Now that I have multiple ways to access my inbox (iPhone, laptop, desktop) but only one way to permanently delete them (desktop), I have been in search of an Email Charter that will help me save my time…or should I say my life?

One such charter has been circulating the Internet by none other than TED curator Chris Anderson. For those of you unfamiliar with TED, visit the site for 18-minute videos of dazzling inspiration on technology, innovation and design.

But I digress. The point of this post is to list the ten items on Chris’ list to see if you agree. If you do, then vote on EmailCharter.org. And pass it on. Because we could all use a little more inbox sanity in our lives.

The below has been retrieved from http://emailcharter.org.  I’ve committed every one of these cybercrimes at one point or another. Have you?

10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral
1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

2. Short or Slow is not Rude
Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!

3. Celebrate Clarity
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.

4. Quash Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”

5. Slash Surplus CCs
CCs are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to CC a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.

6. Tighten the Thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what’s not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.

7. Attack Attachments
Don’t use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.

8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.

9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.

10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

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Every once in a while, my dad sends me some really great tips. Here’s a feel good three-minute award-winning short to start your week.

Bottom line: It’s never too late to be kind.

Institute of Mental Health 5, Nov 06

Image via Wikipedia

Life getting to you? Take a walk. It could literally save your life.

I’ve said this before, but now I have even more scientific proof that a few minutes outside can change your perspective.

According to a study reported on ScienceDaily.com, just five minutes outside can dramatically improve your mental health. Jules Pretty and Jo Barten, co-authors of the study, found that whether gardening, walking or cycling can lift your mood in no time.

Another thing: how you start your day makes all the difference in the world (I recently told Health magazine this). So if you tend to leap out of bed in a panic, you may wish to consider a different alarm clock. I usually awaken with the sun (which can be problematic in the wintertime here in Germany ~ it typically gets light out around 8:30 in the morning and the kids, well, they have to catch the bus at 6:45). But there are sun simulating alarm clocks that slowly guide you to consciousness. If your alarm clock jangles your nerves before you’re even vertical, it might be worth a try.

Yoga is another great way to find mental balance. A few stretches and poses can help you find your inner warrior when the going gets tough.

And let’s not forget tree-hugging, my personal favorite. If you’ve got one near by, give it some love. You may find yourself a lot more grounded afterwards ~ in just five minutes.

 

 

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Fortune 500 magazine recently reported on research conducted by Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and others on how much time CEOs spend at work. Entitled CEO Time Use Project, this study is headed by Raffaella Sadun, an Italian academic at Harvard who released the first findings of Italian CEOs in a pool of over 200 from around the world. On average, Italian CEOs work 48 hours a week.

What researchers have found is people themselves tend to stretch the truth about how much time they spend at work, a finding that places John Robinson’s Time Use Survey research into question (the next one is due to be release later this month). While many of his respondentsclaimed to work up to 80 hours, many of them really only worked 60. Even back in 1998, the self-reporting methodology was called into a question.

This finding drives home a point The Power of Slow makes, well, time and again.

Time is a subjective thing.

But the folks at LSE, Harvard and elsewhere believe they can translate time into money by quantifying productivity through hours work and profits made. The point of diminishing returns is an important one to make. And I’m relieved to see they’ve factored that into the equation.

The underlying motivation for looking at how CEOs spend their time (as reported by their assistants who have a stronghold on their calendars) is to find the correlation between how CEOs spend their time and firm performance.

Reconstructed from their time use diary, researchers were able to determine what they did when:

• Activities type (meetings, phone calls, travel)
• People they interact with (e.g. function, links with the firm)
• Physical location (e.g. HQ vs out of firm)
• Scheduling (e.g. planned vs. unplanned)

And they found that there is indeed a point of diminishing return. But for one percentage point rise in work hours translated into a 2.14% increase in productivity (as defined by revenue per employee). Interestingly, however, researchers dissected how they spent their time and the ability to translate that into direct productivity. For instance, meeting with employees brought more productivity than meeting with consultants or other outsourced personnel.

So how you spend your time really does matter.

According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeir, authors of Rework, “[workaholics] don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. (page 26)”

So there is power in slow. Working less, and smarter, can translate into higher productivity.

The question is where is your pivotal point? Does working 20 additional hours to an already heavy workload really give you 20 hours’ more productivity? I think not.

Throwing money (consulting hours) at a problem won’t necessarily result in a higher return. There is a balance.

And that’s when you need to push yourself away from your computer, take a walk down the hall, snap off the lights and call it a day.

Or go on vacation, like we are tomorrow. How many work hours are enough depends on you. Research shows we all have our pain point.

And remember: there are only 168 hours a week. What will you do with yours?

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An Ode to Monday

June 13, 2011

little red corvette

Image by zoetnet via Flickr

Dear Monday,

I love you. I really do. And while many people treat you like the red-headed stepchild, I must say this: You have a monopoly on new starts. Hands down.

Who wouldn’t love the freshness of you? Your uprightness? Your stiff upper lip-ness? Somebody’s gotta do it and it might as well be you. Besides, a lot of national holidays land on you so we could say you are an honorary Sunday for parts of the year.

You express that first-child syndrome, the responsibility of getting things going and keeping it all together. ‘You are, in a phrase, The Uncomplaining One’.

It’s not easy being Monday, of that I’m certain. Most people groan their way through you, wiping their bleary post-weekend eyes and wishing it were Sunday, the day of rest and leisure (or at least abbreviated store hours). Or better yet, people wish it were Saturday. Ha! Saturday, that day of the week popularized by the song that said it’s Saturday night, guess it makes it alright. Prince! That Midwestern Little Red Corvette driving pipsqueak turned pop icon! Who had the right to take away your slot? No one, I say. No one!

Tuesday is a slave to Wednesday, completely detached from your utter fortitude. And we know what they say about Wednesday ~ Hump Day, my foot! If you count the weekend, Wednesday is nowhere near mid-week really. The nerve!

Now Thursday has had its own appreciation in another post. I know. You must be miffed at the Thor’s Day, Thunder Clap reference. I couldn’t help myself and was drawn to the sirens of that day’s promise. Do I sound like I’m making excuses?

But let’s look at Friday, shall we? Well, now you’ve got me started! It even has its own national restaurant chain that thanks God and everything. As if God has anything to do with burgers and fries! But think of it this way: no one’s ever said, “AHHH! It’s Monday the thirteenth!”, which it is. No one is really afraid of you that way.

So I am back to you, Dear Monday, in all your fabulousness. You have had songs written about you. Monday morning! So let’s jazz it up today with impunity.

And remember: no one can steal your thunder, not even Thor whose day is still my favorite.

I love you just the same.

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What is your favorite day of the week? Is it Monday as you start anew? Sunday, the day of rest? Or do you, like me, adore Thursdays, that is, Thor’s day, the most thunderous day of the week?

Thursday is a delicious time of almost-there-to-weekend jocularity. It holds promise, sweet tension and a hint of seductive grace. We have nearly a week of hard work behind us and on Friday? Well, not too much can be expected of one who has gotten the job done, right?

Thursdays, like the Fridays of entitlement, are a state of mind. I like Thursdays because they embody all that is precious about time ~the savoring of the moment right before the thing, the thunder clap before the storm. And for Thursday, that thing is a routine-busting experience not yet arrived.

Thursday has come and gone, only to return again. Today is Friday, people. How are you going to get your weekend groove on?

 

Life is a journey of learning, but without resources it is hard to continue the formal learning process. Twenty years ago I applied for a Fulbright scholarship as I wanted to study in Berlin. It didn’t pan out, but what the process did for me was to help me focus on my goals and priorities. It was an exciting time in Berlin around the time of German reunification in 1992. In the end I found a way to obtain my master’s degree elsewhere in Germany without the scholarship (by working five jobs at once). The experience taught me humility, resourcefulness and abundant thinking. No matter how little I had at the time, I had more than enough.

I just got word that the Fulbright Hays program has been slashed out of existence by Congress. It makes me sad on so many levels because international study is a cornerstone to international peace. Without foreign exchange we end up trapped in our own bubbles, unknowledgeable about other ways of thinking.

So please join me in signing this petition to save this program. It’s an outrage to think we spend billions of dollars killing other people instead of instilling a sense of international unity.

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The Politics of Food

June 3, 2011

Organic cultivation of mixed vegetables on an ...

Image via Wikipedia

My mama said “Whatever you do, don’t discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. It’s not good manners. Nor is it good for your digestion.”

I took her advice to heart. But these days, it’s hard not to think about the politics of the very food we’re trying to enjoy every evening at dinnertime.

The Cornucopia Institute sent me some information that I found rather disturbing. In the past, farmers have been sued by Monsanto, a Fortune 500 biotech firm specializing in genetically modified organisms, for intellectual property infringement. In essence, organic farmers and other conventional crop owners have been accused of stealing Monsanto’s proprietary seed rather than purchasing news seeds. It’s really a mess because cross-pollination could have been the reason it happened (although who can really tell). To get the story right, I’m copying part of the email I received:

Over the years Monsanto has sued farmers alleging they have stolen the corporation’s intellectual property by saving their proprietary seed rather than purchasing new seed each year that would include a “technology fee.” Because pollen, and genetics, can be spread through the wind, or by insects, farmers are vulnerable to having their crops contaminated and then subsequently being sued by Monsanto.

Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying that they would not assert their patents against farmers who suffer “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote Monsanto’s attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding.

The biotechnology giant responded by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of WilmerHale. Waxman completely rejected PUBPAT’s simple request and instead confirmed that Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose fields become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. (Copies of both the letter written by PUBPAT to Monsanto and the response letter by Waxman can be found at: http://www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf).

“Monsanto has run roughshod over organic and conventional farmers who have chosen to be sensitive to consumers’ concerns, and marketplace demand, by shunning genetic engineering in their seed purchases and the crops they produce,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a co-plaintiff in the suit with over 4,000 members, most of whom are organic farmers. “Because of Monsanto’s massive investments in federal political campaigns, and in lobbying, it’s important that an independent judiciary protects citizen-farmers from intimidation.”

“Monsanto’s letter was a completely empty, indefensible, and self-evident evasion that shows they are only interested in trying to spin propaganda and do not want to take serious steps to resolve the problem they have created for organic and non-transgenic agriculture,” said one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit, Don Patterson of Virginia.

“The seriousness of the issues being engaged in this case requires a constructive and socially-acceptable response from the defendant in the public interest,” added Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, the lead plaintiff in the suit. “In the absence of that, we reassert the essential importance of the arguments stated in March and reinforced now by the additional evidence of Monsanto’s intransigence. Monsanto’s utter failure to act reasonably to address our concerns has only reaffirmed the need for our lawsuit.”

In addition to supplementing the complaint with Monsanto’s most recent actions, PUBPAT announced that a new group of 23 organizations, seed companies, and farms or individual farmers have joined the original plaintiffs in the suit bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 83, comprising 36 organizations, 14 seed companies, and 33 farms and farmers.

When discussing this with my biotech husband, we got into a bit of a pickle with each other. At the dinner table.

So yes, Mama, you’re right. Food and politics don’t mix. It’s a heady, heated subject that isn’t going away. When I buy organic food, I want to be sure it isn’t some mutant meal mixed with manipulated seed.

What do you think about genetically engineered food?

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Seth Godin makes a great point (when does he not?) when he draws a distinction between long and hard work.

Long work contains the number of hours one puts in at the office, such as the lawyer that bills a fourteen-hour day. Hard work is the effort put forth by the lawyer who synthesizes four disparate ideas to come up with a closing argument that wins the case — in less than five minutes.

If taken further, this idea reveals that effectivity has nothing to do with the amount of time one puts in, but rather with the ingenuity one has when spending the time one has.

That is not to say that hard work is not the direct beneficiary of long work. We all know we have to have moments of toil to get places. After all, I wouldn’t be working in German television if I couldn’t speak German. It took more than a Berlitz class to perfect my language prowess. Neither does one become President overnight or, in most cases, a star (although some network programming would have us believe that is true, too).

What does it take, then, to catapult oneself onto the hard work stage?

You may be tired of hearing me say it, but with Memorial Day in the near past already, the official summer season has begun. In full power of slow style, I tell you ingenuity can only live if you do, too.

In a word: vacation. Time off. Siesta, baby! A holiday for a week or two can work wonders, moving your mind from the long of it to the hard of it. You can, indeed, rejuvenate and then create when you’ve had a bit of a respite.

Benjamin Lichtenwalner’s blog reveals how little time off Americans have. According to his sources, only 57% of Americans use their allotted annual vacation time, while one out of four US workers does not have paid vacation at all. In fact, there is no US regulation mandating paid vacation, something Take Your Time Back is combatting vigilantly.

So live a little. No, live a lot. And in that life you can work, play and breathe. The best minds are those that are rested, clear and focused. Without vacation, you can have none of it. Passion alone cannot feed your fire. A little vacances can go a long way so that your long work is less and your hard work pays off.

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