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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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.

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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Blogging doesn’t have to be extra work

Recently I was conversing with some journalism colleagues about getting started with blogging. One of the most basic questions inevitably arose: How can you make time for blogging, on top of the stories you’re already writing or other work you’re doing or just having a life?

In my experience, blogging can be an easy way to get more mileage out of things you’re already doing. It’s a matter of shifting your process, not just adding new tasks. If something you think, encounter, or learn is interesting or entertaining and there’s nothing to lose by sharing it, then blog it.

For instance…
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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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My Tumblr experiment: Exploring options for fast, easy posts

People contribute more when contributing is easy. That’s true for posting to sites or forums as well as donating money.

That said, many sites make it surprisingly hard to post. Not excruciatingly difficult — but just laborious enough to be a barrier to some would-be contributors.

This week I’m experimenting with using different tools to post to Contentious.com. Here’s the first one:

My Tumblr Experiment

I’m doing this because some of my clients use fairly complex content management systems, where each post requires a surprising number of steps.

Most commonly, here’s what site contributors must do…

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Ethical Quandary: Assistant, Blogging, and Logins

I’m wondering how to handle a tricky aspect of working with an assistant.

Hi, all. Sorry I haven’t been blogging here much lately, but I’ve been slammed trying to keep my head above water with my client projects. I’m working on a strategy to lighten my stress level (and reduce the near-constant sensation of being pecked to death by ducks) by considering hiring an assistant.

OK, assistants (virtual and otherwise), PLEASE don’t consider this an opening to pitch yourself in my comments! I need to think through some issues first, and here’s a biggie:

Posting to blogs takes an inordinate amount of my time — not writing the post, generally, but simply making the post — logging into a client blog’s back-end system and dealing with its formatting and other idiosyncrasies to make the post go live. This is especially time-consuming for one client’s blog, which relies on an entirely custom-made, clunky, and bug-ridden content management system.

One thing I’d like an assistant to do for me would be to take the post that I’ve completed and edited, along with illustration (if any), log in to the client’s back-end, and actually post the entry — and preview it to check it before it goes live.

I’m about the ethical and logistical issues. Here are the questions I’m pondering:

  • Should I get the client’s permission beforehand before giving my assistant access to the blog back-end?
  • Should I ask the client to set up a separate login for my assistant, or just give my assistant access to my login for the blog?
  • What questions or concerns are the blog owners likely to have about this, and how might I address them constructively?

I’d love to hear thoughts on this — especially from anyone who has outsourced blog posting (rather than writing). I’d especially love tips for training, oversight, expectations, etc. Please comment below!

My weird iCal/Leopard problems: Help!

I love iCal, but it’s driving me crazy lately. Help!

As you might have guessed, I’m a pretty busy person. If I didn’t have a good electronic calendar program, with alerts and reliable backup, I’d be totally lost. That’s why I’ve been a devoted user of Apple’s iCal program for about 10 years.

A few months ago, when I upgraded to a Macbook Pro with the Leopard OS (original install, not a Leopard upgrade), iCal started getting weird on me. I’ve been to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store twice about it, and have yet to find a problem. But I’m getting concerned, because I depend so heavily on this program. If it totally flames out on me, moving to a new solution will be a big hassle.

So I’m hoping some of my readers, or someone in the iCal support forums, is smarter or luckier than me and the folks at my local Apple Genius Bar.

Here are the iCal problems I’m experiencing, and what I’ve tried (unsuccessfully, so far) to diagnose and fix it. Your ideas and suggestions for further measures are most welcome…
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Live Microblogging: What I’m Learning

(NOTE: I’m cross-posting this from Poynter’s E-Media Tibits.)

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m currently using Twitter to provide live coverage of many of the sessions at a seminar from the Knight Digital Media Center called Total Community Coverage in Cyberspace. You can check in anytime today or tomorrow for my three most recent posts on the top of the TCC blog, or follow me directly via Twitter.

(Heads up: Obviously I won’t be Twittering during the 2-hour workshop I’m giving this afternoon: Connecting with “Communities of Difference.” Here are my online handouts for that, though.)

I’m doing this largely as an experiment to explore how journalists (professional or amateur) can use microblogging tools like Twitter.

One important thing I’ve learned from this so far is that, at least for me, post frequency dictates process and mindset…

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Post-travel catch-up: How do you do it?

Amy Gahran
Barcelona was fabulous, especially the living statues. Now it’s back to real life. (Cringe!)

I’ve just returned from a 2-week trip that mixed business, vacation, and family. It was quite a whirlwind, but it was also fun, exciting, and important in many ways. While I was gone I was able to keep E-Media Tidbits going, but not much on Contentious. Due to laptop problems (now fixed, all I needed was a new power converter), I was mostly on other people’s machines and didn’t want to hog them.

Now I’m back home, in regular life again. Fortunately I feel rested — I managed to get adequate rest while on the road, and when I got home yesterday I went straight to a fabulous massage and then took it easy all evening. Today I’ll go for a bike ride to get some exercise.

However, I really need to hit the ground running to prepare for a workshop I have to give in L.A. next week. Of course, I have backlog — bills and billing, touching base with clients, responding to correspondence, cleaning house (it’s a bit chaotic, which makes it hard for me to concentrate), and finding a way to do an adequate brain dump so I don’t lose the insights gained on this trip.

How do you manage your post-trip catch-up? Any tips I might benefit from? Please comment below!