I don’t feel so bad about my e-mail inbox now (Or: tips for using e-mail well)

One of my favorite podcasts is Get It Done Guy, by Stever Robbins.

He just did a blog post that addresses one of the banes of my existence: e-mail overload. I hate e-mail for the purpose of sharing links, collaboration, coordination, or keeping up with tasks and project. But I can’t seem to wean from e-mail the people I need to connect with on that stuff. Everyone uses different tools and services to manage their own processes, and too often the lowest common denominator is e-mail.

In Inbox Zero and the Critical Mistake That Saps Productivity, Stever writes:

“I believe that an empty inbox just means you’ve ceded control of your thinking and priorities to everyone who emails you. They control the volume, order, and substance of your attention for the time you’re processing your email. It *feels good* to have an empty inbox, but it also feels good to gorge on Oreo ice cream cake. That doesn’t mean that Oreo ice cream cake is good for you, only that it feels good. Inbox Zero has the extra sugary bonus that since *some* email is an essential part of our job, it’s easy to believe (with no evidence at all) that therefore it’s useful to spend some time on *all* email.

“Rather than striving for inbox zero, I advocate learning to identify the truly relevant emails very, very quickly, with an absolute minimum of cognitive load or context switching.

Whew! I don’t feel so bad now about the nearly 1000 items in my Gmail inbox…

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More break-the-story-box news tools: Andy Carvin, Twitter, and Egypt

Form follows function — which is why when traditional journalism tries to shoehorn fast-breaking, multidirectional events that unfold via social media into traditional narrative stories, it often flattens (and sometimes skews) the experience.

This is why I like tools that allow reporters and others to break “story box” by creating real-time collages that combine original reporting and commentary with curated contributions from social media and elsewhere.

The past month, NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin has been doing this via Twitter — first for the Tunisia uprising, and now with the Egyptian revolution. Today Berkman Center research Ethan Zuckerman published an excellent interview with Carvin exploring why he’s been posting an average of 400 tweets daily for the last month, and what others can learn from his efforts.

I summarized some highlights from this interview that might especially interest news professionals over at the Knight Digital Media Center site.

See: How NPR’s Andy Carvin is using Twitter to tell Egypt’s story

Making Twitter Lists more useful with filtering

Choose
Sometimes you don’t want EVERYTHING, just what you want. (Image by ervega via Flickr)

Today Twitter has begin a broad rollout of a new feature, Twitter Lists. The feature had been available only to a select group of beta users, but product manager Nick Kallen tweeted yesterday,Currently, 25% of all users have Lists.” I don’t have access to Lists yet, but I expect it’s coming soon.

The point of Twitter lists is relevant discovery: It’s an easy way to find and follow Twitter users you might not otherwise know about, but would be interested in. However, you might not be interested in everything (or even most things) a given Twitter user in a list has to say. This is more likely if you’re more interest in topics than people. In this case, Twitter lists might deliver more noise than signal.

But I think if you use a good tool like Tweetdeck for accessing Twitter (rather than just the Twitter site, which has always sucked for usability), you can combine Twitter Lists with filtering to end up with something very useful indeed, especially for staying abreast of news or topics… Continue reading

Experiment: Great Live Event Coverage for Hire. What do you think?

As I mentioned in my previous post, today I’m liveblogging and tweeting a daylong Las Vegas event by Metzger Associates: Social Media for Executives. It’s a small event for a select group of executives representing several types of companies.

I’m doing this as a pilot test for a new professional service I’d like to start offering: Great live event coverage.

In my experience, most online event coverage isn’t so great. A few folks will be tweeting or blogging in several places, some hashtags will be used, but it’s all rather confusing and inconsistent to follow. Also, a lot of people tend to tweet items like “Jane Doe is speaking at this session now.” Uh-huh… AND….?

Liveblogging/tweeting has turned out to be a real strength of mine — I’m good at it, and I enjoy it. I’ve also had the good fortune to collect a sizable Twitter following among folks whose interests in media, business, and other fields overlap with mine — and who enjoy my particular blend of reporting, analysis, and attitude. (Or at least I guess they do, because every time I do live event coverage my Twitter posse swells noticeably and those folks tend to stick around afterward.)

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter and CoverItLive. For instance, earlier this month for my client the Reynolds Journalism Institute I liveblogged/tweeted J-Lab’s Fund My Media Startup workshop at the 2009 Online News Association conference.

So, being a longtime entrepreneur always on the lookout for new opportunities, I’m looking for ways to offer live event coverage as a service for my clients. Today’s event is an experiment on this front.

I want to figure out how this service could work in a way that would appeal to my Twitter posse, maintain my integrity and independence, and provide value to clients who’d pay for it.

Here are some of the issues I’m wrestling with, that I’d welcome your thoughts on…

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Google Wave: I want it because I hate e-mail

I have come to loathe e-mail. Well, at least for coordination (like setting meetings) or collaboration (like working together on projects) or tasks (like answering people’s questions) or ongoing conversations (like discussion groups). I quickly get overwhelmed by all those separate messages, each of which requires a surprising amount of thought to place it in context and figure out what I’m supposed to DO with it.

It makes my brain hurt.

This video from EpipheoStudios.com nails exactly why I hate e-mail, and how Google Wave is trying to solve the problems of e-mail.

YouTube – What is Google Wave?.

I don’t know whether Google Wave will actually solve these problems. But dammit, at least they’re trying to tackle the problem. And they have the development power and user base to stand a chance of pulling it off.

A friend has sent me an invite. I haven’t received it yet. But when I do, I’ll give it a try. UPDATE: I just got my Google Wave invitation today! I’ll get a chance to play with it over the weekend. I expect it to be rough. (OK, everyone who’s whining about it: rough is what “alpha testing” is all about!) And hopefully I’ll start to glimpse an end to the e-mail madness.

AP’s iPhone App: White Elephant

White Elephant: A possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner. (Random House Dictionary)

Today, AP debuted its AP Stylebook iPhone app.

According to the press release. “AP Stylebook fans have been asking for a mobile application so they can have style guidance wherever they go. Journalists never know when they will need to run out the door to chase a story, so as long as they have an iPhone in their pockets when they go, the Stylebook can go with them.”

…Which indicates the strategy here: The AP Stylebook iphone app is basically an app as e-book. Which almost explains its exhorbitant price: $28.99.

Yep, that’s right: $28.99 for an iPhone app. Seriously.

Beyond displaying the text of the AP Stylebook 2009, this app adds a little extra functionality: “The 2009 AP Stylebook app features searchable listings for the main, sports, business and punctuation sections, along with the ability to add custom entries and personalized notes on AP listings. Stylebook app users are able to mark any entry as a favorite for easy access.”

…In other words, similar with what you could do with this book on a Kindle. Only AP doesn’t offer a Kindle edition of the Stylebook.

AP does offer online Stylebook subscriptions: $25/year for an individual, with cheaper bulk pricing available for organizations. Which means that the iPhone app is more costly than an online subscription. So why wouldn’t iPhone users buy an online subscription instead and access it through the mobile Safari browser?

Here’s another thing baffles me: Why sell an app that’s basically a standalone e-book? Why not offer a free app with some free content/service that also can allow paying subscribers to log in from their phone and have a mobile-optimized experience? It seems to me that AP is reinventing the wheel with this app, missing obvious opportunities to grow its Stylebook market, and positioning this product poorly through ludicrous pricing.

It gets worse… but it could get better too…

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Managing tasks, managing emotions: Don’t panic!

Hierarchy of Digital Distractions: Top of a brilliant, too-accurate pyramid infographic by InformationIsBeautiful.net

Hierarchy of Digital Distractions: Top of a brilliant, too-accurate pyramid infographic by InformationIsBeautiful.net

Productivity and task management seem like strictly practical issues, but in fact they’re deeply emotional. That’s what David Allen describes at in the first chapter of Getting Things Done, when he talks about the sense of calmness instilled by having a mind like water.

It seems to me that tuning into and recognizing your own feelings (especially hope, shame, relief, and fear) is THE crucial first step for figuring out what to do, getting stuff done, and letting stuff go. That’s what I’ve been working on today. Here is a little background, and some thoughts and lessons on this theme…

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Thinking of updating your mac to Snow Leopard? Do this FIRST!

While I’m here on my 3rd Apple Store visit in as many days to try to recover from a disaster triggered by my attempt to upgrade my Mac to the Snow Leopard OS X, here are some tips that might save other Mac users similar pain and frustration.

1. Back up your entire machine onto TWO EXTERNAL DRIVES. It’s a good idea to run Time Machine backup as often as possible. But when you’re running the risk of having to hand over your mac AND your backup drive to a technician (which is always the case when attempting a significant operating system update), it’s a good idea to have a separate copy of your backup in your own possession.

2. Verify the condition of your hard drive. Apple is marketing Snow Leopard chiefly as a way to enhance performance. However, if your hard drive is developing problems (as mine apparently was), that will impair performance. Installing Snow Leopard won’t fix HD problems, and it may even cause your drive to fail during installation (as mine did)

So Verify your disk using your Mac’s Disk Utility before you upgrade. That can indicate HD problems. It’s not a perfect predictor of problems, but it’s at least some help. Had I thought to do this, I might not have lost 3 workdays and be freezing my ass off in an over-air conditioned Apple Store right now.

If your disk verification process indicates problems, and if you’re experiencing decreasing performance, it’s probably a safer bet to get your HD replaced and data restored correctly BEFORE attempting to upgrade your operating system. If you have to go to the Apple Store to do this, make sure they put in the work order that you do NOT want the OS upgraded yet.

3. Check your warranty coverage. I purchased Apple Care when I bought my mac a couple of years ago, and it’s still in effect. So Apple replaced my HD for free. I’m not sure whether the warranty covers drives that are having problems (rather than have already failed), but it’s worth asking about.

4. Line up a backup computer. If, like me, you work or life could get seriously screwed if you lose your computer for a few days or more, make sure you have handy access to a functional backup machine BEFORE doing a significant system update. Load it up with all the software & data you’ll need to do what you need to do, and test it.

Personally, I’m getting a Linux netbook ASAP.

5. Check your ProCare staus. ProCare is Apple’s preferred service program. It costs about $100/yr, and it’s worth it if you depend in your Mac. If you need a speedy repair, make sure you have current ProCare coverage. You van buy it on the spot at the Apple Store if you need it.

6. Don’t leave the Apple Store without your computer the way you need it. If your OS X update goes dreadfully wrong (as mine did), required them to wipe your drive, have the Apple Store staff restore your operating system and data from your Time Machine backup. Don’t do all of that yourself.

My experience shows that this installation/restore process is trickier than Apple claims. It’s surprisingly easy for the Time Machine restoration to not work right with a freshly installed OS. Make them do everything you need do your machine is up and running. Bring this blog post with you if they balk, and stick to your guns.

This means bringing your external HD with your current Time Machine backup to the Apple Store with you, of course. And before you leave, sync your iPhone and make sure it works. My iPhone sync is not yet working, so I’m staying put in this store for now.

7. Check the “Lemon Law” in your state. The details if this federal consumer protection law are defined by each state. In many states, including CA, lemon laws cover not just vehicles but also consumer products. This may give you recourse if you get screwed by Apple on mac-related issues, like a disastrous OS update you paid for.

Also have the phone number of the local Better Business Bureau handy, and be willing to file a complaint if necessary.

8. Don’t attempt a major system update a couple of weeks after having knee surgery. I’m just saying, it makes everything that much more difficult, aggravating, and risky.

My Snow Leopard Disaster: live updates from 3rd Apple Store visit

I’m sitting in the Apple Store at 5656 Bay St., Emeryville, CA. It’s the third time I’ve been here in as many days, thanks to a series of unfortunate events spawned by my misguided effort to upgrade my Macbook Pro to the latest OS X, Snow Leopard.

I’ve been here about 3 hours so far.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. My mac was increasingly having performance problems, and Snow Leopard is marketed mainly as a performance enhancer.
  2. When I tried installing SL, it failed because my hard drive crashed. HD problems were most likely the cause of my performance problems.
  3. Apple replaced my HD, installed SL, and told me to restore from my Time Machine backup. The TM restore failed in a weird way.
  4. On my 2nd Apple Store trip, they wiped my HD, installed SL, and gave me new instructions for restoring from TM. Last night that failed too.

For more details on exactly what went wrong, see my posts from yesterday and this morning.

So today, on my third visit, my goals are:

  1. Get my HD wiped again. Tech reports this was done.
  2. Get the regular Leopard OS X installed, NOT Snow Leopard. Really, screw SL at this point! Tech reports this was done.
  3. Restore my apps and data from the CORRECT TM backup, something the SL installer would not let me do.
  4. Avoid unnecessary walking. I had knee surgery Aug. 13, & doc says I must avoid unnecessary walking until my leg is much stronger, to avoid developing a hard-to-correct limp. Trouble is I don’t own a car, so had to take bus to Apple store, which involved walking a few blocks. I’m staying put in the Apple Store (they gave me a chair) until my mac is fixed. Been here nearly three hours so far.
  5. Check everything out BEFORE I sign off on this repair & leave. And if it’s not fixed, they’re getting a big ‘ol dose of NJ loud ‘n pissed, plus possible action under CA’s lemon law. (Been doing sone research, and it applies to consumer products, not just cars.)
  6. Get a refund for Snow Leopard. Yeah. Seriously.
  7. Try to avoid homicides. Just on general principles. Especially at the Apple Store. Too many witnesses.

If all goes well, my mac will emerge from brain surgery in the next hour. I hope so, because I’m getting hungry.

It’s cold in here. Glad I brought my goodie.

So far I’ve lost 3 days to this. Most of my work-related data is in the cloud, but not having a backup computer leaves me outta that loop. So I’m researching which Linux netbook to purchase. I’ve been wanting one for travel & portability, but now I see having a backup machine running Firefox with all my plugins and that I can actually type on makes the difference to keep me in business.

Because writing on an iPhone truly sucks. I loathe this #^*+%# touch keyboard. Good thing I remembered to charge up & bring my backup battery.

I’ll post again when I know more. Stay tuned.