when you are self-employed those 18 hours can be used resourcefully and effectively to provide for your household — and to secure and maintain future clients. Or, at least, that is the strategy.

NOTES:
[1] GTD, or Getting Things Done. http://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-getting-things-done-1551880955
[2] “You Spend 8 Hours Per Month on Facebook” by Ben Parr, September 30, 2011, accessed August 22, 2014, http://mashable.com/2011/09/30/wasting-time-on-facebook/
[3] “Americans Spend 23 Hours Per Week Online, Texting” by David Mielach, July 2, 2013, accessed August 22, 2014, http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4718-weekly-online-social-media-time.html
[4] “Americans Now Spend More Time on Facebook Than They Do on Their Pets” by Joshua Brustein, July 23, 2014, accessed August 22, 2014, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-23/heres-how-much-time-people-spend-on-facebook-daily

Write now, set writing goals

...any road wil get you there.[1]

“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.”[1]

Is it writer’s block? Procrastination? What’s keeping you from completing that collection of poetry or that novel you started years ago and you can’t quite get around to finishing it?

A few years ago I sat in a writing workshop and noticed that I was the only member of the group under the age of 50 years old. Further, most of the students at the workshop had been working on a memoir or a novel or something that began at a university. Now enjoying their retirement, the nostalgic desire to complete these literary works grip those writers who had been dribbling out small passages of poetry and prose for what seems to be my lifetime.

I determined at that time to set writing goals and not let time slowly bleed me of creative efforts. So, I adapted some of the productivity and time management skills I use at work to my writing life. Here’s some productivity, or time management, habits I practice at the office.

1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning.

At the office, I schedule two times a day were I read and reply to emails: once in the morning and then again in the afternoon. If I reply to every email that lands in my inbox at the moment it arrives, I would spend more than half the work day reading and replying to emails. I found that if I batch tasks, like emailing, I can maintain focus on accomplishing those tasks more efficiently.

2. Make a list.

First thing I do when I get to the office is make a list. This is a combination of project management and mind-sweeping. This activity allows me to organize and prioritize large and small tasks for the day and week.

3. Declutter the desktop.

This is something that is both on- and offline. And by “declutter” I don’t mean empty your desktop of everything. Declutter has to do with a collection system. How do you collect the papers or files? Years ago I began the practice of collecting items in folders based on the 43 folders system. Here’s how it is presented by Merlin Mann:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly[2]

Again, the goal of this practice is not to have a clean, empty desktop, but a productivity system in place to help get things done.

4. Plan. Revisit the plan. Stay on task.

Your co-workers and supervisors think every task is an emergency and everything is a priority. Planning and staying on task is one of the most annoying practices my co-workers and supervisors must endure. Yet, unless I identify the goals and chart a trajectory to hit those goals, I’ll never me able to meet deadlines on time or successfully accomplish projects. How does the old adage go? If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Let’s do this!

Avoid waiting until you retire to complete that novel you’ve been working on, or that collection of poems you’ve been tinkering with for years. Find a writers group that can help you with accountability and encouragement. It is written that no one knows the number of his or her days. Our life is a shadow.[3] Whether it is writer’s block, procrastination, internal or external distraction, find that writing project you’ve been working on and commit to finishing it.

NOTES:
[1] Source: This Isn’t Happiness, accessed May 8, 2013 http://thisisnthappiness.com/post/48296644589/any-road
[2] Merlin Mann, “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’,” September 8, 2004 accessed May 4, 2013 http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done
[3] Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, 2010), 271.

Plan on- and offline activities

DSCN1707tiltshiftTheArtistLomoHow do you manage your online and offline activities? Okay, I am assuming you do manage your online and offline activities. For many people, time management is something that is not practiced–especially as it relates to blogging and social media. If you have an idea or thought, you post it on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or blog it.

True confession: I was one of those who did not manage online and offline activities. When I finally purchased a smartphone, I immediately downloaded all the latest and greatest social media mobile apps to stay connected. Or, at least, that was the reasoning. It was difficult for me to understand why some of my friends (online and in-real-life) were not more engaged in social media. For the most part, I disregarded them off as neo-luddites. Yes, I was a social media snob.

That all changed when I joined the ranks of the mega-commuters.[1] With long commutes to the office, there is limited time to engage in blogging and social media with out planning. Or at least, not a safe way to do it while driving through city traffic and mountains roads. Additionally, with the weight of leadership decisions and somewhere between 50 to 75 tasks per week, I rarely check my personal email or check social networks until the weekend.

So, for the last year or so my blogging and social media posts and updates have been automated. More accurately, most blog posts are scheduled using a WordPress feature and social media posts and updates scheduled using Hootsuite.

Saturday mornings or Sunday nights tend to be the time when I write online posts/updates. However, that doesn’t seem the best time to engage people. A couple articles I read [2] [3] suggest when the best time to post content on blogs and social media. So, I preschedule the posts, tweets, and other social media updates on the weekend. Sometimes I preschedule posts and updates as much as 14 days to a month in advance.

The downside of automating posts and updates as the lack of engagement. Sure, the content gets out there on a regular basis, but there’s little or no conversation taking place. This also means I miss a lot of the activity and conversation that is taking place on blogs and social networks. Some Saturday mornings I will spend a whole hour replying to comments on social media sites from the previous week. The point of social media is sharing and interaction.

In a manner of speaking and due to my present circumstances, I’ve sort of become one of those neo-luddites I used to snarkily snicker at. It’s humbling to realize how much of an idiot I had been regarding social media snobbery. Not everyone has the luxury of being accessible to social media. And, quite honestly, terra will continue her daily rotation speed of 1070 miles per hour regardless of my social media activity (or lack thereof).

NOTES:
[1] Matt Stiles, “Interactive: Compare Your Commute To The Nation’s Longest,” NPR’s The Two-Way, March 5, 2013 accessed April 23, 2013 http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/03/05/173515882/interactive-compare-your-commute-to-nations-longest
[2] Daniel Zeevi, “STUDY: When is the Best Time to Publish a Blog Post?,” Dashburst.com, February 4, 2013 accessed April 23, 2013 http://dashburst.com/report/best-time-to-blog/
[3] Samantha Murphy, “The Best and Worst Times to Share on Facebook, Twitter,” Mashable.com, May 9, 2012 accessed April 23, 2013 http://mashable.com/2012/05/09/best-time-to-post-on-facebook/

Quote: Productivity and self-control

Very often when we talk about the skill of ‘productivity’ what we are really talking about is ‘self-control.’

James Shelley (via the 99%)