How does he manage to read and organize tens of thousands of e-mail?
This exclusive 5-minute interview provides some great tips for avoiding e-mail overload, including:
The companies he recommends for e-mail systems
Definitions: are you a “piler” or a “filer”?
How to use reverse spam filtering to save time
The GTD rule he violates in favor of filing
Folder structure: how many does he use?
Why Robert doesn’t store all e-mail
Innovative use of a “Done” folder to prevent rereading
The interview cuts off at 5 minutes because my memory card reached capacity. What are a few of the things we discussed after the camera stopped rolling? See below the video for some great tips that weren’t caught on film.
What did you miss afterwards? Here are a few of the highlights:
1. Keep all Outlook .PST files under 2GB in size to optimize speed and prevent crashes:
Creating a new .PST file is not intuitive. Here’s the menu flow to get it done: Tools –> Options –> Mail Setup –> Data Files –> Add. Robert has three separate .PST files as folders in his left-hand Outlook view, which are essentially “Old”, “Middle/Someday”, and “Hot”. These are in addition to his “Inbox”, which he considers his “working set”.
2. Remove infrequently used .PST files:
Right-click and “close” infrequently used .PST folders and other folders. This does not delete them, thus Google Desktop can still be used to search for these messages. I suggest you double-check this before doing anything resembling deleting/removing.
3. Rename or append frequently-used folders to appear at the top of the list:
This one is from me. Robert has 20+ folders, as do millions of us. Once you identify the most frequently used folders, add “A-…”, “B-…”, “C-…”, etc. as prefixes (in descending order of frequency) on the folder names to reorder the folders alphabetically and bring the most useful to the top. Cut down on mouse travel time and eliminate wasted visual scanning.
4. Responding to fewer e-mail is the holy grail:
Robert told me that, based on his analytics over time, each e-mail he replies to produces between 1.5 and 2 additional e-mail in return. Sending e-mail multiplies the e-mail you receive. Replying to more people more often — the goal of most people — actually creates more work instead of cutting it down.
For more strategies, including template e-mails, that can be used to cut e-mail volume in half and cut frequency to once per day or once per week, see “The Low-Information Diet” and “Interrupting Interruption” in The 4-Hour Workweek.
Uberblogger Robert Scoble is truly one-of-a-kind. For those who don’t know, he became famous as a technical evangelist at Microsoft and quickly became their most outspoken and influential blogger. He now interviews people like Bill Gates, and the worldwide media reports on his every move. One of his most mindboggling skills is information management. He currently reads 622 RSS feeds a day — it used to be 1,400 feeds a day!
How the hell does he do it?
I dropped by the Podtech offices and hung out with Robert to find out. How does he avoid overload and process so much information? In this exclusive 11-minute interview, we answer quite a few burning questions I’ve wanted to ask since first meeting Robert:
Which RSS reader does he use and why?
How does he configure it to save time?
What are simple keyboard shortcuts anyone can use?
How does he find and pick feeds?
How can you catch his eye with your posts?
How does he use RSS feeds for building relationships?
How does he use sites like Techmeme/DIGG vs. niche blogs?
One thing impresses me about Robert more than all of his credentials: he smiles more than almost anyone I know. All the time! There is much to be learned from the Scobleizer. The ending of the interview — Robert’s last line — is also not to be missed.
My apologies for the hyperactive camera work, but the whole thing was quite impromptu, and I’m no Spielberg. Just close your eyes and listen if I make you seasick.
Stay tuned for part II, coming in the next week, which will answer the question: How does Robert Scoble read and organize e-mail? From speeding up Outlook’s performance to reverse spam filtering, it’s all covered. In the meantime, for a solid overview of how I cut e-mail time by about 90%, see my new manifesto at Seth Godin’s ChangeThis.
The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.
Tao Te Ching
Is it possible to outsource your life to other countries? By now, you know that I believe it is. But is it necessary to outsource overseas? Can you outsource in languages other than English? What is geoarbitrage really about?
These were some of the topics I covered in “Die 4-Stunden Arbeitswoche” (The 4-Hour Workweek) with Patrick Price for his Swiss-German podcast, NetzNews. The first 30 seconds are in Swiss German, a very cool dialect that sounds nothing like Berlin German, and the rest is in English.
For those of you interested in the tech tools I use abroad, or how some case studies have negotiated remote work, there is a short interview with me called “Workin’ 9 to…9:48?” in this month’s issue of Outside magazine, which focuses on dream jobs. It’s a very cool issue guaranteed to get you thinking about escape.
Before you can escape, however, you need to stop crap information from invading your life. It finds us through two channels that we’ll crush today: SPAM (which actually stands for “Sh*t Posing As Mail) and junk postal mail. Here are the quick 30-minute fixes for both:
1. Put yourself on the postal “do not call” list by sending a letter to the following address and asking to be removed from all mass and junk mailings:
DMA Mail Preference Service
Post Office Box 603
Carmel, NY 10512-0643
Big thanks to corporate pranking genius John Hargrave, who introduced me to this through his bible of sticking it to the man, Prank the Monkey, one of the most empowering and hysterical books I’ve ever read.
2. Sign up for SpamArrest. I’ve tried several spam filtering programs, and most have been either too lenient or excessively strict. SpamArrest, which I can use for Outlook without installing it on the server (key for many employees who don’t have administrator rights), used in combination with Gmail, has reduced my spam count to 2-4 message per week.
Keep it simple. Good barriers needn’t be complicated and seldom are. Take 30 minutes to trial the above and treat your brain to something like Discovery Channel instead of penis enlargement spam and credit card offers. Stop sorting and start eliminating.
Free Red Bull book launch party tonight in San Francisco!
For those readers in the bay area, come party with me tonight!
Forget cover charges. From 9-11pm tonight (Friday), get into this exclusive party with a proof of purchase of The 4-Hour Workweek! Jam to one of the hottest superstar DJs in CA, David Carvalho, and The Red Bull Energy Team will be there to fuel you all night long: free Red Bull!
It’ll be a wild evening of drinks and dancing with SF’s finest. Just bring your receipt from a local bookstore or Amazon (or a page from the book) and you’re in!
If you thought washing your hands 32 times a day was fun, just try this! (Chicago O’Hare Airport)
By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.
-Robert Frost, American Poet
I’ve long sought a measurement for lifestyle, something better than bank accounts or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). I was able to take the leap and redesign my own life only once I started asking myself difficult and uncommon questions such as:
How many hours do I work for each day of vacation?
What percentage of my life do I really spend working vs. doing something I want to be doing?
What is your LQ?
What do you guesstimate your boss’s LQ to be?
What about your father or mother’s LQ compared to your own?
If you know someone who is a workaholic in denial, or who thinks an 80-hour workweek is a good way to spend their limited time on this planet, go for a lifestyle intervention and send them the LQ calculator. It might just wake them up faster than a triple-espresso frapuccino.
Other news and goodies:
Think you can’t outsource your love life? Well, I did it — I had groups around the world compete to set me dates. This just made it into the news, and you’ll be hearing much more about it soon!
SXSW presentation attendees! I found out what happened! The mailing house for the publisher (not the publisher themselves) screwed up and held onto your addresses for 10 DAYS before mailing them this past Monday. Your copies of the book should arrive any day, if they haven’t already, and I cannot apologize enough for the confusion. I had no idea this had happened and — had I known — would have put in my mouthpiece and gone to town breaking heads. Sorry about that!
Be sure to check out this month’s issue (May 2007) of Fortune Small Business, where I am profiled in the “How I Work” section. It covers how I limit information intake, fire customers, control voicemail, and otherwise dodge bullets to do one of the things I enjoy most: MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) with professional UFC fighters.
Blame it on my mother, who put me in “kid wrestling” at age 8 to drain the hyperactivity out of me and avoid Tasmanian Devil action at home. It worked like a charm but forever gave me the neck thickness of a small cow.
Getting punched and thrown isn’t everyone’s idea of fun (for those fans out there, my favorite fighter of all-time is Kasushi Sakuraba), but fun is what you make of it. The one ingredient you cannot do without? Time. Learn how to create more of it and do what you want — take a glance at the digital version of this article for free (beginning on page 47).
This guy gets more done than your CTO
(photo credit: Indian Gypsy)
My first article for Huffington Post made it onto the homepage today: Marijuana Trumps Blackberries for Productivity. Here is some food for thought:
Millions of Blackberry users in the US were left without their favorite drug from 8pm EST Tuesday to 6am EST Wednesday last week, when technical problems at service provider Research In Motion cut off wireless e-mail access. Some fumed, but others took a deep breath of relief. The brief escape was relished by a growing number of users who have realized that this digital leash often kills productivity instead of increasing it.
Not convinced? Let’s compare Blackberries to the top anti-productivity product of all-time: good old-fashioned marijuana.
In 2005, a psychiatrist at King’s College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana. Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hands, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points.
In a digital world of infinite distraction, it is “single-tasking” — shutting out interruption instead of facilitating it — that will save us. What’s the alternative? Checking e-mail once every five minutes, then every minute, then every second? It’s not a scalable coping mechanism.
The world doesn’t hiccup, let alone end, if you check e-mail twice a day instead of twice an hour. If it does, it usually means that your work culture rewards overwork to counter its own ineffectiveness. This is predicated on burnout and not a game worth winning. The next time you get the Crackberry urge, consider the option of being productive instead of being busy. Or, if that’s too abstract, consider grabbing a joint instead — you’ll probably get more done.
* I’m checking email Dr. Pepper style, at 10, 2, and 4. Batching should help, and also making it a sprint to process my inbox within 10 to 15 minutes. “Reply to” stuff goes in that folder. Stuff I note and might want later goes to “Archive”. Stuff I never need again gets deleted. You can delete a ton of your email. Really. Process voice mails at the same time. (I’ll also do an RSS feed run at these times. I’ll reward myself with a flickr/twitter/mefi review if I’m a good boy.)
* No email review in the morning as I start my machine.
* Turned off all email notifications from social networking sites.
* Stop trying to accomodate a global work schedule. Again, unless it’s really mandatory or unavoidable, I work during my work hours, not those in other parts of the world.
* No answering emails on the weekends, unless absolutely necessary. One review per day on Sat/Sun.
* Dump new contacts immediately into Address Book so I never waste time looking up contact info.
* Make “no” the default answer for new project/app review/etc. requests. New things should earn their way into the attention field.
His full list can be found here. In light of the recent Blackberry blackout and all of the depressing interruption addiction it highlighted, I plan to lobby here in the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose, to have Father’s Day (Third Sunday of June) also officially made “E-mail Detox Day,” during which people attempt a 24-hour e-mail fast. The trick to stepping off of the gas pedal is proving to yourself that it can be done.
Anyone interested in helping me make that national (or international)? In the meantime, are there any former Crackberry addicts out there with tips for newbies trying to break the once-every-5-minutes e-mail habit?
Presenting “Mastering the Low-Information Diet” at the Web 2.0 Exposition in SF (Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon… Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google… Tim Ferriss?! Too surreal.
I presented last Sunday at the Ignite portion of the huge Web 2.0 Expo, where two groups of speakers each gave 5-minute presentations of 20 slides. Each slide was set to auto-advance after 15 seconds. There was free beer, it was fun, and — unbenownst to me — attendees voted on their favorite presentation in each group via cell phone using Mozes. I won the first heat and was informed that I would be speaking at the keynote today in front of 3,000 people! Other keynote presenters included Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt.
I’ll be covering “Mastering the Low-Information Diet” in great depth on May 9th, when my manifesto on the same topic will be published through Seth Godin’s ChangeThis. In the meantime, here is part of the Sunday video, which covers: batching e-mail, applying the 80/20 principle to time-consuming customers, outsourcing your life to overseas assistants, and scheduling life to prevent work from filling evenings and weekends.
I just learned that most bookstores in the CA bay area have understocked my book (which launches next Tues.), planning to have only 1 or 2 copies in stock! This is a disaster, as there is already demand and people will need to wait up a week for reorders to arrive, killing the book’s first week of sales.
This first week is CRITICAL for bestseller lists, both local and national. Pre-orders online are equally important, as all pre-orders count for the first week’s national sales.
If you are thinking of getting the book and are not in the CA bay area, please preorder on Amazon. If you are in the bay area, please call one of the below stores to preorder ASAP this week!
The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss (ISBN number 0307353133)
Stacey’s, 581 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94105. (415) 421-4687
Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. (415) 927-0960
Cody’s Books, 1730 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. (510) 559-9500
Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. (650) 324-4321
If you don’t yet use Twitter, don’t start. It’s pointless e-mail on steroids. I had to laugh when I saw a post by the one-and-only Robert Scoble on the 19th titled “Productivity up 200%, Twitter Down.”
[Postscript: LOL... I've actually started using Twitter to make occasional one-way announcement to readers, but I don't follow anyone or allow pings. "Anyone who wants can join me for a movie at..." doesn't make a very good blog post :)]
E-mail (and all of its Crackberry/digital leash/Twitter cousins) is the largest single interruption in modern life. In a digital world, creating time therefore hinges on minimizing e-mail. The fastest method I’ve found for controlling the e-mail impulse is to set up an autoresponder that indicates you will be checking e-mail twice per day or less. This is an example of “batching” tasks (performing like tasks at set times, between which you let them accumulate), and your success with batching will depend on two factors:
1. Your ability to train others to respect these intervals
and, much more difficult,
2. Your ability to discipline yourself to follow your own rules
Think your boss won’t go for it? You’d be surprised. Here is one example from a SXSW attendee. His two e-mail to me have been combined with a bit of editing for length.
Here’s what i took away from your presentation (and put into action!):
I sent out an email to everyone in my division letting them know i’ll only be checking email at 11a & 4p. I’ve included my email down below:
In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency I am beginning a new personal email policy. I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through my inbox and less time focused on the task at hand. It has become an unnecessary distraction that ultimately creates longer lead times on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.
Going forward I will only be checking/responding to email at 11a and 4p on weekdays. I will try and respond to email in a timely manner without neglecting the needs of our clients and brand identity.
If you need an immediate time-sensitive response… please don’t hesitate to call me. Phones are more fun anyways.
Hopefully this new approach to email management will result in shorter lead times with more focused & creative work on my part. Cheers & here’s to life outside of my inbox! “
So far the response has been very receptive and supportive. Here’s the quick “reply to all” email response i got from our senior operations manager (he oversees 5 radio stations. and most of the people in the building):
AWESOME time management approach!!! I would love to see more people adopt that policy.
I’m sticking to it and it’s making my days more productive already. As the days are progressing, more people are “on the bus” with respecting my new email policy and i havent had any snags (even with SXSW going on – and i work in Austin radio, so we’re all swamped this week). However, every single person feels like it just wouldn’t work for them if they did it. (“oh, but i’m on too many mailing lists” or “All i do is work in my email box, i have to.” i’m sure you’ve heard it all before).
As far as your presentation… A major thing i took away is applying the concept of 80/20 to my workflow. I’ve always known i waste a great deal of time on things that ultimately aren’t showing the bulk of my ROI. Hearing you present it in a new light enabled me to start actively weeding out the time wasting clients & processes. I do a lot of work that our interns should be doing. So i’ve begun designating responsibility appropriately, thus freeing up my plate for the more relevant tasks. It will be a slow process, but senior management is on the same page with me.
KROX & KBPA – Interactive Brand Manager
Here is a shorter autoresponder another attendee successfully implemented:
Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!
My personal e-mail autoresponder limits me to once per day and indicates “I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell.” My business e-mail autoresponder, on the other hand, gives me the option to check email once every 7-10 days.
The real hard part, of course, is keeping yourself away from that damn inbox. Get on a strict low-information diet and focus on output instead of input; your wallet and weekends will thank you for it.