Thinking Through Email: Turn Off Notifications

Email is tough. In the last post I wrote about why we have such a hard time with it, why we’re so often overwhelmed by it. The root of the problem is that it wasn’t built for the things we use it for. So where do we start? How do we get it under control?

I have a couple of ideas I want to talk through, though it will take us a few posts to get through them. These ideas work well for me[1] and I think they’ll be usefull to you as well. They’re not all original. Others have written about so often that they’ve become common practice these days[2].

RELAX

We need to relax when it comes to email. The email alert on our phones and PCs[3] has us so conditioned that we turn to deal with the email immediately. This impacts the quality of everything we do, including email itself.

Consider turning off noticitations. Ignore the inbox when you work on other projects or take a break from your work. Check email a few times a day rather than letting your inbox dictate your focus.

Remember, emails are memos. We don’t get a notification every time someone places a note on our desks. That sheet of paper doesn’t bring the rest of your work to a halt. It waits until you have the time to deal with it.

The more we let incoming email dictate our work, the more scattered and inefficient our work is going to be.

If It’s an Email, It’s not an Emergency

Think back on your last month or two of emails. How many times were you notified of an emergency through email? You may be in a position that invites that sort of email. But you’ll receive emergency notifications through a phone call, instant message or a text[4].

The key is that you have to convince yourself that it’s OK to not see an email the moment it arrives. If you feel you must, use priority options for your most important contacts. Both iOS and Android have a method to ensure some contacts can get through no matter what.

The Recommendation

Turn off your email notifications and deal with all your emails in bunches, rather than as they come in. You’ll be more productive as you clean out your inbox and less distracted when you work on other projects.

Our communication methods don’t own us. Email connects us to the people in our lives at home and at work. It’s a tool that we use to send information. It’s not an end, it’s a means.


  1. On the occasions that I’m disciplined in my interactions with email. I don’t have it together, I’m just trying to get there.  ↩

  2. If I need to attribute one of my suggestions here to someone in particular, let me know: machinecompatible@gmail.com.  ↩

  3. I mean in the Personal Computer sense, not the Windows Machine sense.  ↩

  4. If it’s a true emergency, you’ll probably get all four within minutes of each other.  ↩

Repurposing Someone Else’s Toolbox

Don't repurpose this tool. Unless you're going to use it as a paperweight. Or a decoration. Actually, use it for anything but writing.
Don’t repurpose this tool. Unless you’re going to use it as a paperweight. Or a decoration. Actually, use it for anything but writing.

My tools are stupid. Some are too simple. The rest are too complex. They don’t work the way they should. They look like they were designed using sidewalk chalk in a parking lot.

You’d be crazy to try to use the tools I use. But my tools are perfect for me.

What Works for Me…

I spent[1] a lot of time finding the right apps for all the jobs that I do. Any other person would look at my Applications folder or my iPad’s home-screen and just shake their head. It’s not necessarily a collection that I’m proud of, but it gets the job done.

I’ve found, and am still finding, apps that do the job that I need them to do. What I’ve found won’t work for you because you don’t work the way I do.

Don’t Copy, Learn

This is not to say that there’s something wrong with looking for suggestions on how to build, record, or write. In fact, you should find smart people and learn from them. But that’s the crucial distinction: find people to learn from, don’t just do everything those people say.

The way to do important work, meaningful work, is to make conscious decisions about the way I’m doing something. To make those decisions, I need to understand what I’m doing, not just do what someone else says.

This is something I struggle with. It’s easy to slip from looking for suggestions to implementing someone else’s workflows. It’s easy because I’m lazy. I don’t want to take the time to understand the problem and work out a solution.

The problem with the copycat approach is that we’re not all the same. We differ in both how we approach and carry out our work. My workflows won’t work for you[2], you’re workflows won’t work for me. Don’t try to force them to.

Make it Yours

The real solution is to take concepts and tools and repurpose them. I’m writing this in Byword, a plain text editor. I’m not collaborating with anyone. I need a little bit of formatting, some footnotes to unclutter my prose, and a blank page to write on.

I’m working on a book that will include some video segments. I’m using Pages because it allows me to format the book the way I need it. I can include videos and export the individual chapters to iBooks Author to do the final layout.

But you may be working on a legal document with a lot of people on different platforms. Pages and Byword would be terrible choices for that project. You’d choose Microsoft Word, or some industry-specific tool that suits your needs.

Take some time to understand your needs. Think through the problem you’re having. Find an appropriate solution. It might save you some time, it will certainly save you some frustration.

How have you repurposed a tool to use it in your workflow? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Am spending. I think about this stuff way too much.  ↩

  2. Mostly because they’re really, really bad.  ↩

A Deal on Marked 2

From Brett Terpstra

I’ve built Marked 2 to be a tool for professional writers. More than just a Markdown previewer, it boasts features for improving your writing and keeping track of advanced statistics. Marked works with Scrivener and Ulysses 3 too, showing you compiled versions of your complete document as you work, and seeing changes instantly as you make them.

If you’re a writer I recommend you look into Markdown. It’s a way of marking up plain text documents in a way that’s easily portable between different applications and operating systems. John Gruber originally devised it for the web, but writers in all fields have found it useful.

Brett Terpstra is offering Marked, a tool for previewing the output of your Markdown-formatted text, at close to 30% off for the month of October in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Marked allows you to use any text editor with Markdown. A lot of professional writers use Markdown with Marked (I just purchased Byword, or I’d be getting in on this deal). Check it out if your interested.

Marked 2:

How to Find Tools That Work For You

keyboard search

I wrote a piece a few days ago on the importance of choosing our tools with care. Then I linked to an article yesterday by Shawn Blanc on the tools he’s chosen to work with.  I think this a theme that’s worth developing.

Don’t Worry What Other People Are Using

We can count on one thing from the internet: flame wars[1]. I was scrolling through my feed and ran across this question: “Should I upgrade to iOS 8.0.2?”[2]

There were a few helpful answers among the 30-something responses. But the first answer to a simple “should I update?” question was “NO! Buy and LG3!”. Most of the responses were in that vain.

HUH?

That answer didn’t just ignore the question, it assumed that what works for one person will work for another. That is false. Don’t let what someone else is using determine the way you’re going to work. Think through the options. Understand what is important to you. Know what tools you enjoy using.

Use What Other People Are Using

I know, I’m not making sense. But you won’t find the tools you need without a little help. Check out review sites. Look at app recommendations from people who’s work you follow. Ask around.

There’s someone out there who has encountered the same problem and has found the solution. There’s no reason to take the long way around. If you’ve found a tool that almost works but could be better check out sites like AlternativeTo.

There’s so much great software and hardware available that there’s no excuse to keep using tools that don’t work for you[3].

Use What Works

You are the ultimate decision maker when it comes to your tools. If you love using something, nothing else matters. If you’ve found tools that make your life easier, that you couldn’t dream of working without, use them.

Be Respectful of Other People’s Workflows

This is one I’m still working on. It’s hard to get over the idea that I know what’s best. It’s difficult to imagine someone working a different way than I do. But people do work differently. They act differently. They think differently.

A lot of the arguments we get into online stem from this. We can’t understand why someone would use an “inferior” tool when the tools we use are available. Remember, someone’s choice about what they prefer to use isn’t an indictment of you or who you are. They’re just tools.

What are your favorite tools? How did you find them?


  1. Flame Wars: This is a fascinating Wikipedia entry. Of course, if you don’t often read Wikipedia for fun, you may find it less than entertaining.  ↩

  2. A reasonable question. iOS 8.0.1 caused no end of problems for iPhone 6 and 6+ users, loss of cellular connectivity and Touch ID, specifically.  ↩

  3. The companies we work for often do put a damper on this kind of thing, but try checking with your IT department. They may be more flexible than you think. Or less. It depends on the company.  ↩

Are You Sure You Want to Use That?

GearI’ve spent the evening thinking about the complications that technology introduces to our lives. The subject came to mind while trying to wrest a few months[1] of life from my parents seven year old MacBook. I’ll upgrade the RAM and install the newest version of OSX that I can[2]. I’m not optimistic.

My family purchased our first computer when I was 5. It was a Hewlett Packard[3] and ran Windows 3.1. It had less hard drive space than the phone sitting on my desk. I imagine it cost more than my car.

I’m not writing this to earn computer street cred. I’m not saying Dig Dug droping rocks on monster’s changed the course of my life[4] or that I’m the greatest family tech to walk the earth. My point is far more philosophical and pretentious than that.

My Horrible Attention Span

How often do I allow myself to get distracted from my work or family or friends? A lot of times it’s for a good reason: My mom needs help getting her computer back into working condition. But I can’t spend the whole weekend staring at a display waiting for an OS installation. I’d be wasting time that I could be spending with her[5].

Think it Through

It might be worth taking some time to examine the technology you use. Think about the kitchen gadgets cluttering your cabinets. The set-top boxes covering your TV stand. The devices you carry with you. The apps clotting your home screens.

Does the time you spend with these things add value to your life? Are they just sitting around, wasting space? I’m often distracted from the things that do add value to my own life.

Intentional

I’ve kept coming back to the word intentional over the past few weeks. It’s a popular word right now. I’m glad it’s drawn some attention. Intentional means that we do things with purpose. That we make our decisions with forethought, understanding the implications and ramifications.

Intentional means we think things through before we do them. As you sift through the tech in your life, be intentional. Understand the purpose of the technology you’re using if it doesn’t fit, cut it. I bet you’ll find a dozen worthwhile things to replace it.

Have you ever had to cut back the overgrowth of tech in your life? What things made the cut? What didn’t?


  1. Maybe years, but I doubt it.  ↩

  2. Lion, if you were curious.  ↩

  3. This was the company that would change their name to HP. Yes, it was a long time ago.  ↩

  4. It’s possible. A more likely candidate for that honor is XCOM: Terror From the Deep, though. Man, I love that game. The recent XCOM is super-good too.  ↩

  5. My parents live in Mexico, so I do have limited time. Sleep may be the loser this coming weekend. There’s a computer to work on and a parent to spend time with.  ↩

Format My Social Handles, Please

 

From David Chartier:

I think all the big social networks should divide up special characters so they all link to different services properly, then get it implemented with OS and browser makers.

I like this idea. There’s no reason some of the more feature-rich applications shouldn’t include this type of functionality. A lot of them already do smart things like format text that looks like a url as hyperlinks.

Chartier suggests a top down approach in which apps and OSes implement it as a standard, but I think this is more likely to become a de facto standard. It’s just one of those features that makes sense for everyone to implement, a la “pull to refresh”. There’s no reason that @daboyter shouldn’t auto-link to twitter.com/daboyter.

David Chartier, A Modest Proposal For Social Media Names:

Olympus OM-D E-M10

 

From The Newsprint

I’m willing to bet the majority of people just want to take great photographs. They don’t care about sensor size, chromatic aberrations or apertures. They want to see great photos of their family, their vacation and their life without the fuss of the now insanely technical photography world.

I like Josh Ginter’s style and he just wrote a nice review of a camera I would love to buy. He doesn’t spend a lot of time writing about the technical specs of the camera, but focuses on what it’s like to use the E-M10. We need more reviews like this.

The Newsprint:

A Geek Without His Devices (at night)

Do you use your devices in bed?
Do you use your devices in bed?

Let’s talk about technology. First, I love it. I love the powerful ways we can work and communicate with technology. I can record a talk show and post it online for anyone in the world to listen to. My phone has the ability to record video and take amazing pictures and communicate with anyone just about anywhere.

With that said, I started an experiment a week and a half ago ago. I decided I didn’t like my nighttime routine. I’d spend a lot of time on my iPad surfing the web (when was the last time you heard that expression?). I’d play a dumb casual game on my phone. Whatever I was doing, I’d spend an hour or two lying in bed, not doing anything particularly meaningful.

I changed three things to conduct this experiment:

  • I plug in my phone and iPad in the office downstairs (I kept my eInk Kindle upstairs as a part of the second point)
  • I make sure I have a book available by my bed (I’ve tried to make these books that will teach me something)
  • I put an empty notebook and a pen on my bedside table in case I think of a great idea

It’s been pleasant week. I’ve finished two and a half books. I filled a page and a half of the notebook with tasks that I’d like to work on, write about, or talk about. I’ve had conversations with my wife instead of staring at my iPad’s display.

It’s a strange topic for an introductory post on a blog about technology but I believe it’s an apt one. I want to deal with the way technology impacts our lives and our relationships. I want to consider the best way to use our devices and services in a thoughtful way to make our lives better. I want to learn and help others learn to break free of our technology and use it like the tool that it is.

So now for your part. What part of your life could use a little less tech in it?