Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Who’s guarding your inbox? Getting more done with email filters

March 26, 2009

Who is guarding your email?

Have you ever been hard at work, noticed that someone sent you a message on Facebook and headed over to check it out?  If you’re like me, you might reply, surf around a bit and next thing you know it’s lunchtime.  And there’s a little voice in your head saying, “crap. I just wasted an hour!”.

With your phone, it’s easier to turn off your ringer than hear phone calls, see who they’re from and ignore them.  Good email filters are like turning off your phone.  They can be strong for you when you would be weak.  Email filters are bodyguards for your attention.

Important, urgent or actionable email should land in your inbox.  For everything else there are just 2 possibilities:

Put ’em somewhere else (archive, put it in folders, whatever works for you.)

  • Receipts: Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, etc.  Filter by subject or from address
  • Social Media notifications.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.  “Bob is following you” or “Bob replied to your message”…
  • Email discussion lists that aren’t a Top-Priority.  Check ’em out later.
  • Vacation auto-responders from other folks.  Filter: (”we will reply” OR “has been received” OR “your inquiry” OR “will contact you” OR “will reply to you” OR “auto response” OR “for your interest” OR “for your message” OR “your enquiry” OR “out of office”)

Delete ’em

  • If you have friends who forward you “funnies” (that you don’t want) but also real email (you do want), create a filter for email FROM them that ALSO includes another recipient on their list.
  • Mail from old accounts, services or organizations (eg. schools, old jobs, professional orgs) you don’t want to hear from. Some services offer a one-click unsubscribe, but others force you to log in, or contact them. In that case just add a filter and move on.  Examples: ( OR OR OR specials@ OR OR OR
  • Emails in other languages.  I don’t know anyone who would email me in Japanese, for example.  Filter: (秘 OR 密 OR 基 OR 地 OR を OR 作)

Other tips & tricks:

  • If you want to see email from your contacts before looking at new mail, some email clients will let you filter based on whether or not the sender is in your address book.  Tip from Leo Notenboom, Taming Email
  • If you’re worried you’ll miss an important message when you’re working or away from email, check out Jared Goralnick’s service AwayFind.
  • Gmail users can create unlimited addresses with this format, for easier filtering and tracking how companies use your address:

Any favorite email tips or tricks to add?


Moving to a Standing Desk

March 12, 2009

First post in a long time.   Feels good.

Every once in awhile I hear about someone switching to a standing desk. I was curious and did a little research.  Most people rave about the experience, mentioning more energy, creativity and less lower-back pain because our bodies aren’t designed to sit for 8 hours in one place.  Humans are built to move.

I’m always up for a work-environment experiment so I decided to give it a whirl.  I’m typing this standing up right now, and so far it’s great.  I’m moving more, stretching more, and … well I’m dancing more too.  Who said work has to be boring right?

If you want to give it a shot there are many options depending on your space constraints and your budget.

  • Buy a standing or adjustable-height desk from a manufacturer.  This Amazon search will get you started.
  • Add shelves to a wall, and stand in front of the wall and work on the shelves.
  • Lay a flat surface (eg. door) across two supports.  This is what I went for.  While I’m trying out the idea, I wanted something inexpensive and expansive; I can now walk around to a different side of the desk and have a whole new work area, something I didn’t have with my little dedicated-use computer desk.

My setup:

2x Stanley FatMax Telescopic Sawhorse $35 each (make sure you buy TWO, they’re not sold in pairs)

1x solid, flat, unfinished heavy 32″ door from Home Depot.  $55

That’s it!


On web counters and distraction

November 29, 2007

We’ve been without a web counter for a few days, (showing how many people are arriving at our site and where they’re coming from) and I figure my productivity has gone up by 10% or more.

It’s not that I was spending 10% of my day gazing at it, but checking it was the starting point for a change in direction. I would visit sites that linked to us, perhaps leave a comment or email them, and end up spending 1/2 hour before getting back to “work”. One could say that’s a part of work these days, and while that’s true to a degree, my time could be better spent elsewhere.

My day is already full of internal and external interruptions. They’re par for the course and I don’t resent them, but they do make it hard to get into thinking work (writing, long-term planning, etc) which are important but fragile tasks. They’re hard to get into and easy to fall out of when someone taps you on the shoulder. (Programming is also in this category which is why it’s important for companies to protect programmers from needless interruptions.)

Without a counter I’m trading off easy-and-fun work for hard-but-important work. The kid in me wants that damn counter back, but the adult in me is pleased with how much more I’m getting done. It is important to have a counter so you’re not flying blind, but I’m wondering if someone else should watch it, and ping me when something truly urgent/important/interesting happens.

Anyone with similar experiences? Ideas?

“What should I be working on?”

May 11, 2007

“What is the most important thing I can be doing right now?” is a powerful question.  For me there’s a direct relationship between how often I ask myself that question and how good I feel about my work that day.

Checking in and realizing you need to change directions can be a great feeling.  You can tackle the right project with glee, knowing that in some parallel universe you’re still plodding down the wrong path.  (That’s another key to entrepreneurial success.  Always do business in the right universe.)

Two recent experiences:

1.  We’re moving from four servers to nine, so I called our host ( to see if we can get a better deal than the posted price.  The sales guy offered to reduce our price by 5%, and though their prices are already quite reasonable it didn’t seem like much of a deal.

We talked for awhile, and eventually he said there was nothing else he could do.  I kept saying we had to find a way to reduce our costs, and so we kept talking.

Eventually he mentioned that on that older hardware they match any lower posted prices if you send the right people an email.  Lo and behold, we knocked off $200/month off our server costs.  It’s a great policy, but no-one had ever told us about it.

I spent about an hour on the phone and faxing contracts, and between the discount and the new hardware prices we’ll save $3,000/year. 

2.  The other night I spent two hours trying to install software that would save one measly click when trying to post something online.  In the end I couldn’t get it to work, and now I’ll never get that time back.

Also, some guy in a parallel universe is laughing at me.