Rethinking email

emailOr maybe not actually rethinking email, but taking it back to what it was meant to be about…

Working with a colleague the other day in a government organisation, I saw him looking for a document, that he was sent in an email. He was looking for it in his email client (Outlook in this case), in an inbox that contained thousands of emails, and lots of email sub folders, all of which contained hundreds, if not thousands, of more emails.

He tried clicking his way through, sorting and resorting folders in different ways, without success. He tried the search function, also to no avail.

This, I thought, is madness. Many people in many organisations do exactly the same thing. They keep hold of thousands of emails, many kept unread for one reason or another, because they might be needed in future, or because they act as reminders to do something, or because they have file attachments that might be useful.

Here’s the thing though. Your email client was set up to receive emails, and to send them. It’s not a task manager. It’s not a file store.

Of course, it’s not individuals fault that they are misusing their email in this way. After all, if a genuinely better, more usable alternative was available, they would use it. But sadly the productivity and document management tools available to your average worker in a big organisation are rarely very usable.

I’d be really interested to know how big a problem this is for people – as I have a little idea around something that could help.

So, are you drowning in email you don’t feel like you can delete? Let me know below!

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Making learning work for you

Great post from IBM’s Luis Suarez on personal knowledge management:

Well, indeed, it’s impossible to manage knowledge, even your own knowledge. However, knowledge workers can have a good chance to self manage some of that knowledge so that they can re-find and reuse it effectively and efficiently at a later time. There are a whole bunch of processes and traditional technologies that have been helping people try to figure out how they can have their own PKM strategy. And, lately, over the last few years, with the emergence of social software tools, that job of managing one’s own knowledge seems to have become much easier. Although perhaps still with plenty of room for improvement.

Wikipedia explains Personal Knowledge Management to be:

a collection of processes that an individual carries out to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his/her daily activities and how these processes support work activities.

Luis’ post points to some resources from the excellent Harold Jarche about PKM, including some slides and an audio presentation that are well worth taking the time to look through.

Cheesey stock photo image of someone learning something

Picking up on James Gardner’s point, that I blogged about a while ago, knowledge management – and therefore our own learning – isn’t perhaps the job of our employers but is something we must take care of ourselves. What employers do have to do, though, is to provide access to the tools that work for people to actually get this done.

I’m constantly battling to find the right toolkit that works for me. This blog is where I record a lot of the stuff I think about and where I try to tease out some of the stuff I have learnt from elsewhere and to put it into the context that I, and the readers of the blog, operate in.

I save links that are of interest to me in Delicious and that provides a great method of keeping track of resources around the web. I also share items in Google Reader which are of passing interest but not necessarily worth the bother of bookmarking, and I keep a record of interesting videos on another blog.

This sounds like a lot of activity, but actually it fits in well with the way I work, through familiarity and the tech solution of good integration with my web browser.

Evernote

A tool that is becoming increasingly important to me though is Evernote, which I blogged about here. With Evernote, I can just throw stuff into it without really even thinking about it. So, if I spot an interesting quote, I can just copy and paste it into a note, add the URL where I spotted it, if it was on the web, and maybe tag the note with some keywords so it appears in searches later on.

Or if there is a whole article that interests me, like Luis’ blog post above, I can with a click of a button drag the whole thing into Evernote for later reading and reflection, adding notes and annotations as necessary.

Increasingly, everything I produce starts out in Evernote. Blog posts are drafted there, project ideas are dumped in there, even emails start life as snippets I jot down before putting them together into a more coherent form.

Even better, Evernote exists as an application on my laptop and desktop computers, and on my phone, other devices like the iPad, and of course the website too, so I can access my stuff from any connected machine. Everything is synchronised and it means I can get at it anywhere, anytime.

What about everyone else?

Anyway, enough about Evernote. The point is that I am lucky enough to work in an environment where I can be responsible for the tools I use to do my job, including my own learning activity.

Cheesey stock photo that is supposed to mean research or somethingA lot of people who work in government do not have that luxury. Many probably don’t have any easy to use tools to help them record knowledge and learning – and those that do probably don’t have the flexibility to customise them to their needs.

So what can they do? If internet access policies are reasonably enlightened at their place of work, people can try using web based tools, such as Delicious and, yes, Evernote (though I should perhaps point out that the web version of Evernote is not as fully-featured as the native applications). Indeed there are advantages to this approach as by using public sites the opportunity is there for people to connect across organisational boundaries and to share information, resources and learning increasing the likelihood of serendipitous discovery.

It may well be that your organisation does offer tools that could help you in your personal knowledge management, though – you just don’t know about them! One example is Learning Pool’s dynamic learning environment (DLE), which is used by well over a hundred public sector organisations in the UK. As well as being the place to access e-learning content, our DLE features a whole host of social learning technologies – forums, wikis, blogs, chat etc – which could be utilised as part of someone’s personal knowledge management approach.

Knowledge Hub

It’s difficult to write any post that includes the word ‘knowledge’ without mentioning the KHub. As I described in this post, the KHub promises to be the flexible, open publishing platform that can make the recording and sharing of knowledge and learning as easy as it needs to be.

The open API approach that the KHub will take should also make it easier for organisations to pull knowledge and learning back into the workplace. Workers could use the KHub as their main knowledge management platform, sharing what they find with the rest of the sector, and then also have that stuff automatically republished on their organisation’s intranet, say, meaning that even people who don’t use the KHub can still make use of the content within it.

Summing up

This has been a bit of a rambly wander around personal knowledge management and some of the issues it raises. What’s clear though is that:

  • It’s down to individuals to progress their own learning and to ensure it is recorded in a useful way
  • Systems and tools available at a consumer level are more often than not more sophisticated and easy to use than those made available by organisations
  • Organisations can ensure staff make the most of the benefits of PKM by ensuring they have access to the tools that work for them, and that benefit can be fed back into the rest of the organisation
  • The Knowledge Hub presents an interesting potential outsourcing of PKM for the public sector – if organisations and individuals are awake to the benefits

I’d be interested in others’ views. How do you manage your own learning and knowledge – is this supported by your organisation?

Bookmarks for April 30th through May 14th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems? « Carl’s Notepad – [with open source] "You will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big supplier products (no motivation to integrate)."
  • Office 2010: the SharePoint factor – "The simple conclusion then is that to make sense of Office 2010 you need SharePoint 2010. The snag is that SharePoint is not something to roll out casually. Although it has a huge number of interesting features, it is also complex and easy to break. "
  • No Overall Control – a Future State of ICT – "To really address the gap between people in ICT and people who work in the Business (people outside of ICT) you actually need to start moving the competencies that IT Professionals have into the Business."
  • The Fate of the Semantic Web – "While many survey participants noted that current and emerging technologies are being leveraged toward positive web evolution in regard to linking data, there was no consensus on the technical mechanisms and human actions that might lead to the next wave of improvements – nor how extensive the changes might be."
  • tecosystems » I Love WordPress But… – "the reasons we self-host our WordPress instances are being eliminated at an accelerating rate"
  • Meatball Wiki – "Meatball is a community of active practitioners striving to teach each other how to organize people using online tools."
  • Amazon Pursues The Feds and the Potential Billions in Cloud Computing Services – ReadWriteCloud – "Amazon is quietly pursuing the multi-billion dollar federal cloud computing market, intensifying an already fast accelerating sales and marketing effort by Google, Microsoft and a host of others."
  • What’s Wrong With CSS – "Most of all, what I've learned from this exercise in site theming is that CSS is kind of painful. I fully support CSS as a (mostly) functional user interface Model-View-Controller. But even if you have extreme HTML hygiene and Austrian levels of discipline, CSS has some serious limitations in practice."
  • WordPress-to-lead for Salesforce CRM – "People can enter a contact form on your site, and the lead goes straight into Salesforce CRM: no more copy pasting lead info, no more missing leads: each and every one of them is in Salesforce.com for you to follow up."
  • A Collection of 50+ Enterprise 2.0 Case Studies and Examples – Nice resource. Some great examples in here.
  • Headshift Projects: Projects by Sector – Nice collection of social software case studies.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for April 19th through April 23rd

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Open innovation, why bother? – 100% Open – "…if open innovation is to deliver sustainable business advantage then we need a better understanding of what motivates contributors to these initiatives, else there is a risk of a backlash against them…"
  • Docs.com – MS Office + Facebook beats Google Docs? Am not convinced!
  • TALKI – The easiest way to embed a forum – Embed a forum on your website – just like that! Users can sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts.
  • Government 2.0 Can and Must Save Money – "I think that the current shortage of resources and a sometimes dramatic budgetary situation can be a powerful incentive to make this change happen, to tap into the creativity of employees as well as external resources." YES!!!
  • Red Sweater Blog – Apple Downloads – VERY interesting – is Apple going to go down the App Store route for vetting Mac software now, too?
  • HTML5 presentation – "Slideshow-style presentation on HTML5 made using HTML5."
  • CDC Provides a Great Example of What Social Media Is About – "CDC’s strategy puts them in a better position to identify patterns where trust may be shifting elsewhere early enough to take action: many other agencies worldwide, which just care about publishing data and creating their Facebook pages, will be taken by surprise."
  • data.lincoln.gov.uk (beta) – Lincoln City Council start publishing data publicly – great work, and props to Andrew Beeken who must have driven this through.
  • Simplifying the social web with XAuth – "We think that XAuth can simplify and improve the social web, while keeping your private information safe. This is just one of many steps that Google is taking, along with others in the industry, to make the social web easier and more personalized."
  • Open Government and the Future of Public Sector IT – Great talk from Microsoft's Dave Coplin.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Organising yourself with Evernote

EvernoteEvernote is a nice little app that I have mentioned a couple of times before. It’s a note taking and organising tool, which exists in three main forms: a website, a desktop application for your computer, and an iPhone app.

This approach is becoming increasingly important for any service I use on a regular basis. It needs to be present in a usable form wherever I am and be accessible offline as well as off. It’s one of the reasons that Dropbox has become so invaluable too.

Evernote let you create pages on notes, using text, images, video or audio and to embed documents and even web pages as well. Notes can be collected into notebooks, enabling you to bundle things on similar topics together, and notebooks can even be published publicly, turning Evernote into a simple CMS.

For example, my default notebook, where note are stored if I don’t specificy another one, is simple ‘Stuff to sort’ and notes don’t stay in there for long. I have a notebook for blog posts ideas, one for  reports and documents to read, and another for project ideas.

I’ve recently started using it in another way – which I wouldn’t have really thought of before I found myself doing it! When I am at events, I pick up loads of business cards from people. Before, I would take them home in a big pile, then after a while I would go through them, trying to figure out who people are etc. Now, I photograph them on my iphone as soon as I get them, and send them into Evernote. I can then add notes to them, such as who they are, what they are interested in, where I met them etc all in one place. These all get synced up to a ‘business cards’ notebook so I can find them easily and it acts as a simple CRM.

I’m not the only fan of Evernote at Learning Pool – my good friend John Roughley uses it regularly too – here’s his take:

John RoughleyI found Evernote by chance when looking for a way to collect and organize the sheer amount of technical information I come across on a daily basis. I needed an easy way to collect text, images, and web pages. I looked at various options but found that Evernote offered the flexibility I needed. For me, one of the big advantages was the ability to tag information, making it easy to search for.

So what do I collect? In a word everything! Well, everything that is of use to me in my job at Learning Pool.  This mainly consists of information from moodle.org, capturing text, sometimes long pieces or short posts on the forum. Anything that I think might be useful, it’s much easier than bookmarking every page that might (or might not) be useful in the future.  Plus you only capture what you need. Images are easily captured with a right-click, then tagged in the same way as you would with anything else.

Gathering all this information is great, but is of no use if you can’t share it with anyone. Another cool feature is that you can share the information with anyone, by simply entering their email address. They can then view the information through a web browser.

So there you have it. Evernote is dead handy.

Do you use Evernote in an interesting way you could share? Or do you use a different app? Would be great to know about it if so!

Bookmarks for April 5th through April 10th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Social Media Security – "We have found a huge lack of accurate information around security issues and awareness of social media. This website aims to help educate users of social media of the threats, risks and privacy concerns that go with using them."
  • E-government is not a financial cure-all – "Whoever is in charge after 6 May, I expect the drive towards "smarter government" (or whatever catch phrase replaces it) to continue. There are simply no other tools in the box. But whoever is in charge will avidly wish someone had made a bolder start while the going was good."
  • bantApp.com: Bant Diabetes Monitoring App for the iPhone and iPod Touch – Interesting iphone app for diabetes management, via @robertbrook
  • Two models of open innovation – "Based on our recent experience of working on open innovation projects, and also building upon a great paper by Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani, we have concluded that there are two distinct ways of doing open innovation – creating competitive markets or collaborative communities"
  • Let government screw up – "I have the opportunity to speak to groups across government about the benefits, challenges and potential costs of social media. In the face of institutional anxiety, I’ve argued that social media is a positive environment that encourages experimentation. In fact, online users are willing to accept mis-steps and stumbles from government organizati0ns simply because it demonstrates initiative and ambition, if not expertise."
  • Project Spaces: A Format for Surfacing New Projects – home – "The event format I'm calling Project Spaces has emerged from working with various collaborators to facilitate events for communities actively engaged and committed to finding better ways to do things."
  • Can Open Office Escape From Under A Cloud? – "I do see a future for Open Office in the enterprise — one that’s closely tied to integration with collaboration, content management, and business processes and facilitated by the likes of Oracle and IBM."
  • A democratic view of social media behaviours – Interesting action research post from Catherine – plenty to chew on here.
  • Digital exclusion, porn and games – "I wonder if – as with mobile phones – there’s a certain, influential generation that see the technology as being more than just a technology. And instead, a marker for a whole way of life they just haven’t accepted yet."
  • Social media measurement – Great stuff from Stuart Bruce – debunking a few myths and some marketing BS.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Gmail gets better with labs

If you are a Gmail user, you’ll be used to the many benefits that this webmail service provides, like massive storage, great search, powerful filtering and labelling of email, inbuilt instant messaging and voice calls over IP, and the ability to access your email anyway you like with POP and IMAP controls.

However, for a while now Google have been sneaking extra features into Gmail, which you can find by clicking Settings on the top right of the Gmail screen, then on the Labs tab on the settings screen. You’ll then see a big list of extra features you can add – some useful, some silly. Here are the ones I have enabled:

1. Tasks

The Tasks feature is great – building in a simple task list to Gmail, which makes it a doddle to create as many lists of stuff that needs to be done as you like, and attaching emails to them is made really simple: just select the email and then click on ‘Add to tasks’ under the ‘More Actions’ menu. I’m using this at the moment to list all the emails I need to reply to.

2. Quick Links

Adds a box on the left hand side of the Gmail screen allowing you to add as many bookmarks as you like. I’ve got things like admin link for the various blogs I am managing at the moment listed on mine.

3. Superstars

Superstars enables you to click through different types of stars to add to emails to make them stand out a little bit more. Makes things a little more colourful if nothing else.

4. Default ‘Reply to all’

I’m always forgetting to choose the Reply to all link when responding to group emails. This, as it says, makes reply to all the default. Must be careful with this when being rude about people…

5. Forgotten attachment detector

Not perfect, but this scans emails for words like ‘attachment’ or ‘attached’ and, if there isn’t a file attached to the emails, pops up with a warning when you click send. Useful for avoiding those occasional d’oh! moments.

6. Custom label colours

Just like Superstars, helps you differentiate between the different labels you give to emails with colours.

7. Mark as read button

Dead handy this, let’s you mark emails as read with a single click rather than the, er, two clicks it took before. Seriously, I save nanoseconds with this.

8. Google Docs gadget

This gives me a sneaky peek at my Google Docs, letting me open them from within Gmail, which is quite handy.

There are a few other gadgets I don’t use, but which, like the ones I have outlined above, help to make Gmail a kind of portal (I  know I’m not meant to use that word…) to all your online organisational stuff. For instance, there’s a Google Calendar gadget which gives you a preview of what you have on that day. So if you are a user of all these Google services, you can make Gmail your home page and not worry about the rest.

What – if any – of these gadgets are you using? And how do you feel about your inbox becoming the hub of your online life?

2 screens = more work done?

I’ve just dug out an old 15″ flat screen monitor from a box and plugged it into my MacBook:

2 screens

The way I have it set up is to have email and twitter on the flatscreen, while having the actual work I am meant to be doing on the macbook screen. I’m finding it certainly helps my concentration to keep the comms stuff to one side!

Anyone else work with two (or more!) screens? How do you have yours set up?