Notetaking in OneNote

I have been planning on writing a blog on notetaking and notetaking applications and in particular, how to take digital notes using handwriting. I find handwriting is kinesthetic and I am more likely to remember what I have handwritten than typed and of course there is the usual discussion anout how intrusive (or not) kthe tipetty tappedy of notetaking on a a keyboard is to others.

Handwritten notes are particularly important to me when using a tablet device as the on-screen keyboards are generally not as intuitive, accurate or easy-to-use as a real keyboard. This is likely to be especially true if you are a touch typist!

I have looked at a number of excellent applications to use on my iPad the notetaking and come down to my 3 top favourites Pearnote, Notability and INKcredible. However, before looking at these in detail I wanted to follow up on Darryl’s excellent post (June) because as it turns out, apart from on the iPad, OneNote turns out to be something of an all-rounder for notetaking, handwriting recognition, audio capture synced with notes and for use as a light touch getting things done or task management system. OneNote can also share tasks and this coupled with its integration into Outlook makes a cross platform shared task system possible. Again, this topic merits its own post.

If you are still asking why not use pen and paper rather than digitising notes and using technology, then suggest you read previous articles on going paperless and the benefits of then benefits of doing so. For now let’s dive in.

Using OneNote to take handwritten and audio notes

if you have a touchscreen computer or tablet running Windows 7 or above it is possible to make handwritten notes: Windows handwriting recognition built into the operating system. There are 2 ways of taking notes within OneNote;

Open OneNote, and select the draw tab (in Office 2013, on Mac or Windows) and choose your pen type from the pre-formatted or define your own. You should then be able to use either your finger, or a stylus with which to write on the OneNote pages. It is then possible to select your handwriting and choose “ink to text” which will make a good stab at converting your handwriting to text. There is however another way, which I have found avoids accidental smears on the page and has a higher accuracy rate.

From your tablet or touchscreen device, choose the on-screen keyboard and select the tablet stylus icon images below.

onetaskonetask2

In addition, within Control Panel it is possible to train specific handwriting symbols or words, for example handwriting recognition would not out-of-the-box recognise + symbol which I used to denote the word and all the squiggle which I used to represent an amperstand. Though the following relates to a surface pro it is true of other touch screen devices/tablets [1]

There  are plenty of  YouTube videos you may choose to watch if you want a more in-depth demonstration of this in action.

Audio Notes

Onenote can record audio and sync tyoed or handwritten notes with the recording, making it very useful to review specific sections of the (in my case talks and lectures, with permission of course).  Access this functionality from the insert menu on the ribbon and click record audio (or indeed audio and video, if your device supports it).

Task list management

Built into OneNote are tags and is Darryl explained, sections. By default in OneNote the ‘to do’ tag has a keyboard shortcut key of control + shift +1, and its own icon in the ribbon to denote a piece of text as a task. Clicking within the checkbox marks the task as complete. Other tags can be used to highlight the task as important, critical, and so on. In is also possible to define your own tags. Clicking on the find tags button lists and groups the tasks by tag. This will form the basis along with the use of sections for our GTD system.

Tasks and Outlook integration

As mentioned, OneNote is tightly integrated with Outlook: it is possible to create tasks in either Outlook or OneNote and have them synced between both applications (assuming you are using either SharePoint or OneDrive). This will be the basis of a future post on managing tasks across a team, in our case I will also use delegated mailboxes because, it is a common scenario for PAs to share mailboxes with their manager and for PI’s and  PA’s to share tasks across a research team.

 

For now why not get a bit more familiar with OneNote before we take the next dive in a couple of weeks.

[1] http://www.windowscentral.com/how-personalize-handwriting-recognition-your-surface-pro-3

Posted in Information Processing, OneNote, Outlook, Task Management, tools, Writing | Leave a comment

Windows 10 what is worth having and how to fix the start menu to the way you want it.

It will be a little while before Windows 10 hits the University (education and volume licensing is done differently to the home market). Though this weekend at home I was pleasantly surprised, the Windows 10 upgrade went without a hitch; all my applications still seem to work and hurrah the Windows start menu is back! However if you are expecting it to look exactly like windows 7 or even XP you will need to do a few tweaks. The good news is, that the menu bar and what is contained within it is (almost) entirely configurable, more so than any other menu or task bar previously.

The second thing which is great is that as planned there is now built-in multiple virtual desktops. Virtual desktops allow you to have multiple applications running one or more per window. Many people find this to be less distracting allowing dedicated focus on a specific task whilst being able to move between applications/ cut and paste stuff between applications easily. This is a boon if you are working on a tablet or with a limited sized monitor.

Desktop and application displays, another feature that Microsoft have mimicked from OS X world is the ability to gather all open windows and view at a high level. In windows this is called task view to open click on the task view icon or use windows key + TAB., this will show you any open windows that you have open and you are able to click on the little plus icon to add another virtual desktop. The keyboard shortcut to create a new virtual desktop is Windows Key + Control + D. To move between desktops use ctrl+windows+ left/right arrow or, you can use task view to click and move between the desktops. Unlike in Mac OS X it is not possible yet, to drag-and-drop applications between virtual desktops. To move an application between desktops you need to go to the task of view and right click on the application you wish to move, this opens up a menu where you can select the destination desktop. For more details about how to use virtual desktops check out this excellent how to [1].

Tweaking the menu bar.

Personally, I want things to be as simple as possible in order to retain a distraction free existence so I:
Get rid of the live feeds which I find it distracting.
Change width of menu bar
Resize tile size
Resize menu bar
Add new tiles
Turn off live feed for all tiles
Turn of all/some tiles

Getting there, one column wide with additional folders added                 The best I could do for now….

e       sgettingthere                                   finalresult

Resizing the tiles is pretty simple, right click on the tile you wish to resize and choose small medium or large. Moving tile can be done by click and drag, resizing the menubar click on the edge of the menu bar and pull it to desired size (well almost). I haven’t found a way to make the start menu (right hand side) bar narrower only wider. I then tried removing all tiles, but needed to log out and log back in again to be able to resize the menu bar accordingly. This trick didn’t seem to work with even one tile left in the start menu. For more details of how to tweak the menu bar I found this post helpful [2].

More to come

Edge the new Internet Explorer, has a new read mode again another mimic of Safari, and I haven’t completely discarded this browser, a definite improvement then on Internet Explorer.
Off-line maps. I have found off-line maps to be really useful on a tablet when travelling. Currently I use an app on my iPad, better looking forward to seeing how this will work on my next trip from my new surface pro3.

Cortana- I haven’t really configured Cortana yet, billed as the new PA, not buying that one just yet. However, I believe that Cortana can provide answers to context related questions in a way that Siri the Apple equivalent does not.

OneNote is able to take voice dictation notes and on the Surface Proit recognise handwriting.. Hmmm looking forward to testing that out in due course too. For now, I have been very happy with the Windows 10 interface, still finding my way round and learning some new keyboard shortcuts [3]

[1] http://www.howtogeek.com/197625/how-to-use-virtual-desktops-in-windows-10/
[2] http://www.howtogeek.com/197836/8-ways-to-customize-the-windows-10-start-menu/
[3] http://blogs.technet.com/b/sebastianklenk/archive/2015/05/28/windows-10-keyboard-shortcuts-at-a-glance.aspx

Posted in Distraction, Focus, tools, Visual Distraction | 3 Comments

Things to know about Outlook 4: How to delete or archive mails older than…

I confess, I use my deleted items like a recycle bin. Delete and then leave for a few weeks (in case of error) and then delete for good. So how do you delete emails older than, say a month, automatically? Auto archive is the feature you need, it will also allow you archive emails to a folder or to a  personal storage table .pst ( a local outlook file on your hard drive, which can be backed up and opened). Some people like to archive emails by year for example. A combination of rules and auto archive will do the trick.

Auto archive is configured in two places, globally in File | Options | Advanced | Auto Archive | auto archive settings.

autorachive

The other place is at a folder specific level, in my example I delete anything older than a month from Deleted Items, junk mail can be deleted more often. Right click on folder (deleted items) to view properties| autoarchive | change settings |apply |voila… This does the job for permanently deleting from deleted items and would also cover off saving to a PST file but what about moving to another folder and then archiving?

autorachive1

First make a rule to find and move all the emails you require to the appropriate folder, and then set up archive rules on that folder. Rules, out of the box

Make a time based rule home|rules|create rules|advanced options|

fill in any desired criteria from list add in time constraint

|next scroll down to received in a specific time span  and fill in the required dates. Sadly there is no option to specify relative times such as older than a week. But, if you are regularly moving emails based on time such as a quarter or year you specify that and redo the rule ready for the next batch.

timerules

Next|ok|next|move to specified  folder (click on the underlined text as before) then finish. You will be asked if you wish to apply the rule now, click yes and all the emails meeting your criteria will move to the correct location and will continue to do so during the active time period.

Finally, archive, use auto archive to archive to your local .pst folder, which you can back up to disk using your regular back up routine. You do have a back up routine?

You can also set the pst file to be on a shared or cloud drive, bearing in mind any and all security risks and business policies in place which might constrain you from doing so.

Posted in Email, Outlook, tools | 7 Comments

SharePoint and meetings: paperless or less paper?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it comes to meetings, can we really mean paperless or, do we really mean less paper? That all depends on you, as well as the other meeting participants. I have written previously  about the value of digital copies of documents, they take up less space, the text can be searched etc. But, where to be store them and how can we provide access to them to other participants? How can we possibly manage to view all the necessary documents on-screen for a meeting that has a plethora of associated papers?

The first efficiency is not to circulate meeting papers via email (assuming here that you have not hand written or typed them on a typewriter and therefore, that you could email them). There are a couple of reasons for this, firstly (depending on the server) when you email a document multiple copies of it are stored on the email server (for which there is an unnecessary cost). Secondly, once emailed it can be more easily viewed, forwarded or accessed by unauthorised recipients. It is therefore better to distribute the documents via a link to a secured, online location. SharePoint is an ideal solution for this; it allows the user, if permitted, to read the document online  or, if the feature is enabled (for them)  to download a copy. In a compatible browser and with permission it is also possible to edit documents online and save edits; the right people get the right access.

Once the meeting participants have the documents they may wish to print out some or all of the meeting pack. However, this may not be necessary, in some meetings the agenda is projected onto a screen for all to see .In other meetings,  participants are expected to read the documents on a laptop if they have one, or to consider carefully which documents really do need to be printed and brought to the meeting. Assuming that you have a laptop or tablet, and you are willing to use it to access the meeting documents using it, I have found it useful to use multiple desktops (see post here https://blogs.it.ox.ac.uk/technology-at-work/2015/06/09/when-i-am-cleaning-windows/) to display the various documents. In addition I choose to use colour to distinguish between, the agenda, reports and minutes. This might be achieved by highlighting the title in different colour, or changing the background colour. Changing the background colour is very easy in a word processor, and provides a strong visual clue as to the document type. In the recent versions of Word, you will find change page colour under the design tab. If the document is produced as a PDF, the latest versions of Word will allow to you to open and edit the file, or you may find it easier to use a free PDF editor, or even Evernote,  to highlight parts of the text.

Whilst there is a discussion to be had about the cost of digital storage and running a computer to view, edit and take notes, overall whatever can be done to reduce printing is useful. The result is a reduction in cost; less power and print consumables (ink, toner and paper) and  a reduced carbon footprint.

Posted in Colour, Organisation, Preparation, Visual Processing | 1 Comment

Using OneNote by Daryl Theobalds

If you ever find it difficult to keep notes and documents synchronised across multiple devices and to collaborate on them with colleagues, then OneNote might be worth looking at.  The full application is a standard part of the Microsoft Office Suite with free companion apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.  There is also a web application which works with most browsers, so you can get to your OneNote notebooks without installing anything.

OneNote is made up of notebooks, sections and pages. Notebooks are listed in the left hand panel, sections within the current notebook are displayed as tabs across the top and the pages within the current section are in the right-hand panel. You could think of a Notebook as a ring binder with dividers and pages.  The OneNote application is a shelf with any number of these binders.  A lot of the content I keep in OneNote is the sort of thing I would otherwise keep in multiple files in a folder structure, but with OneNote it is much easier to manage.  All my notes are opened in a single interface which is logically structured in a way which makes sense to me, making it easy to navigate and search.  I can reorganise pages by dragging them between sections, or cross reference them by linking to pages.OneNote2

But what makes OneNote truly indispensable for me, is synchronisation. If you store your notebooks on a server, rather than on your computer, you can access them from multiple devices concurrently.  You could start a ‘to do’ list or draft document on your work desktop and update it from your phone or home computer.  The app will cache your notebooks so you don’t need to be online to access them.  Any changes you make are synchronised to the server when a connection is available. If you have stored your notebooks on the University’s Nexus SharePoint service you will also be able to access them via the browser[1].  There are many ways to synchronise data between devices, but having tried various synchronisation tools I find OneNote to be among the more reliable and easy to use.

OneNote also works well for collaboration.  If a notebook is stored in a communal location such as the team’s Nexus SharePoint site, everyone in the team can open it simultaneously.  Just as you might open a shared mailbox.  OneNote allows multiple users to amend the same notebook, or even page, simultaneously.  Changes are flagged with the initials of the user who made the change.  OneNote’s page versioning feature can be particularly useful when various people are updating the same content.

OneNote doesn’t do away with the need for traditional documents, but for notes and less formal documentation it has a lot to offer.  Alongside Outlook, it is the tool I rely on most to organise my working life.

Using OneNote with Nexus SharePoint

Posted in Information Processing, Task Management, tools, Writing | 1 Comment

When I am cleaning windows; multiple desktop management

Are you a person who has multiple applications open at once? Maybe to compare versions of a document or to enter data in more than one spreadsheet? Perhaps you use more than one monitor? Do you have your email open in one window and your calendar in another? A couple of quick and easy tools will allow you to view multiple applications simultaneously and move between applications with ease.

Multiple Desktops

Linux and Mac users have for some while been able to run multiple desktops and have a number of applications arranged on one desktop and others on another desktop. This arrangement allows the user to group applications related to a task to be viewed together, or I use multiple desktops to allow me to have all the documents I require for a meeting open, one on each desktop, with a simple keyboard shortcut or mouse gesture I can open any window to switch between documents. What about windows users? Windows 10 due out 29th July will include multiple virtual desktops, if you have never seen how it works and why you might want use it check out this youtube. If you are not going to upgrade (free for one year to windows 7 and 8 users) then try out dexpot [1].


Side by Side comparisons
snap-desktopThis time starting with Windows, which has a feature called snap. Snap allows you to move windows to centre, minimised left or right hand side. This feature can be used by dragging a window to the side where it ‘snaps’ into place. Alternatively, and this works for multiple monitors too, it is activated and controlled by the windows and arrow button keyboard shortcut.

Below is a screen shot just showing the draft for this blog and the youtube clip side by side. This feature is activated and controlled by the windows and arrow button keyboard shortcut. This would be especially useful if I was watching the youtube whilst taking notes, but is here as an example and provides a glimpse of some of the topics which may appear at some point…. Personally I most use side by side to see my calendar (and that of my colleagues) whilst reply to emails about availability, or the ability to see an email and my reply to it.

In addition if you do use more than one monitor you might like to now that you can also snap to the side of the monitor using the same keyboard shortcut windows + arrow

So what about Macs? Why not try a nice neat little app called Hyperdock [2]  (though it costs 7 euro) it is well worth it, you might also like to try cinch [3] which is free if you can live with the nagware (otherwise £7) I prefer Hyperdock , though of course your mileage might vary (YMMV).

In summary, whilst many of us live with clutter and maybe even find it makes us (look or feel) creative, often clearing away the clutter on our workstation helps us to focus on the task in hand without distraction. I feel a post coming on about turning off notifications, or digital clutter, but that is for another day. Meanwhile one of my colleagues (Daryl Theobalds) is writing about how to get the best out of Microsoft Onenote which should appear in the next  couple of weeks so, watch this space.

[1] http://dexpot.de/

[2] http://hyperdock.bahoom.com/

[3] http://www.irradiatedsoftware.com/cinch/

Posted in Concentration, Distraction, Focus, Memory (short term), Sensory Overload, Visual Distraction | Leave a comment

Are digital exams – just an accessibility requirement?

digieaderLast week JISC published a blog on the provision of digital exam papers for print-impaired learners. It states “Between 10-13% of people in the UK have a print impairment which means they have difficulty accessing text-based resources, varying from dyslexia through to visual impairments and motor difficulties.“[1]. Of course this doesn’t just apply to exam papers, so how can we use technology to assist and is there a more general benefit to the provision of digital resources?

Text to speech (TTS) software  uses digital voices to read the text to the listener. The research cited in the blog post showed that those using text to speech software re -read the text more often than those who had human readers to read for them. Perhaps because students felt less able to ask for a person to read as often as they would have liked to have re-read the text.

TTS software is built into both Microsoft Windows and  Mac OSX operating systems. Its counterpart, speech to text (voice recognition software) is also now built in to desktops and mobile devices with apps for Android available. Clearly these products are aimed at the mass market. What, if any, are the benefits of text to speech and speech to text for general use?

Speech to text

Voice recognition software is useful not just for those suffering from RSI, dyslexics or visually impaired people. Nor is it just a cute toy or hands free method to command your mobile device; it is a great tool for dictating text at speed. The basic dictation software built into your operating system will give you basic dictation, though it has a limited amount of memory and thus can retain a limited number of spoken words. A more sophisticated voice recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) can do more. It can provide proofing tools, and the equivalent of word processing macros, for example I have found a useful trick is to create a DNS macro to insert my contact information,  date or other frequently entered text. Unlike a word processor, the application works across a wide range of applications such as email clients, word processing applications, even spreadsheets. Nowadays, it really is easy to set up and train DNS and  to add personalised vocabulary. It, for me at least, has been a great productivity boon, the downside is cost and noise whilst working compared to typing. I would argue that this is a technology which would benefit a wide range of people.

The merits of digital resources, have been much discussed in academia.   I am going to start up front by saying whilst I enjoy (slow) reading a physical book, I see many benefits for digitalising printed materials.

Reading Speed

Text to speech can provide a quicker way to take in information, as the speed at which the text is read is adjustable. We can take in far more information by listening  than  our average reading speed of 250 wpm would allow. We speak (and thus hear) more  quickly than we read and write (the fastest typist types at 216 wpm [2]).

Most readers subvocalise, reading the words aloud in their head (without being conscious of doing so). Subvocalistion slows us down and it is difficult to speed up the rate at which we our subvocalise. It is reckoned the fastest we can read with subvocalisation is about 400 wpm [3]. Ideally, to read quicker and retain information we need to break subvocalisation habit altogether, but text to speech, allows us to read quicker than we could otherwise. Many people find that speech and text combined is very effective way to take in and process information. This trend has been capitalised by Amazon’s Whispernet service, which uses recordings of human readers (it also allows the consumer to adjust the speed).

Print Size

Digitising printed materials, allows the reader to adjust the print size, and, depending on format chosen, may also allow the reader to determine layout, font and background colour. Layout is important to reading quicker as each individual will already have or develop an optimal saccade (a rapid eye movement covering a particular width) which allows the reader to take in more than one word at a time. This is important when trying to increase reading speed and still retain comprehension.

Similarly for  many  dyslexics (and other people with a  print impairment)  background colour and font type is very important. Those who suffer from visual distress are likely to have a preferred background colour which improves readability considerably. In nearly all cases white is the least good colour, but of course it is most widely used in both printed and digital resources.

Search ability

With the growth of search engine capabilities on the desktop it is now possible to search for key words, phrases or even file types on all modern operating systems. Knowing how to find and access materials is key to recalling, referencing and using knowledge unless you are blessed with super powers or an encyclopaedic memory. Of course this is true of any indexing and referencing system printed or digital, however, digital searches are typically quicker, deeper and across a wider knowledge domain.

Storage and access

Digital resources take up less physical space than printed materials, they can provide (but do not require) more granular access controls applied to them and can be made available simultaneously in multiple locations, making knowledge more available across the globe.

In summary, I urge us as an institution to consider carefully how we produce and publish written (and other  forms of) information and to do so in a way which best supports learning and our digital strategy [4]. The more flexibility the reader has for accessing and presenting  the text, the better it is for all of us, not just those who have a disability.

[1] http://t.co/dtFRniIB3d

[2] http://www.ratatype.com/learn/average-typing-speed/

[3]Become a Superlearner,  Jonathon Levi, Lev and Anna Goldentouch Kindle Book

also see http://www.lifehacker.co.uk/2014/11/25/beyond-speed-learning-5-tips-tricks-help-become-super-learner

[4] http://www.ox.ac.uk/about/organisation/digital-strategy

Posted in Concepts, Information Processing, tools, Visual Distraction, Visual Distress/Sensitivity, Visual Processing | Leave a comment

Stop procrastinating and eat up now

frogIf it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. Mark Twain. [1]

Procrastination is something which can strike us all, particularly when we have many things to do, it is easy to focus on the trivial and easy tasks and avoid tackling the bigger ones. Small tasks are often easy to pick off. However, many small tasks collectively take up the much needed time required to undertake the bigger, less pleasant tasks.

Clearly Mark Twain intends, that the frog symbolise the hardest, least appetising part of your job. Brian Tracy has taken this quote and used it in his writings to illustrate how to; avoid procrastination, identify and prioritise the important and, avoid the unnecessary.

Twain also points out, that if you eat the biggest ugliest frog first,  then you will likely find that nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.

Everybody has the same amount of time in the day, yet we don’t all achieve the same amount each day. We often leave our important tasks to last and often they remain not done for quite some time; perhaps we hope that they will no longer be required by the time we get to them. There is an ever increasing number of small tasks which we can do to prevent us from tackling doing the hard or difficult things. Small things consume the time required to tackle the big things. I like the following Tracy quote

“Everyone procrastinates. The difference between high performers and low performers is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on.”

It may not be possible to do everything that is on our to-do list, wish list or task list, we need to distinguish between what is most important and decline tasks or stop doing things of lower value in order to be able to do these high-value, high impact items. Of course that is not to say that  small or pleasant tasks are never  worthwhile. However, human nature dictates we pick the pleasant and the easy, over the more difficult.

Goethe the German philosopher said, “The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.”

Of course there is more to time management and Brian Tracy’s writings than can be represented here, my intention is to point you in the direction to find out more, if you are interested. You might like to try reading this  excellent and quick summary  of the main points of Eat That Frog.

Not everyone will appreciate Mr Tracy’s style, but he is readable and makes some excellent, well illustrated points. Why not try  Brian’s own free summary from his website [3] which will give you a good indication of style and  the contents of the rest of his books. Bon appetit.

[1] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marktwain414009.html#uOxHu4RW8iWPHIU9.99

[2] http://www.actnow.ie/files/BookSummaryEatThatFrog.pdf

[3] http://www.briantracy.com/freegifts/etftranscript.pdf

Posted in Concentration, Concepts, Distraction, Focus, Time Management | 2 Comments

Email netiquette; 4 S’s subject, simplicity, short and sweet

The problem with email is there are too many and they take too long to read and process. There is a cost to the volume and length of emails and not just in the time taken to read and reply, there is also the cost of storage and infrastructure. Even paperless/digital has a cost to both the environment and the organisation.

It is easy to calculate the cost of reading documents and emails based on average word speed of 200-250 words per minute and the average salary of a person working in the UK. Whilst we could tweak to represent our own organisation’s salaries more accurately; let’s assume that staff in the UK earn an average of £26,000, work a 40 hour week, for 48 weeks a year, that’s £13.54 an hour. At an average of 250 words per minute, the cost of reading 5000 words is £5.42 or  9p  for every 100 words. It does not take long to rack up a time cost bill  just for our email reading and that does not take account of needing to reply. If you can read something once, pull out the salient points and respond that’s great. That is not always the case, how often do you have to read something several times to grasp what the writer is trying to say? As before, the  touch once wherever possible principle applies; this might be delete, reply or, after assessing urgency with a quick read, flag for later.

So, how amongst the overflowing inboxes of our colleagues, do we successfully compete for our message to be read, to be acted on and lastly to be properly understood? As ever there is a wealth of opinions, here is mine.  However, those who know me, know that whilst I may aim for these worthy goals, I do not always achieve them.

Subject
Write a meaningful subject line, this helps in several ways. It indicates the main topic, which provides direction to the reader as to importance and relevance to them. It also has the advantage of making the email searchable at a later date and, ensures that for email clients that have it the ‘conversations’ feature works. That is emails with the same subject line can be viewed as a group in sequential order. This makes it easy for the recipient to see how the conversation has developed across multiple emails from one or more contributors  over a period of time.

When a conversation moves on, start a new subject line altogether or you can mark it as the previous subject preceded by was and appending now to the former subject line which for  our example is; discussion regarding the putting mugs away.  When modified as described becomes;  Was: discussion regarding the putting mugs away. Now: stacking the dishwasher.

Simple
Keep it simple and  include only one topic per email message.  Restricting a message to one topic (as per the subject line) helps the recipient to understand quickly what is required and to respond appropriately. Multiple topics or multiple actions within a single email make it less likely that the reader will undertake all of the actions or indeed read the whole email if it is too long.
Simple formatting, not everyone will use the same email client or settings as you. Colouring the font, adding emoticons, exclamation marks or including large attachments is likely to fall flat for many. Attachments are a particular problem for those using mobile devices as storage is limited. Attachments also cause mailbox bloat which decreases performance. A better way of sharing documents is to provide a link (perhaps in our case using SharePoint) this has the additional benefit in many cases of providing restricted access and thus, better security (see note about circulation below).

Short
Emails have evolved to become the defacto means for many communications; they are not directly comparable with letters. Email is for (relatively) short and distinct messages. If we take our costs for an average reading rate, then shaving off a few words from each email could save a fair amount of time and money over time. As could restricting the number of people added to the distribution list.

There is much guidance about length of email, Guy Kawasaki [2] advocates a five sentence rule and should answer the following questions [1].

1. Who are you?
2. What do you want?
3. Why are you asking me?
4. Why should I do what you’re asking?
5. What is the next step?
Ideally each sentence should answer one of these questions, but it doesn’t need to be that formulaic. As Guy says, “Proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness.”

Introducing yourself (if you do not know the recipient), can be simply achieved by using an email signature, which provides your reader sufficient information to know your role and how reply to or contact you.

In addition to getting to the point, good examples of email also predict possible responses and use the if then format to limit the number of to-ing and fro-ing between recipients.For example, if you want to know if a person has received a response to an inquiry, instead of asking if they’ve received a response, and then waiting for a reply, and then sending another email based on that reply, try doing it all in one email:
“Have you received a response from Mr. X yet? If so, please finish the report by Tuesday and email it to me. If not, can you follow up today and let me know the response?”
You will notice that a time frame is also indicated which saves the reader asking when it is needed by, or worse not acting at all.

Sweet
Be courteous, only write whatever you’d say face to face with the person and that you would be willing to see published. Remember whatever you write can be forwarded by anyone to anyone so, professionalism and caution is the order of the day.

Opinions about forms of address and sign off differ [2], perhaps keeping it short and simple here is also best, especially if you already know your reader. However use of a first name could be softened, compare the difference between the following examples;
John
Can you go to the meeting this afternoon in my place?

John, can you go to the meeting this afternoon in my place?

Sign off, I am probably at risk of being considered curt as I usually sign off with just my preferred name. Common business convention is  to use regards or best regards. An abbreviated  form such as BR  is likely to be understood, but in unlikely to convey regard.

Lastly ask yourself: who really needs to know?
Rather than spamming the entire department or worse, the whole company. Prefer “Reply” to “Reply All.” An increasingly common convention is to put in the “To” field the recipients from whom action is required, and the “FYI” names in the “CC” field.

[1] http://www.scrubly.com/blog/productivity/the-secret-of-guy-kawasakis-5-sentence-email-strategy/[2] see discussion on forms of address and sign-off http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12247262

Posted in Concepts, Email, Focus, Information Processing, Sensory Overload, Time Management, Writing | Leave a comment

Things to know about Outlook: 3 How to send email later.

Perhaps like me you prefer to something while you think of it or, have the time to do so. The time at which you write an email may not be the best time to send that email. For example, I recently met a Deputy Vice Chancellor who told me that at her university there was a ban on sending emails between 19:00 and 07:00; what a sensible measure to encourage staff to move towards a better work life balance!

So, how to write an email at a convenient time for yourself (which might be any time of the day or evening) and ensure that it is sent at a convenient time to the recipient?

A way of dealing with this, might be to draft the email and leave it in the drafts folder. You may even set a calender or task alarm to remind you to send it at the correct time. However, another way which may be more convenient is to effectively schedule the email to go at a particular time. Hence the title… send email later. Outlook has the feature called delay delivery, to enable an email to be scheduled for delivery at a particular date or time. This might be useful to send yourself a reminder, or perhaps a reminder to another person or group of people.

Screenshots are below, however, the computer from which the email is sent from needs to be awake and connected to the Internet at the scheduled time. Should the computer be asleep or unable to connect to the Internet, the email will be delivered as soon as these two conditions are met, unless they occur after the parameter set for expires after field. In my example this field is left unchecked.

delay-deliverydelay-delivery-options

Click on images to view at full resolution.

Delaying the delivery of email may also have a positive impact of modelling not being immediately available to respond to emails. How often have you received an email only to have the sender show up at your desk a minute or so later to ask if you have read the email they just sent you? If an instant or urgent response is required in real time then perhaps using IM (instant Messenger) SMS or phone is more appropriate. Of course we live in an instant, full on, never off, demand led culture. I would however, argue it is not a reasonable expectation that you will be able to have responded immediately to every request sent via email, nor do you have to set an expectation for yourself to do so. Controversial perhaps but, delaying or replying to email  after a small delay can be a good self discipline and help to provide a reality check on expectations when used sparingly and with discernment.

Posted in Calendaring, Email, Outlook, Planning, Preparation, Task Management, tools | 1 Comment