Emails on a Smartphone: Do and Don’t

I have started to regularly read emails on my smartphone 2 years ago. The default email settings are not always the most efficient ones for our work. Moreover, we can and should use the smartphone only up to a certain extent – definitely not handling emails through a smartphone the same way we handle them from our desktop Outlook.

When I say “read emails on a smartphone” I mean using a smartphone application (as opposed to using browser running Outlook Web Access). I’m using the email application on a smartphone running Android, while connecting through Exchange to the organizational email. I had to enter my organizational username/password credentials and that’s about it. It also required me to apply PIN password for my smartphone enter screen, but this really depends on your organization policy regarding email access through smartphones.

smartphone

Do and Don’t

I would start by saying that emails on a smartphone should be done smartly and carefully, meaning using it mainly for 2 purposes:

  1. Reading emails
  2. Replying on urgent emails

Don’t try to do beyond that, as it would probably result inefficient usage of your time. Examples of what I do not recommend to do:

  1. Categorizing emails and/or moving them to folders. Android don’t have the option of putting categories on emails (and I believe other smartphone OSs don’t have such option either). Even if my smartphone email application would have, it would be probably much much slower than using the desktop Outlook.
  2. Replying on meeting invitations. Don’t. First of all, you can’t see your calendar easily like in Outlook, so what most people end up doing is accepting the meeting blindly, which is really not the recommended way. Read “how should we handle a calendar invitation?” for more details. Secondly, I heard about many cases where the sync of the Outlook on such smartphone-accept/reject action doesn’t end up well (meaning things are not being updated correctly on the smartphone->outlook direction).
  3. Reply on your emails. Be very selective here. Typing answers using smartphone is slower and problematic – it is harder to do highlighting, bolding, bullets, text correctness checking, etc. I recommend to reply on emails only when:
    1. You have a short reply (1-2 sentences) that can move things forward.
    2. Urgent email to handle. Here is the trap – people tend to give urgency to items that are not urgent, so stay on guard here.

To sum up, it is better to leave the above items to the time when you are near your desktop Outlook – it will be much faster, much accurate and much easier than your smartphone.

Enhancing the email experience

Now let’s see how we can make our emails reading experience better when we use our smartphone. In order to have a similar experience to the desktop Outlook, we should configure the below 2 items. Now don’t set your expectations too high – Outlook is far richer, more enhanced, and easier to use then any smartphone would ever be. Still, we can apply a few simple configurations that will enhance our email reading experience.

Auto-BCC

If you are using the automatic-BCC option on your Outlook (see “The secret of BCC”), you should have the same experience on your smartphone. Go to your advanced setting on your email application and check the copy-me-as-BCC option.

Emails by Conversation

One of the recommendations we had in this blog was looking at email threads as conversations (see “adjusting our outlook messages pane: sorting”). We want to have the same experience on our smartphone. Go to your email application settings and request to see emails gathered as a conversation.

That’s about it. Use your smartphone smartly, don’t abuse the experience.

Search Folders – A Kind of Magic

If your first reaction is “what a search folder is” then you are going to witness a magic. OK, not a magic, but a really cool and useful feature of Outlook.

I assume you came around the following dilemma – I have email I would like to follow up with my manager in my next weekly with her. I don’t want to put those emails in a dedicated physical folder named “Boss” since such folder will only grow in time. Plus, there are certain emails that I would like to follow up on both with my boss and with my leading engineer. Mmm… what should I do?

Shelves-of-file-folders

Well, Outlook offers us exactly the solution we need – search folders. A search folder is a virtual folder (as opposed to a physical folder) that shows emails based on a search criteria. Sounds complicated? Not at all.

Search Folder in Details

The emails that a search folder shows are physically located somewhere else, but still they appear in the search folder. Think on a search folder as if it is a filter on your entire emails, and you can define what this filter would look like.

Let’s go back to our example – we want to have an easy way to see all the emails that we need to talk with our manager. Moreover, after we would talk with our manager about a specific email, we want an easy way to remove it from the search folder.

The basic tools for reaching that goal are flag and category. When I want to see an email in a search folder, I first make sure I have the right category set up. For example, I would create category called “follow up with manager”. When I have email that I want to follow up on with my manager, I would categorize it as “follow up with manager”. On top of that, I would add a flag to this email.

There are 2 reasons I’m adding a flag on top of the category:

  1. Once I need to remove an email from a search folder, unflagging will do the job in the easiest way. The reason for that is that we will define the search criteria as category+flag. We will see that in a minute.
  2. Outlook sometimes categorizes other emails that appear on the same email thread as the email we have categorized. It is like Outlook is duplicating our category to the email thread. Having combination of category and flag would make sure the search folder would show the email we intended it to show.

So we have an email categorized as “follow up with manager” and with a flag. Now we can create a search folder that would catch it.

Creating a Search Folder

  • Right click on “Search Folders”
  • Select “New Search Folder”

NewSearchFolder

  • Select “Create a custom Search Folder”

SearchFolder_Custom

  • Select “Choose”
  • Enter the search folder name

SearchFolder_Name

  • Select “Criteria…”
  • Go to the “More Choices” tab
  • Check the “only items which:” checkbox and select the value “are flagged by me”
  • Click the “Categories…” button and select the relevant category from the list

SearchFolder_Criteria

  • Click OK x 3

Now you have search folder named “Follow up with manager”. This folder would show the emails that you have categorized as “follow up with manager” and that have flag set. BTW – the name of the search folder can be different then the name of the category.

It might take Outlook a few minutes to find the emails for this search folder. It happens only on the first creation of the folder. After that, each email that you categorize (+flag) would be shown immediately.

Number of Emails in a Search Folder

One last trick before we are done. The search folder show by default the number of emails that are un-read. We don’t really care about the count of un-read emails in the search folder. What we really care is how many emails in general this search folder holds. In order to see that:

  • Right click on the search folder
  • Select Properties
  • Change the radio button from “Show number of unread items” to “Show total number of items”

SearchFolder_TotalNumber

Remove an Email from a Search Folder

When you want to remove an email from a search folder, you just un-flag it. So, suppose I had a weekly with my manager and I have talked with her about a specific email I have in my “follow up with manager” search folder. I just click the flag (for removing it) and the email would disappear from my search folder. Remember, the search folder we have created shows emails that have both “follow up with manager” category and have a flag set.

 

Beyond a Single Folder – Automatic Rules

After I have published the “How Many Folders? Only One” post, a friend of mine has raised the question whether and how I use automatic rules. At the end of that post I have mentioned that I use more than a single physical folder, but only for specific cases. In this post I’ll describe those cases.

RuleCategorize

The rule of thumb is that emails being generated by automatic tools deserve a separated physical folder. Examples of such automatic tools are: defect-tracking system that generate report on every update of a defect, organizational Wiki that sends notifications on page updates, etc.

There are 2 main reasons why we should move such automatic generated emails to a separated physical folder. Let’s review them.

Time Fragmentation

Automatic tools usually generate high volume of emails (as compared to a real person). Exploding the Inbox with such emails shifts our focus to those emails, which is usually not a best practice approach. It is better to look on those emails a few times a day/week, where we can review bunch of emails, of the same type, at the same time. By that, we avoid time fragmentation, which is the #1 killer of our work efficiency.

Coloring Abuse

In one of the mentoring sessions I did with my group, people have raised a concern about emails that are coming from automatic tools and which are directed to us explicitly. As we are alone on the To list, those emails are colored as our first priority emails (see “Coloring“).

Having those emails in our Inbox, damages the coloring system badly. Moving those emails automatically to a side folder protects our coloring system.

Automatic Rule

I’ll go through chapter by example. In my organization, I am registered for notifications on defect-tracking system, called JIRA. Every time a defect in my project is being created or updated, I am receiving an email with the details about the defect.

The auto generated emails have title in the format of “[JIRA] yada yada yada”. I have created a physical folder (under Inbox) called “JIRA” for containing those emails.

Create a Rule

  1. Go to Home
  2. In the Move section, select Rules
  3. Select Manage Rules & Alerts
    ManageRule
  4. Select New Rule
  5. Define as below
    Rule_JIRA_Basic

At this point, all the defect-tracking emails are being directed to the JIRA physical folder. However, there were still cases where I wanted to see specific emails in my Inbox – emails of the “first priority” type:

  1. Someone (a person) mentioned my name in the defect record, and is pending on my response.
  2. Someone (a person) replied on an automatic email. In this case I no longer consider this email under the automatic category and want to treat it as a regular email.

What we actually want is having an exception for those emails. Luckily us, Outlook rule system has exactly what we need – exception category within a specific rule.
We would take the rule that we have made above, edit it, and add to it the below exceptions.

Rule_JIRA_Adv

Now we are all set and ready. The automatic emails won’t disturb our main work – we now have control over our time. We decide when to look at those emails.

 

The More You Send, The More You Get

We are living in a digital environment and sometimes we get confused on when an email should be used and when other communication channels should be used. I would let you know how I do it and you would decide whether to use the same guidelines or not.

I have decided to write this post after I have spotted an email storm in my organization, which I had to stop by working together with my team leaders on creating a different email handling environment. We are not quite there, but we are certainly getting progress to the target. It will be clearer by the end of this post.

Storm

The rule of thumb we should all remember is that the more emails we send the more emails we get. Therefore, we should hold for a second before we start replying on an email and consider the trade-offs.

You Don’t Have to Reply It Right Now

Email is an offline communication tool which should not cause fragmentation to the work of the participants on the distribution list (if incoming email causes your work to be fragmented, read “desktop alerts are evil”). Therefore, email is effective in many cases, especially when people from different time zones are involved.

However, please consider using a more direct communication medium (e.g. phone, face-to-face) in the following cases:

  • Back and forth discussion is being performed over the email thread. My rule of thumb: email thread that has more than 10 emails within 2 days should be stopped and move to another communication medium.
  • You feel that the other side (distribution list) is being defensive or getting offended. We all have emotional inelegance (to some extent) to detect such cases. Trust your instincts on this. If there is a doubt, go for non-email medium.
  • The topic is too complicated to explain by text. You know that when you are re-writing the same sentence 5 times in order to explain something.
  • Our answer on the email is not urgent and we can discuss it online in our next weekly meeting with the person/forum. If we have a weekly meeting, let’s collect topics to discuss there and save the email traffic. It might be that after the weekly meeting, we would continue the email thread, but we have certainly saved some email traffic, as the email thread continues from a much more advanced point.

Control the Distribution List

Make sure the distribution list of the email is appropriate. Usually, it is too big. In such case, reduce it (read “the secret of BCC”).

Use Other Offline Tools

In some cases consider neglecting the email thread all together and communicate the information through other organizational tools. For example, my company is using JIRA for product problem tracking. Instead of discussing product problems over emails, we communicate through the JIRA system. This ensures that the distribution lists are small and focused, and only the relevant people are involved at every given time in the problem analysis process.

Avoid the Email Storm

Remember, this is a social methodology – the more people will use it in your network, the better the results are for everyone .

I have detected interesting phenomena in networks where people don’t use those guidelines. When the network is big (many email users) and the need for communication increases (e.g. at the “money time” of a project), an email storm begins.

It starts by a few managers that start sending urgency emails. The receivers don’t hold it and reply immediately, which cause more receivers to receive and reply, back and forth. The email traffic increases exponentially till it gets to some level that people can’t handle it anymore. At this point, people continue sending and replying on some emails, but they can’t really track all the emails – this is where things start falling apart.

Now the managers get angry and start another round of emails – this time, the emails are aggressive and offensive and the people are frustrated. The organization is being dragged into a circular loop that no one knows how to stop.

A simple way to detect an email storm is by analyzing your email traffic. It takes only 2 minutes. Type “received:yyyy-mm-dd” in your email search field and count the emails. Do that for the last 10-20 working days and put it on an excel graph.

See below how I have detected the email storm in my organization – straight forward and clear to detect, right?

StormGraph

Once I have detected it, I have gathered all my leaders and we have talked about it for 20 minutes. After a few days, I have already detected an improvement – the storm was getting calmer…

How Many Folders? Only One

On this post I’m going to touch a controversial topic – the need to use the Outlook folders system. Let me start with the conclusion – we do NOT need any folders except for one. It might sound outrages and impossible but it is really the logical conclusion when analyzing it. I’ll explain in a minute.

I have decided to write this post this week after I have mentored one of the leaders in my group. Seeing her excitement when she has deleted her entire folder list was the greatest gift for me. She was brave and she has remained with a single folder. Good for her. Now let’s see if you can do the same.

OnlyOne

Our intuition in emails classification is creating folders by category and classifying the emails according to topics. It seems like the reasonable approach to use, right? Wrong. Let’s talk about a few aspects here.

The first aspect is the scalability of the method over time. This method is not scalable. We all know it, but we don’t want to admit it. We always start with ~5 folders system (e.g. project X, project Y, administration, purchase, courses). It is clean and nice and we think we have nailed it down. Then comes another project, project Z, so we add it as a folder. Project X and Y are already over, but we don’t delete those folders, as we might want to use those emails in the future. So, after 6 month we triple the number of the folders we have.

OK, so we have more folders then we planned to. After 2 years we have ~50 folders. No big deal, right? Wrong. This is a huge deal, because now our classification process takes much longer. Let’s assume we have received an email from our boss about the need to improve the quality of our product. Mmm… this can go to the current “project” folder, it can go to our “procedures” folder and it can go to our “boss-related” folder. Confusing. So, we stop for a minute and start thinking where the best place is to classify it.

Let’s try to analyze what we actually do in this confusing phase – we are trying to figure out in which folder we would search it in the future, in case we would need to review this email again. And of course when this time in the future comes, we don’t really remember where we have classified it and are starting to think where we have put that email – was is it in the project folder, the boss-related folder, the procedure folder, or maybe in the miscellaneous folder that we have recently created?

To sum it up, over time our folder list increases, which increases the time it takes us to classify our emails and search for them later on. As time goes by, our efficiency decreases. What a bummer.

Bummer

At this point in the post, we should all feel less comfortable with our folders system. Let’s challenge this system and see what we can do better for being more efficient here.

Pareto could help us here (the 80-20 rule). I say that 80% of the emails that we classify into folders are never being searched by us in the future. The rest of the emails (20%) that we do search, we can’t really find easily due to our endless folder list.

Vilfredo_pareto

Therefore, the logic conclusion would be that by not classifying the emails into folders, we could save the entire classification time. This can save us 1-2 hours a week (I’ll leave you do the math). There is even a bigger prize here – we remove the minded burden that is tight up with our email review procedure. When we stop classifying emails, it starts to be easier to review emails and move them out of the Inbox (we would talk about the zero Inbox approach in the future).

What a relief… no more emails to classify. But now comes the day where we really need to find an email (remember, there is the 20% part that we do want to search). How do we do it? Easily – using the Outlook search system. Want to know how? Read the post I wrote about “search it, search it, till you make it”.

Now you need to brave enough to take this step. Being honest here, it took me 2 month to do that leap many years ago. So I understand it is hard, but you need to do that. I would suggest to do that in 2 phases:

  1. Phase 1: Continue using your current email classification system. BUT, when you reach the point that you need to search an email, DO NOT go to your folders. Search it through the Outlook search engine.
  2. Phase 2: after a couple of weeks, where you managed to find all your emails using the Outlook search engine (not using your folder list), you are ready to stop using your folder list. At this point you can create a folder named “Processed” and move all emails from your folders into the “Processed” folder. After that, delete your folders and you are done.

Good luck!

BTW – I wasn’t completely honest with you – I do hold a couple of more folders, but for a different purpose. I would tell you all about it in my next post, so stay tuned…

How should we handle a calendar invitation?

We are all receiving meeting invitations on weekly basis, but we do not always know how to handle them properly. Here are a few techniques for properly handling a meeting invitation while avoiding any re-scheduling  loops.

We have received a meeting invitation, now what? One thing we can’t do is ignoring it – it won’t go away. Therefore we need to accept it, reject it or tentatively accept it. There is also the proposed-new-time option. Let’s do some drill down.

calendar2016

Accept it

Accept a meeting if you really can attend it. Do not accept a meeting and then don’t show up. It is not appropriate. This advise seems trivial, but unfortunately I see many people hitting the Accept button for every meeting they receive without even looking whether they can attend or not.

Using Outlook 2007 and above, when receiving a meeting invitation, a view of the meeting time slot in the calendar is being displayed on the reading pane. This means we can easily know on the spot whether we have a meeting schedule conflict or not. Use it that information.

MeetingInvitationPreviewBlur

Note: if you access your emails through a smartphone, do not handle your meeting invitations through it, since you don’t have an easy way to determine whether you have a conflict or not.

Decline it

Once we reach the conclusion we either don’t want to be part of the meeting or can’t be part of the meeting, we should decline it.

Decline is kind of insulting (it might sound funny, but it is). Therefore, we should always use the “Edit the Response before sending” option, while explaining the reason for the decline. The organizer invited us for a reason. If we decline it, we should state at least why.

MeetingDeclineEdit

Tentative it

In case you are not sure you would be able to attend the meeting, state it. Again, I recommend using the Edit option for this case, explaining why we chose tentative.

Propose a New Time

When we choose Decline or Tentative because we are not available on the proposed time slot, we should propose a new time for the originator to select. By making an offer (as wait for the originator make a new offer) we have better control over our time. When making an offer, we should explore what other time-slot possibilities are there that would match our preference while taking under consideration the other participants availability as appears in the calendar.

When my calendar schedule is tight, I take it one step further (after the new proposed time) – I create a “fake” calendar meeting (only with myself) on the proposed time, named “placeholder for…” (e.g. “placeholder for Roy design meeting”). This would make sure no one would schedule a meeting for me on that time slot. The reason I do that is the gap in time between the moment we have proposed a new time and the moment the organizer has changed the meeting schedule – during that time frame, another person might invite us for a meeting on that new-proposed time slot, which would cause a conflict.

 

The secret of BCC

I am dedicating this blog to a dear colleague of mine that recently left the company for her next exciting challenge. She has asked me how to put herself automatically as BCC on her sent emails. So I have decided to write a post on BCC and its usage.

Secret

 

What is BCC?

BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy.  Its famous “brothers” are the To and CC options. When you put a person on the BCC list, that person receives the email, but that person doesn’t appear on the distribution list. This means that people that receive the email are unaware that the a 3rd person has received the email as well. There are various usages for the BCC, as we will see in a minute.

BCC

BCC for snitching

You want to send an email to someone but to keep a 3rd person informed on that email without the knowledge of the distribution list. For some reason, most of people are using that option in a negative scenario. For example, reprimanding someone while secretly informing his boss.

This is a very risky usage to apply. Why? Because people reply on emails without always checking whether they appear on the To, CC or BCC lists – they just reply if they feel like (I’ll write a few posts on how to write and reply on emails later on). A BCC person that would reply on such an email would probably damage your work relationship on the spot. Once the BCC person has replied, the people on the original distribution list would understand that this email was secretly informed to a 3rd person. As we already said, secretly mostly used on the negative side.

I find this BCC usage the worst one and I never use it. I strongly recommend you not to use the BCC option in that context.

BCC for phasing out

Suppose there is a wide distribution email thread, and at some point the discussion has narrowed down to a specific item that is not the interest of the entire distribution list. One option is to start another email thread for that discussion (BTW – changing the title of the current email thread and reply on it is just like a new email thread).

Another option is removing the non-relevant people from the thread, by putting them on BCC, and continuing the discussion with the relevant distribution list. OK, so why not just remove the people from the distribution list and that’s it? Well, because the removed-people would not know that they have been removed. What is wrong with that? Well, those people would assume the email thread was just neglected and would probably reply on the email thread trying to pick it up again.

Let take a trivial example that I have witnessed a lot. There is a support-distribution-list for a certain product. A problem appears, and the person experiencing the problem reports on it (via email) to the support-distribution-list. Someone from the distribution list understands that the problem resides on a specific module of the product and therefore reply-all and adjusts the distribution list to a component-distribution-list (a subset of the original list).

At this point, most of the people on the original support-distribution-list aren’t aware that someone has picked up the email thread and started to handle the problem. In such case, usually one of 2 things happens:

  • Someone from the original-distribution-list reply-all on the email asking “has someone picked it up?” as it seems like no one really handled the problem.
  • Another team is wasting time trying to troubleshoot the problem although the problem was already identified on another module. A waste of energy.

Now we know why removing people from an email thread without their knowledge cause more damage than help. It is more polite and informative to move people to BCC while stating that explicitly – e.g. “moving all to BCC except for..”, “moving John to BCC as we focus on..”, etc.

This makes sure that the removed-people are aware of that and in case they really want to be part of the discussion, they can still reply and request to be included.

One word of caution before I end this section – there are certain cultures that find BCC offensive in some cases. I find BCC very useful in this scenario, but people’s feelings come first. So be aware of that point when you try the BCC for the first time in your organization.

Self-BCC for follow up

This is the section my ex-colleague was asking for. Self-BCC means that on every email I’m sending, I’m putting myself as BCC, so I would receive the email in my Inbox.

Why do we need to receive emails that we send? I have hard time answering that since it is tightly coupled with the time-management methodology I mentor people for… but I’ll do my best.

There are certain times we want/need to follow up on emails that we have sent. For the follow up purposes, we can mark them with flags and categories for picking them up later on. In order to find such email, we need to go to the “Sent Items” and look for it. If it happens to us a lot, we might find it more convenient having those emails in our mailbox.

Another reason for self-BCC is keeping complete email threads in case we need to approach the email thread in the future. Complete means including the emails that we have sent.

I treat the “Sent Items” like the “Deleted Items”, meaning I delete those from time to time (once a month?). Other people like to move complete threads to a certain physical folder and look for them there later on. Having part of the email thread in the “Sent Items” folder, makes this job hard. Having complete email threads is done easily using the self-BCC.

How to do it? Using rules:

  • Go to Home tab
  • Go to Move section
  • Select Rules
  • Select “Manage Rules & Alerts

ManageRule

  • Create a new rule according to the below criteria (just replace “Morabia Erez” with your name…)

SelfBCC_Rule

Have fun!

 

Run Meetings the Right Way

Many books were written on how to run meetings – it is definitely a challenging task to accomplish. The guidelines in “Invite the Right Way” would definitely get our chances higher to make it happen. But still, we have the responsibility to run the meeting the right way as well.

I would like to share with you a few guidelines that would help us move forward with our meeting goals.

RunMeeting

Be assertive and focused

If we are the meeting owners, it is our responsibility that the meeting would be focused on the objectives and agenda. If people get off the road, we should help them get back on track. One of the strongest phrases that would help us accomplish this is “let’s take it offline”.

Offline is not a bad word – it means that a specific discussion is important, but not important for the current meeting objectives and therefore should be discussed in another time and/or with a different forum.

You know what, I wasn’t accurate enough when I said “if people get off the road”. I should have said “when people get off the road” because it happens all the time in most of the meetings I have participated in. It is not because people have bad intensions – I guess it is just because every one of us has different interests and understanding when coming to a specific meeting, and this is usually not aligned with the meeting owner objectives.

By the way, this is why small meetings are more efficient – you have less off-the-road incidents…

Sum it up 5 minutes before end

This is highly important note to remember. I have seen great managed meetings turn useless only because no one took the time to summarize the meeting at the end, for making sure all participants are on the same page and all aligned with the summary.

How to do it? We should stop the discussion 5 minutes before it ends. Yes, even if the discussion is not over yet and even if people really really want to speak up for 2 more minutes. We should cut the discussion and start summarizing it. After the summary, the meeting ends and we should thank everyone for participating. If a follow-up meeting is needed, we should say that a follow up meeting would be scheduled.

If we won’t summarize the meeting on time, the meeting would end without making sure that all participants are on the same page, which means people might follow up on the meeting summary offline, arguing that this is not what was discussed and agreed during the meeting. Then, we would have to open up the discussion again…

Send a meeting summary

People forget. We forget. There are so many tasks and meetings during our work week – we just can’t hold all the details in our head. This means that no one would remember the meeting summary 2 weeks from now. If no one would remember, it is like if the meeting didn’t happen at all, and the last thing we want is doing the same meeting all over again.

We should write the meeting summary on the same day or the following day the latest. An easy trick to summarize an email is:

  • Go to the Calendar
  • Right-click on the meeting
  • Select “Reply All
    By doing that, the meeting participant list appears in your email distribution list automatically.
  • Add to the email title the following suffix: “- meeting summary (yyyy-mm-dd)
    For example, suppose I have done a meeting called “Project X: design for feature Y”. The summary title would look like “Project X: design for feature Y – meeting summary (2016-01-08)”
  • Write the meeting summary and press Send

Easy, right?

MeetingSummaryReplyAll

Invite the Right Way

All of us are scheduling meetings at work . However, we don’t always know how to do it right for the meeting to start off on the right foot. Here are a few guidelines for helping us doing so.

meeting

Do we need it?

Yes, this is the first question we all should ask ourselves. Do we really need that meeting? If we can close it in a corridor discussion or over an email, then we shouldn’t schedule a meeting.

On the other hand, I see many emails with endless back-and-forth threads that practically scream for a meeting to occur.

Distribution

We need to make sure that the distribution is proper for the meeting, meaning we have all the key people for achieving the objectives of that meeting. Missing a key person might require a follow up meeting and/or email discussion.

Many times I see that after a meeting occurs, an email thread starts by a key person that was missing from the meeting, ending up with re-explaining the meeting notes over an email, which is usually not effective (otherwise, the meeting wasn’t needed in the first place).

Keep the forum as small as possible. Big meetings are not effective (unless it is a lecture).

Objenda

Each meeting MUST have an objective. If possible, also add agenda to the meeting – what you want to cover in this meeting. Objective + Agenda = Objenda.

People must come to a meeting with understanding of what the meeting is all about. Describing a proper objective allows people to decide whether they are necessary for the meeting or not, and whether they should delegate the meeting to someone else that is more relevant then themselves.

This should make sure the forum of the meeting is the proper one.

Timing

Set the proper length for a meeting. Don’t set 30 minutes for a meeting you know would take 1.5 hours.

Try to schedule your meetings for 50 minutes, allowing people to reach their next meeting on the schedule.

If you set a meeting after lunch, take a buffer of 10 minutes. For example, if in your organization people usually eat 12:00-13:00, don’t start a meeting before 13:10. Otherwise, you would find yourself starting with a partial forum. This would start the meeting off on the bad foot.

Reminder

The default outlook reminder is 15 minutes. I find this inappropriate as it is too long of a notice for people.

  • People usually turn off the reminder and by the meeting start time they already forgot about the meeting.
  • The ones that use the reminder Snooze option, need to do it 3 times till the meeting starts. Annoying!

I recommend using the 5 minutes reminder. People get it once and they start preparing to the meeting immediately as it is a few minutes away.
How to do it?

  • Go to File
  • Select Options
  • Select Calendar
  • Under “Calendar options” set the “Default reminders” to “5 minutes

CalendarDefaultReminder

Blog updates via Outlook RSS

I usually don’t publish more than a single post in a week, but next week I have arranged an Outlook workshop for my colleagues and I want them to be able to enjoy the RSS option as well.

This is a very short post describing another option of getting notifications on new posts (besides subscribing to the blog via email) – adding it to our Outlook RSS feed.

  • In the Navigation pane, right click on the “RSS Feeds” option
  • Select “Add a New RSS Feed…”

RSS_Outlook1

  • Enter http://www.timeninjablog.com/feed

RSS_Outlook2

That’s it. Whenever a new post is published, it would be added automatically to that folder and would appear as a regular unread email.

BTW, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication…

RSS