Media Mind, Productivity, Uncategorized

Escaping from Messaging Hell

One Way to Escape from Message Hell

Admit it — it’s really great to get the message you want, when you want it, and in the time and place that you want it. And that vision is usually hard to match.

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/lexiestevenson/14115352937

Most Messaging is not Like This

And it’s really horrible to get most unwanted messages. It should be simple (and of course it’s not) to find the right balance of messaging across various clients — be they email, iMessage/SMS, or social — so that you get more signal than noise. The reality is that everyone sends you all of their messages all of the time. Unless you filter communication aggressively, split your contact lists into “family”, “friends”, “acquaintances”, and “block that”, you’re going to have a hard time finding the zen of messaging.

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/132832534@N03/18940552976

The Unrestricted Inbox is No Fun

The irony of messaging as a category is that as it gets more popular it gets more awful (thanks Nir Eyal for this visual of Message Hell). Yet almost every app and remote communication method needs messaging, because messaging solves the problem of communicating 1:1 (or 1:many) when we are all not physically in the same place and need to respond to each other. We all want the (algorithmically-delivered or not) perfect signal of “need to know” and “just in time” messages while also wanting desperately to avoid the inverse: “crying wolf while seemingly urgent and important”, “informational but not urgent”, or just plain spam.

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/gregmeyer/9223702637

But Blocking Email is Not A Solution

What will we do to keep the best parts of messaging across clients and channels and remake the part we don’t like that causes inefficiency, anger, and frustration?

Clay Shirky, in the well-known talk above (watch it if you’ve never seen it before), talks of “filter failure” and poses that as an antidote to information overload. However, that talk was several years ago. Things have gottne a lot worse with the volume and speed of information since then.

A Modest Proposal

Here’s the problem as I see it — we have information overload and filter failure. Some of this is bacn — “email you want but not right now”, and we have spam (we all know what that looks like). We have communication from different groups: home, family, work, social, and commercial communications. And we have the very real problem of multiple identity disorder, because there is no universal namespace for messaging someone that would create a “phone number” for all communications.

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/rickharris/430890004

Most people would say, “I’m not sure I like this but this is sort of fine, because the idea of a universal mailing address sounds even worse.” The whole purpose of messaging, they might say, is “to have varying degrees of anonymity and intimacy based on the level of familiarity and trust you have with the individual who’s contacting you.”

The Typical Answer: Don’t Cross The Streams

This “trust” issue is the crux of the problem we face when we want more signal and less noise in our messaging and in our communication in general. We all have internal business rules we use to govern how we respond to different types of messages.

Whether we have enumerated these “rules” or not, they might look like:

  • “Answer the phone call on the second or third ring when my spouse or partner calls”
  • “Text my friend in an hour if I’m busy, or immediately if we are in the process of meeting for coffee or a meal”
  • “Ignore that spammy message from someone or some business I don’t know.”
  • “Never look at LinkedIn connection requests (ok, I kid — but this might be a special category for a segment of the population).”

Get More Quiet, Based on Our Actions

Our messaging apps and messaging platforms in general do a poor job of interpreting our own behavior and in translating that behavior (and future, intended behavior) into human-readable business rules that govern apps and give us more signal than noise.

We don’t live in a utopian (or dystopian, depending on your worldview) future when we have universal messaging or aggregate delivery of messages to a single client or brain box and a system to rules to respond automatically or manually to those messages. But given the overall desire to reduce noise and increase signal in the messaging conversations we do have, I propose the following suggestions:

  1. Turn off notifications on your phone or tablet. This seems like a no-brainer but the struggle to fight “notification creep” is real. It only takes a few app-created nudges to generate a storm of messages you don’t need or want, generated by app developers and not by your own actions.
  2. Unsubscribe from information you don’t need or want. Try Unroll and Sanebox to clean up your email — future you will thank you.
  3. Aggressively filter the information you get. Your mileage may vary depending upon your style, so this might mean uninstalling apps, unfriending certain people, using email filtering rules, or just not looking at your devices so often.
  4. Use text messages and iMessages to maintain ongoing, single-threaded conversations to the people who matter to you. What’s better than email? Having only one conversation to respond to, stacked in chronological order. If that person is on your list (let’s say … in your top 25 people), they should either leave that list by falling below a threshold or you will have a clear signal that you need to reach out to them because they’re not at the top of your list.
  5. Think about simple rules and habits that make your life better. When you encounter product managers and other people who work on products and services, be sure to tell them what’s working and what’s not working in the products you use. (Hint: they would like to know what regular people feel.)

What could product managers and developers do to help with the message problem? A great start would be more levers and dials to adjust how we receive messaging. Don’t worry — I’m not suggesting that we create Advanced Settings Panels everywhere — but rather that the products themselves observe and respond to a series of behaviors derived from passive activity and active activity. Passive in this case might mean the messages I don’t respond to, and active could mean the messages I do respond to or arrange into folders or lists. The goal should be to develop a personalized set of rules that will automatically deliver message Air Traffic Control to the average user, not the power user.

What about Ads?

Building a personalized set of messaging rules will make easier to present promoted content in a clear and consistent manner, penalize spam, and highlight the important messages I’d like form the people that matter most. It could be an elusive goal, but I believe that improving messaging incrementally has amazing potential to increase happiness and productivity.The popularity of messaging need not cause its antithesis by creating messages we hate. We should be building new and clearer ways to ensure the right information gets to the right people at the right time, on the right communication channel.

(this post also appeared on Medium)

Standing Desk

Balance is a tricky skill.

Balance is a tricky skill.

If you’re like many people you balance easily. Riding a bicycle was an early thing for you. Likewise trying a skateboard or balance beam. Maybe you even are clever enough to use a unicycle or a slackline.

Not me — I’ve always been a little off kilter. I didn’t really notice it when it took me until I was 10 to ride a bike. I have trouble reading when cars are in motion — instant motion sickness. I hate being the passenger in a car unless I have something else to distract me (music). Continue reading

Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Life Hacks, Marketing Strategy, Startup

How to Make Your Own Explainer Videos (for under $149)

Creating an Effective Explainer Video

A prospective customer may have only 30 to 60 seconds to understand your Unique Selling Proposition. When you’re not right there with the customer, one of the best ways to share the benefit of your product is a brief and effective “Explainer Video”. You’ve seen them – they are the 2-4 minute video clips that accompany almost any product these days. Depending upon your budget, the time available, and your level of effort, it’s easy to spend lots of money building an explainer video and not end up with much in return. The goal is to create a “good-enough” explainer video for a minimum amount of money that won’t embarrass you or your company and will give you a good template for future action.

Creating an effective piece of content requires some time and effort, but it’s not that hard to start. I created an explainer video for creating explainer videos (how meta) to demonstrate the process and have eight tips to get you ready for “lights, camera, ACTION!”

Tip 1: Write a Script.

It’s easy to come up with words on the fly, and they sound even better when you took a few minutes to write them down. To get the right level of detail, think of your script either as talking points or as a word-for-word reading that you can record and re-record until you get it right. The basics that you’ll want to follow are as follows:

  • What will happen in the videowhat’s the big idea that you’re trying to convey? Usually this is a bite-sized concept that someone can understand in two to five minutes.
  • What you will say – what idea are you trying to convey right now? Demonstrating a portion of the screen or an easy-to-use idea makes more sense if you don’t just read your script or your slide.
  • What you will demonstrateshow, don’t tell to get the maximum impact.You may need to show something more than once to get the viewer’s attention and to communicate what you mean. As a teacher friend of mine says, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and then Tell them what you told them.” It’s a good model for planning your teaching approach.

Practice each of these until you have a relatively smooth delivery. Some explainer sections may come together in a single take, while others require a bit of editing to get right.

Tip 2: Create a Motion Graphic Intro or Exit.

Video walkthroughs always look more professional when they have a snappy introduction and exit. Perhaps this is because we are all conditioned on 15- and 30-second commercials, and it remains that the intro is a worthwhile investment of your time. You can use iMovie or ScreenFlow (as I did in the overview above) or you can use a service like GetMoovd to build a 5-10 second introduction. The key here is to end up with something that looks and sounds professional – that look and feel lends credibility.

Note: if you’re not good at this part, this is an excellent item to outsource. Whether you use oDesk, 99Designs, or some other source, getting a freelancer to create an intro clip is much cheaper than hiring a designer to build the entire explainer video for you.

Tip 3: Buy a Decent Microphone.

bluesnowballThe first thing that many people recognize about a video (paradoxically, it seems) is how it sounds. The better a piece sounds, the higher the quality bar to the listener. You may not be a professional sound engineer, and there are a few things to do and make an immediate impact on the results.

First, use a real microphone, not just your iPhone earbuds. I recommend the Blue Snowball – it’s a USB mic and works well to eliminate a lot of the typical background noise you might here (clicks, etc). I also found that investing in a $5 microphone shield made it easier for me to avoid some of the vocal “pops” I’ve heard before when I try to record.

The Snowball has a standard microphone mount so it will also fit on a stand if you’d like to go “professional”. If you don’t want to spend $50 on a microphone, you can probably get away with a $25 headset that has a noise canceling boom microphone.

The Blue Snowball is a great choice for getting started however, and also makes you feel just a little bit like a newscaster or a Rock Star while you’re laying down your lines.

 

 

Tip 4: Spend $99 on Screen Capture Software

screenflowImageOnce your audio sounds good, you’ll also need to make some improvements on the video side. Creating videos with solid, consistent transitions and unobtrusive titles is also a great investment toward the goal of winning customer trust and time.

ScreenFlow is the best screen recorder you will find for the Mac. I’ve used Camtasia, Premiere, iMovie, and Flash. This one makes it really easy to record the screen (even allowing you to record the ScreenFlow software itself or record output on an iPad or iPhone.

Adding transitions, editing sound, and fitting things together is really easy. When you’re ready to publish, ScreenFlow also connects directly to popular video hosting sites like YouTube or Wistia. In short, this is money well spent and the investment (a small one, really) is worth your time and money.

 

Tip 5: Take the time to Smooth the Vocals

backgroundNoise

Now that you’ve invested in a microphone and the screen recording software, make sure you invest a little time in making the audio sound better as well. You can use software like Audacity or GarageBand if you want to do some serious processing, and I’d recommend just using the tools in ScreenFlow. Simply lower the background audio, smooth the volume levels, add a small amount of vocal effect, and remove background hiss and the vocals will sound much better.

A note of caution – it sounds like a great idea to filter the vocals with a fancy filter. It never comes out sounding like you want, so just a touch of filter is probably a better idea.

Your goal is to bring the vocals out of the background and make sure that they sound consistent – not to have the listener be surprised by an overloaded vocal.

 

Tip 6: Add Callouts to your Video

Professional explainer videos help you to know where to look in each segment of the video. This might take the form of a low-key “lower-third” caption on the screen, an animated callout to accompany a multi-step procedure, or other styles of getting the customer’s attention.

speechBubble

Good callouts are:

  1. Not necessarily a repetition of an audio track
  2. Limited in the number of words – they are not a book – and help to bridge gaps in audio or video
  3. Linked to the “Big Idea”

Bad callouts have these characteristics:

  1. Take too long to read
  2. Distract the viewer
  3. Leave more questions than answers

Building callouts is easier said than done. One good method of determining whether you have the right level of instruction is to show the video to testers when it’s partway finished and ask them for feedback. If they ask for callouts, it’s a good sign that the script needs to be refined or that callouts are needed.

Tip 7: Create Standard Transitions

In addition to callouts, you’ll need standard transitions between sections to help the viewer know what’s happening next. These provide a visual and mental break for the viewer. You might think of using a “Lower Third” technique, e.g.

lowerThird

A simple treatment catches your eye. Use Bold to set off parts of your text or italic to emphasize a point. And try not to do too much. Transitions should show up gracefully, add meaningful value, and then disappear. If they become the focal point, you said too much with the graphic.

Tip 8: Add some background music

Last and certainly not least, the tone of the background music sets the mood for the video. Consider adding a backing track to your video at a very low volume level, in addition to whatever main music you will be adding. Whether you create a simple loop that adds a sound texture or do something more elaborate, building sound layers will make your explainer video sound more professional and interesting.

While these tips give you the fundamentals for creating a great explainer video, they are hardly the last tips out there. If you’d like to read more about the topic, check out The Greatest Explainer Videos or read the book The Art of Explanation.

Want to do this yourself?

Find these resources at
http://bit.ly/ExplainerVideoContent – a Dropbox link to the raw files I used to create this video
http://bit.ly/MakeExplainerVideo – the script you can use to create your own Explainer Video.
Career, Life Hacks

What is your Superpower?

Courtesy of ap-photographie on Flickr
Courtesy of ap-photographie on Flickr

What is your Superpower?

Are you Super? Some programmers are 10x+ times better than their peers. And this distinction applies to team productivity in general. It makes it really important for you to know the thing you do better than anyone else. Doing more of that thing will make you happier at work and in general.

What is the one thing you do better than anyone else? If other people were to talk about how you interact in the world, what’s the “signature strength” they would talk about when they talk about you? Continue reading

Life Hacks, Productivity

To Get More Done, Automate the Stuff You Hate

Inbox Art

Like you, I spend a lot of time doing the same things over and over again. In physical space this is easier to think about: when you have clutter in your home, if you attack each area systematically you’ll eventually get to a clean room. It’s impossible to ignore a stack of things in your way that cover every surface. In contrast, it’s really easy to ignore a stack of digital things when you’re not looking at your computer screen. So what should you do when you have a lot of unwanted emails that keep showing up in your inbox?

I’ve tried a lot of solutions to this problem, and read some great suggestions about getting your inbox down to reasonable level. Getting your inbox down to true zero might be overkill, and there are some great easy tips to make that task faster and more manageable. But the thing that helps me the most is SaneBox – it’s a simple subscription service that makes my life easier. Sanebox connects to my email accounts and automatically files the emails I might not need to read immediately into SaneBulk and SaneNews folders. It also catches my important emails – those from people I talk to frequently – and puts those emails into the SaneTop folder. Sanebox makes the daily email scan easier because I’m reading (or deleting) emails of the same type.

My favorite Sanebox feature is SaneBlackhole, because it magically makes unwanted email disappear. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and blogs, and sometimes my name makes it onto an email list and I’m not sure how it got there. Instead of having to figure out how to unsubscribe, I just drag the email into SaneBlackhole and Sanebox makes sure I don’t see more emails from that sender. The best thing about Sanebox is that it doesn’t care what email program I use – it just works. So if your inbox is making you crazy, I’d recommend checking out Sanebox (yes, I’m a subscriber).

Life Hacks, On Writing

Future You Will Thank You for Handling Email Better

We get a lot of email – especially the kind we don’t want. The worst is getting email from sites that you don’t even know (when they got your details from the people that you did want you to send email originally.) How does this affect an average person? You might be spending 28% of your time just answering email, as this graphic from McKinsey demonstrates. That could be two or three hours out of every day.

email_time

(source: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_social_economy)

I understand how this feels. I used to feel completely overwhelmed by email – and it was a constant game of “ping-pong” where when I received emails I would need to either delete, answer, or file them for later. Deleting wasn’t hard – it was easy to find the emails I didn’t really need to answer. Yet it was more challenging to store the emails I kind of wanted to read and didn’t need to act on.

My solutions for this organizational problem were to put everything in a folder. I then tried the “pomodoro” method of only answering email a few times a day for a set period of time. And I also tried answering all of the emails. None of these items really worked. I still ended up with a lot of email that I didn’t really want to read. And it seemed like it got harder and harder to unsubscribe over time. It still felt like I was wasting my time instead of either enjoying the email or just ignoring it.

Three actions solved my problem with email. The first was to turn on Gmail keyboard shortcuts. The second was to adopt Keith Rarick’s method of dealing with email using just a few shortcuts. And the third was to use Sanebox to automatically filter my email.

After starting to use Sanebox, I had two great benefits: first, all of my mail got filtered automatically into “News”, “Bulk”, and “Top” folders that I could also rename and train if I wanted (but frankly, I’ve just left it at the “set it and forget it” mode because it just works). And I also gained the “SaneBlackHole”, a folder into which I can drag any email that I never want to hear from again. There are lots more great features in Sanebox (works in any client, has lots of cool “snooze” and reminder features), but it’s worth it to me to subscribe just for the automatic filtering and the Black Hole feature.

Trust me, future you will thank you for trying it out. You can do that here.

Life Hacks

There are 96 15 minute intervals in a day

Time

(photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/numb3r/2394803508)

How busy are you, really?

A day starts with 96 15 minute-long sections – you have a limited number of these in your day – and you are not going to be 100% available during all of them. By most people’s count, you probably need to spend between 28 and 32 of these 15-minute periods asleep, or you’ll be incurring a sleep tax during the rest of the day. Add in 6 intervals for eating and 3 for personal care, you’re down to about 57 intervals daily. Many of us also commute for 6 to 8 intervals in a day. And you probably need 4-8 intervals of family time beyond that. That leaves about 45 15 minute intervals for effective action during your entire day.

You are also distracted. Right now, you might be thinking about three to seven things that have nothing to do with this post. You might simply be scanning the first few words of every sentence, and you might be working or listening to music when you’re reading. It’s okay – I’m probably distracted too.

I guess this explains why that day flew by.

What would you do if you had a limited time to make an impact in a single day?

You might do a few things differently, including identifying a few of your key priorities every day; shortening or aggressively declining meetings, and spending some time at the end of each day seeing if you got your Most Important Tasks completed. You might read about key planning techniques that other people use to be Amazingly Productive. And you might start a habit. Which is great until your day strikes and activates your lizard brain.

There are many things that happen in a day that are unexpected. From emails that prompt action to just-in-time meetings, some of them are genuinely important and others are not. Sometimes, you do need to drop everything and focus on something else.

Planning and executing in an interruption-driven culture is really challenging.

The best laid plans often disappear in the face of whatever is happening that day. And you can combat that distraction with ruthless triage, if you can focus. What is the most high-value thing I can work on right now? And what can I get done in the next 30 minutes or 1 hour?

And what if I can’t focus? Do whatever you have to do to get in a focused place. You might need to turn off your phone. You might need to close your computer. You might need to have nothing else in front of you but an empty whiteboard or an empty piece of paper. On the paper, you should write: your desired outcome, the goals that will reinforce that outcome, and the strategies you will use to get there.

You might not know how to get there yet – the first step might be to ask for help from someone on the team – and you might not feel great about your contribution that day. And you can move something forward in the next 15 or 30 minutes.

“Those with resilience build on the cornerstones of confidence — accountability (taking responsibility and showing remorse), collaboration (supporting others in reaching a common goal), and initiative (focusing on positive steps and improvements).” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Are you making the best use of your time right now?

The “best” use of your time is to combine the best action you can take with the best planning you can take. On the best day, that will be your most important tasks done at the right time with enough buffer to handle everything that the day can throw at you. On your less-than-best day, it might be just enough to move one of your most important tasks forward.

You don’t have to be perfect. The best use of your time is to make the time you spend more intentional. Multi task less. Single task more. And remember that done is better than perfect. And also remember that some things must be done perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(image courtesy of http://www.digitalscrapper.com/blog/)