Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hello, World!

Again, I am posting here after a very very very long time. Nowadays, posting has become more of Hello.. Hi There.. Posting after a long time and stuff like that.. :)

The fact is, the work has multiplied multiple times. But that should never be an excuse.


Btw, one of the reasons i see for hesitating to post something in my blog is my laziness to go all the way to my blog service provider and then login and then writing a post. So i decided to explore ways in which I can post easily. As I can see, I see two options: one, to use ScribeFire addon from Firefox (posting this from ScribeFire) and the other option is a Blogthis extension in Chrome (which i haven't explored yet).

Hoping to post more of my thoughts in here. I've also thought of what I would be posting next in this blog. I am planning to post my experience trying to run Moblin 2.0 inside Windows Vista using VirtualBox virtual machine.

Until then, bye..

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Decluttering - My relentless effort so far and tips!

I have been consciously trying to optimize and enhance the way I work/live - both professionally and personally.

One of the things which proved to be an eye-opener for me is the fact that clutter (digital, physical, mental and any form for that matter) plays an important role in bringing down one's over all productivity due to various reasons.

Below are forms of clutter in my life and how I have been tackling them lately (again, the below are specific to me and not many people might have them in their life):

- Digital Clutter in the form of over-flowing mails: I have a separate huge blog post saved in the drafts at the time of this writing. While I really want to spend quality time explaining to you on how to manage your inbox (in a different blog post later) , I would like you to be aware of the ill-effects of overflowing mails. While this may not be a problem for many of us, it did prove to be a huge productivity sucker in my case.

Mail inbox, both personal and official, are the easiest to become cluttered. You can blame that on technology for having brought this kind of ease in delivering information.

The ill-effects of digital clutter is that, applications such as email clients become a burden over a period of time, rather than being a tool which enhances your professional and personal life.

Solution: First of all, do a clean up once to archive and delete all your old mails which are older than 2 months.

Second, unsubscribe from newsletters and mail groups which you haven't been reading for the past 1 month.

Third, Set rules to sort your mails into different folders (or flag them accordingly) to enable you to process the least important ones quickly. When you clear the least important ones quickly, it has 2 advantages - one, you gain immediate confidence due to the fact that you cleared a bulk of your mails real quick. Two, you have cleared the least important ones, so you do not procrastinate reading the important ones by going back to the least important ones (you have none now).

Fourth, you don't have to read every line in mails which are the obvious BAU (Business-As-Usual) mails and mails in which you are copied as a part of the group. You can right away mark them as read.

Fifth, you don't have to respond to a mail using a mail. Some conversations are easily solved by picking up the phone and using your chat software.

Lastly, use a different email account for subscribing to newsletters and for registering at different websites.

- Digital Clutter in the form of a crowded PC Desktop: I bet this a problem for most of us. Desktops have become a convenient way to access the most important files, folders and applications. But it has also become the most convenient place to dump most of the temporaraly files, folders and application shortcuts. To some extent, the application developers are responsible for this confusion.

Though some may argue that dumping as much they want in the desktop enhances productivity, I always believe that it is a source for confusion, iritation and worry for many. Simple analogy is a usual physical desk of yours. Given a choice for your physical desk, how many of your would choose to have a clean and empty desk as against a crowded desk with all the documents spread on it. Thats the same case for the PC Desktop.

Solution: First step: Start to clean up your existing desktop. Create a folder called Desktop2 and dump all the files and folders into it. This is the most quickest way to clear the clutter. Then delete all the unwanted application shortcuts. If you haven't clicked on a shortcut in the past 1 month, then there is a slim chance that you would do that now.

Then make sure you create one or two folders to store the temporaray files and folders that you may access very often.

Next step is to make sure you are consicious about not saving folders in the desktop directly. Make sure you save them in the one of the folders you have in your desktop.

I usually have one folder in which I dump all my files and two text files - contacts.txt and to-do.txt.

- Digital Clutter in the form of SMS: I hope, at least off late, agree with me on this. I receive on a average at least 20 SMS advertisements. Some times, even more. And on top of that, I also receive at least 10 more SMSs because I have subscribed with my bank, shop or some online service (Google, Twitter, etc.) to receive them.

SMS becomes a problem over a period of time, especially if you have a phone which does not allow you to easily delete your SMSs. For example, my low-end Nokia phone allows me to very painfully delete SMS on at a time.

Solution: First of all, unsubscribe your self from all the services where you had chosen to receive the SMSs. Second, block the unwanted sms by calling your phone operator and asking them to block numbers which are spamming your sms inbox. Third, if you have a more sophisticated phone, then you may install a free sms spam filter software. Fourth, don't ever disclose your phone number any website or in the back of your cheques or other physical forms. The second one (cheques) is the most common place for spammers to pickup your numbers.

- Digital and/or Physical Clutter in the form of multiple sources of Information: I have had this problem of thousands of news articles from hundreds of RSS sources cluttering my RSS News Reader (I use Google Reader).

That apart, you would have subscribed for a newsletter from lots of news sites. This especially does dual harm. Not only does it clutter your inbox, but also forms a part of information clutter.

Another more common form of clutter is multiple magazines and newspapers. They tend to easly clutter your living room and tables.

Solution: If you have been reading news from a particular site, then you are not going to read them any time in future. You go ahead and remove them from your RSS news reader and/or from your list of favorites.

Unsubscribe yourself from all the newsletters that haven't read for the past 1 month. Again, your wouldn't be reading them anytime in future.

Lastly, try to stay with one particular website and/or newspaper and/or magazine and see if you are able to read/consume every bit of information in it. Most probably, that should be good enough for you to know. Also, remember, most of the news sites and papers repeat the same news. So if you have read it here, then you wouldn't want to be reading it in a different from to finally realize that you just wasted your time.

- Digital Clutter in the form of social networking: No No.. I am not saying not go on Facebook! Social networking is required and sometimes encouraged... especially in these days where life has become hectic and our chances of physically networking has become slim.

But what I am saying is that, you don't have to be network with the same friends in multiple different sites such as facebook, myface, orkut, twitter, etc.

Again, this may not apply for everyone, but it did apply for me :). I had and still have a major problem consolidating so many different social networking platforms.

As of today, I am available on Facebook (relatively active), Twitter and LinkedIn.

Solution: Consolidate. Try to join the social networking site where most of your friends/colleagues are. Invite them to join your social networking site/group.

If you still have to leave a status message in 2/3 different sites where your friends are divided, then try using a software which can do this in one shot. For example, I leave my status in Facebook and Twitter in one shot using TweetDeck.

- Digital Clutter in the form of multiple email accounts: I had around 7 to 8 different personal email accounts with different providers. Again, this may not be the case with everyone.

As of today, I have 2 active accounts and 2 more less active ones as backup.

Solution: No big deal again. Just consolidate your multiple accounts into 2 email accounts. One is for your real communication with family, friends and colleagues. Second one is for subscribing to newsletters (if you absolutely need to do that) and using them to register at different sites. Usually you don't have to worry about consolidating your multiple email accounts. If you don't access them for some days/months, your account automatically gets disabled and your mails cleared :)).

- Physical Clutter in the form of bank and credit card statements: I receive so many statements, from Banks especially, that I had lost interest in reading them entirely. Since, I realized that some of these letters are important, I use to conveniently stack them away at multiple places - my home desk, side tables, office bag, etc.

Over a period of time, you realize that you have so much clutter everywhere because of these statements.

Solution: Go green! Now a days, banks give you an option of going green by choosing to receive statements in your email inbox (of course, banks want to cut down the cost by saving paper and shipping charges). Just go with this option. Receiving statements in your mail is very convenient and reduces your physical clutter a lot.

Don't procrastinate processing these statement: Reading them immediately and either tear them upfront and file them if you really them. Filing them is better than stacking them away in different places without even removing it from the envelope.

To be continued.. (I have so much to write but I can't wait to share this with you immediately. Will keep updating this post).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Reduce your email clutter - how to catch up and conquer your inbox!

The below post had been sleeping in my draft folder for half a year. On reading this draft post, I realized how much it would be useful for folks who really need a hold over their emails. Enjoy reading this post. And ahh.. I am not posting about Moblin and ChromeOS as promised.. sorry :)

By the way, I am not a productivity guru. All thoughts expressed below are from my quest to conquer my email client. I hope this will be useful for you too!.

First of all, email overload may not be a problem for everyone. But if it is problem managing your inbox and unread mails, then this post, I hope, should bring you some hope and relief.

If you are what I was many months back, then you must be opening your email inbox everyday with a heavy heart and with doubts on whether you would be able to finish reading all your emails today and with even more doubts on your ability to reduce the number of 2000+ or even more unread mails (staring at you in bold numbers next to the inbox icon).

While you open the inbox with the above mentioned doubts, a separate thread of thought appears to race in your mind on whether there are any important mails from the past that you might have missed reading. Even for the ones you had time to read partially, you must have flagged them for later reading and action. Your mind is worried about clearing those read mails but flagged in hundreds.

What a mess it is.. with your mind already stressed by the thoughts of digital clutter and your inability to catch up with the email overload day after day.. everyday. Things could get worse if your mail client is an unfriendly one such as lotus notes (and/or) you are a manager with a huge team to manage (and/or) your job requires you to interact with many other cross-functional teams (and/or) your a news and information junkie (and/or) many more obvious and unobvious reasons unique to your situation.

Apart from guilt and unproductive use of time, another major problem with not clearing your inbox is that your mind creates this illusion of work overload and that you never have time to spend for yourself/your family/your projects/your colleagues/etc. The email clutter gives you an illusion that you always have a lot to do. But the fact is, at the end of day when you learn to manage your inbox, you will find that whats needed of you from your mails is manageable and that you could complete your work and still have time left to do things that you love. After all remember that email is an enabler at work and is not the sole purpose of why you go to work.

I was in the same state until I decided to take control of the situation rather than going with a day to day flow of work and worrying thoughts in the background about your email clutter and your inability to catch up.

Today I have a clear inbox at the end of day. I am not stressed by the digital clutter. I am able to reply to mails that are important and that need my immediate attention. I am able to spend more time on things that matter, after I have started saving time because of my ability to finish clearing my inbox sooner (time saved is time produced :)). Of course, I am still in a learning phase where I keep trying out new techniques and trying to master the ones that work for me. Refining my skills to manage digital clutter is an ongoing process for me, but a very interesting and fun-filled experience/experiment at the same time.

So here is a list of recommendations that have worked for me and I hope the same should help you rule your mail (phrase that I came up with ;)) and maintain an empty inbox.

Be responsible - Choose to have it or leave it: Choosing to not have a mail id may not be a option for most of us. But, if you choose to have a personal email id and if you are not able to manage the inflow of mails, then decide for yourself if you wish to continue having this email account.

But if you do need to keep your email account, then you also need to take up a personal responsibility to give the care and attention it deserves. You need to make a personal commitment to yourself on not abusing this email account by either spamming others and not abusing yourself by allowing unwanted emails (which you may never read) to keep accumulating day after day.

Make a resolution to make the best use of this modern day tool and use it to your advantage to enable you in you day to day life.

Consolidate your email accounts: Again, it is best for you to consolidate your multiple email accounts - personal and official - into just three email accounts, one of your personal work, the second for your official usage (which most of us should get from the companies we work for) and finally a personal "subscription" email account (will talk about the third one very soon). Remember, your email id is your personal and unique trademark and it is best for you to have just one for your personal use.

And the reason why I recommend having a personal and official one is for obvious reasons. You don't want your personal emails from cluttering your official inbox and prevent you from focusing on what's important at work. There are exceptions to this where you may still want to forward some really important ones from your personal email account to your official email account. Will talk about it below.

Reduce your information inflow: This is one of the first and most important steps you may want to do, before you start decluttering your email inbox.

First of all, go ahead and unsubscribe yourself from all these sites where you have registered your email id to get updates on products and their promos. You may find it hard to do this step because of your fear of losing out on important information. But if you haven't been reading mails from these subscriptions for more than 3 weeks, it is highly unlikely that you will ever read them too (except for once in a while when you see some eye-catchy subject in it).

Don't get disheartened about losing out on information. That's where the third email account - the subscription email account - comes in handy. Go ahead and subscribe yourself again using your third email account (if that's absolutely required, else I still wouldn't recommend subscribing to it if I won't read the mails for more than 3 weeks).

For those of you who cannot/do not want to have a third subscription email account and do not want to unsubscribe from this newsletter, try this simple trick. Create an email rule which marks these subscription mails/newsletters to mark then as unread and then move to a different folder dedicated for this newsletter. For those having Gmail account, you will do the following - mark these emails as read, label them appropriately and then archive it.

Some other ways of reducing information flow is by disabling email notifications from your social networking sites like facebook, linkedin, orkut, twitter, etc. They do add to a lot of email clutter. When you do visit these sites on a daily basis and if you haven't been reading these email notifications, then why have them enabled in the first place!

One other way of reducing information flow (this applies more so for your official email account) is by removing yourself from mailing list/groups. Again, apply the same rule.. if you haven't been reading these mails for more than a week, then you probably do not need to be a part of this group. So go ahead and remove yourself from such groups. As I said before, you still can choose be a part of these groups, but just add your subscription email id to these groups that you feel you need to be part of, no matter what. When it comes to your official email account, the only option left for you, in case you still want to be a part of these mailing lists/groups which you never read mails, is for your to setup rules to move them appropriately to relevant folders. I will talk about rules in a short while.

Last but not the least, be responsible and make sure you do not send out unnecessary emails to bigger groups. Basically, limit your email communication as much as you can (to the most important mails).

Declutter (Cleanup): The best way to clear your inbox is by sender's name and then deleting all those subscription emails/newsletters, email notifications from social networking sites and the mailing lists/groups. This should bring down the size of your inbox by many folds.

The above step will ensure that you do not push all the unwanted emails from getting archived and thereby preventing your archives from getting cluttered.

The next step, once you have cleared your obvious clutter in the inbox, is to archive your inbox to move all your mails older than 2-3 months old into the achieve folder. The achieve file varies depending on the email client. If its Gmail, then you just archive your conversations. If its your Lotus Notes or Outlook, then you move the files from the server to a local archive folder.

One tip here is to have separate archive files for every year.

Rule your mail: Do you really utilize the power of your email client to increase your email productivity. You are not being effective with handling mails if you are not using rules. Also,you are not being effective if you are not using rules in a smart way.

For me personally, this has been one big reason - using rules effectively - for taming my inbox clutter and being effective day in and day.

I was experimenting with rules for quite some time and then one day due to divine inspiration :) (actually its common sense) I struck upon the success formula for the perfect set of rules (these are perfect till I find anything more useful :)).

Important point here is to categorize mails into separate folders/categories while not moving them from the inbox. What!! categorizing into separate folders/categories without moving the mails into separate folders!!! You've heard it right.

Traditionally, rules have been associated with 'moving' mails into different folders. But believe me, that is the most ineffective way of managing mails and a bad way of using rules. In fact, you are better off maintaining all your mails in the inbox without using rules. Well, let me explain

Have you ever realized as to why we like Gmail a lot. Yes, its faster, it uses AJAX and has other new improvements such as keyboard shortcuts (my favorite). But I bet, deep inside your heart, you like it because it lets you categorize your mails using labels (and also using multiple labels). Labels let you categorize your mails while the mails are still in your inbox. You can also see them as separate folders by filtering it with a specific label name.

And I am saying, this is the same strategy that you should also use for any mail account - your office or personal; lotus notes or ms outlook.

Another reason for not moving your mails from your inbox is to let you easily sort your Inbox in a conversation view (which follows a particular mail thread). But if you have moved some mails of that conversation/mail thread to a different folder, then you really don't get the complete picture of the conversation.

For your personal mail account, you anyways achieve the categorization using labels, if you are using Gmail. If you are not using Gmail, I beg you to ditch your existing mail accounts and hop on to Gmail. Apart from labels, its has tons of other good features - keyboard shortcuts, chat integration, docs integration, skins/themes, to name a few.

So if you are already using Gmail, then setup rules for as many mails as possible. Try to label the mails you are using automatically using rules. While you can have specific labels such as "Google", "Citibank", etc. try to label your mails in a more generic way as well. I will talk more about setting up rules in a short while. Let me finish off how you can categorize your mails without moving them in separate folders in Lotus Notes and MS Outlook.

In Lotus Notes, I am not sure how many of you have discovered this, but instead of moving a mail to a specific folder, copying it to a specific folder acts just like labeling in Gmail!!! That's good news isn't it :). So say, I copy an unread mail into a folder. The mail is available in both my Inbox and the folder to which I've moved it. But the best part is, when I do any action on the mail, whether in Inbox or the folder - like reading it, marking it as read, flagging it, or deleting it, the action also reflects in both Inbox and the folder to which you've copied this mail.

Now again, trust me, will explain to you how this feature is helpful, in a short while.

In MS Outlook, I guess, the only way you can achieve categorization (without moving mails to specific folders) is by upgrading to MS Outlook 2007. But if you are already using MS Outlook 2007, then you are in luck.

So in MS Outlook 2007, the categorization feature is called Categories :). They are also called as color categories. This is same as the labeling that you do in Gmail. So needless to say, its very easy and efficient way of categorizing your mails using multiple categories. More than me explaining to you about categories, you can read this article here to know how categories work in MS Outlook 2007.

At this point, I am not aware of how other mail clients or online mail accounts support categorization or labeling (for example, in Mozilla Thunderbird or Yahoo Mail), so I going to stop about categorization here.

Categorization or labeling is just the first of the two requirements towards effectively managing your mails. You have to know "HOW" to categorize/label/filter your mails in order to be effective. So let me explain the "How" of it.

The way you categorize/label your mails is as follows.
  1. Important Mails: Mails from bosses or other important people (not more than 5-6 people), else this category/label gets cluttered easily.
  2. Meeting Invitations: More applicable for your office mail account. You many want to quickly review and accept the meeting invites.
  3. Mails requesting your approvals: Again, more applicable for your office mail account.
  4. Mails in which I am marked in 'TO'
  5. Mails in which I am marked in 'CC'
  6. Mails in which I am marked in 'CC' explicitly, but also a mailing group has been copied in 'TO' or 'CC'
  7. Mails in which I am neither marked in 'TO' or 'CC', but indirectly copied as a part of a mailing group
  8. Least Important Mails: Mails from groups or communities that you have subscribed yourself to. If you have any of these mails, then I recommend subscribing them on your subscription mail account, but you cannot avoid if you have access only to your Office mail account.
In the above rules, you can combine rules 6. and 7. if you want to.

So setup your rules in Gmail, Lotus Notes or Outlook 2007 to categorize the mails you receive in the above way. The 'How to setup rules' in your mail client demands a separate blog post in itself. I am not covering that here and i am assuming that you will be setting up your mail rules to categorize the mails into the above 7 or 8 categories.

By the way, after setting up the rules, you will notice that there are still a very small percentage of mails that don't fall into any of the above categories. That doesn't mean that your rules are not perfect.

Trust me, the ones that don't get categorized into any of the above are usually not that important mails and you can keep them for reading at the last.

Process your filtered mails: The job is only half done by segregating the mails into the above categories.

As I had mentioned earlier, the really important mails that demand your attention is far less that you could imagine (but if that's not the case, then you need a serious lesson in unplugging yourself and prioritizing your work and personal life. No amount of mail management will prove helpful). So everything else in your inbox is a form of digital clutter which just sucks energy out of you by making you take some action on it. In the process of cleaning up the digital clutter, you get so tired that you lose interest and energy in replying to the mails that matter the most. More importantly, clearing your inbox becomes more of a dread.

Now coming back to processing the mails that are categorized like above, you can right away start with the most "Important Mails" and "Mails in which I am marked in 'TO'". This is what matters the most.

For me, personally though, the count of unread mails sitting next to the Inbox icon/folder and staring at me is what causes lot of distraction. So I always start from the bottom - "Least Important Mails".

I quickly mark these mails as read using keyboard shortcuts after glancing through the preview window. The advantage of this is that, you quickly process all the unwanted mails and thus leaving your mails with only the important ones. I don't worry about not having missed anything else.

Trust me.. try the above way of categorizing your mails and processing them and I promise you that you will have a zero inbox and you would have not missed/procrastinated on important mails.

This has worked for me for close to a year now and I am able to maintain my inbox with zero unread mails. This has been a great boost for my workplace productivity and enhanced the way I work.

Don't procrastinate: And more importantly, any amount of rules will not help you if you are going to procrastinate responding to mails. Again, procrastination is a topic in itself. But please make sure you respond to mails as soon as you can. Be aware of your procrastination patterns.

If you think you have been procrastinating replying/responding to mail for quite some time, then it means that there is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. Your fear and reason for procrastination has to be addressed first.

Limit unnecessary communication, Use IM or Phone: This is the last bit of advice i have for you. The more you limit your email communication, the better you would be able to achieve what you wanted from that communication.

A simple Instant Messaging ping or a phone call will do the job. But again, sometimes you may still want to mail someone for accountability and documentation reasons, which is fine. But don't over stretch your conversation in the mails.

I hope, the lessons I've learnt from my own experimentation to be more productive in managing my mails will help you. Let me know your thoughts.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Getting back to blogging!

I am trying to get back to my blogging. Has been a long time since i have updated my blog. Especially after my recent travel to US, I never had a chance to update anything here.

And I can understand why folks are finding it hard to blog and are moving to other forms of expressions such as facebook and twitter.. its quick and easy and on the fly (doing it from any where). I myself have been at least updating my facebook status weekly. But never had the motivation to come down here and post anything lengthy.

But again I miss this blogging lengthier posts... and i guess i still love blogging as compared to facebook, orkut and twitter :).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

GoodReads.com - Nice site for book lovers

I just enrolled myself in this site.

Very nice site to share your views on books with like minded readers.

Visit the site to know more about it!

I just wrote a very short review of a not so great book - "The Davinci Code" in this site.

The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The storyline is unique, interesting and fast moving. Its gets slow though later in the book.

View all my reviews.

Back again after yet another brief break

And this time my break was due to my travel to US. I had good fun this time around as I had taken my wife and kid along with me. Also I had rented out a car which really helped me going around places.

Some reasoning I have been procastinating blogging.. though I have this passion for blogging.

I am determined to continue blogging like before.