Tag Archives: productivity

How many times do you open your inbox and find over a hundred unread emails? And how often do you “clean your inbox” just to find it overflowing with emails again the day after? One of the reasons why I get stressed around emails is that I spend a whole day in a workshop and I cannot check my emails because it would distract my mind too much. Then I check my emails after the workshop, when I am already exhausted and know that I have a lot of tasks and queries to handle. When I worked in the corporate world I would often have a day full of meetings and calls and come back to my desk at 5 or 6 PM and “started to work productively”. Or, you probably know this: it’s Friday, 4.30 PM,  you are just about to start your weekend and then you see this one email and it keeps you at your desk for another hour. Your partner in the meantime is waiting for you to help with the groceries or wants you to be home early so that you can greet your friends that are coming by for dinner. There are different reasons why our body shows stress reactions and I thought it would help to break this phenomenon down to help you deal with it.

 

If you experience high levels of stress when you find too many unread emails in your inbox, you should know that you’re not alone. In fact, the phenomenon is so widespread that it became known as inbox anxiety

Inbox Anxiety Came with Emails

 

When emails were invented in the 1970s, nobody had a clue of how radically they were going to change the way we work. In time, they have become such an ubiquitous tool that, depending on your seniority, there’s a chance that you haven’t even experienced work without emails. I personally remember the days when we did not have emails at work yet and I went through several tech upgrades since then (desktop, laptop, blackberry, smartphone). Despite more than 25 years of experience with the technology I still don’t know exactly what to do when I get certain emails. One ground rule I established early in my career was: when I am angry I don’t send a response. I wait until I feel calm again. In fact, when I then go through the same email with a fresher approach, I sometimes even notice a certain positivity that I had overlooked earlier. 

 

You might be surprised that our generation still relies so much on email but inbox anxiety doesn’t only refer to email now.

 

I have several other professional inboxes to manage as well (Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, XING, four email accounts, professional messages on FB pages, Instagram and Twitter direct messages). Sometimes, I feel like I should change my job description to “emailer”. 

 

With the Corona-crisis and the need to work from home, most of us probably worked even more with emails and messages than usual and despite the general reply-to-all rule in some organisations this is still not done so you are falling off a thread and then you have to follow up or update your colleagues in a different way.

 

In our team at GPT, we introduced Slack during the crisis. We had already failed at it in 2016 largely due to my inability to focus on too many channels so now I’m making a more concerted effort to use Slack instead of WhatsApp. I don’t really use it to replace emails but I notice it helps me write less follow up emails and also I can ask the Slack bot to remind me instead of asking our intern. 

 

I’m trying to find out where MY own inbox anxiety stems from and I hope to share this with you so you find ways to overcome this as well.

 

Switching Off and FOMO

One issue that creates inbox anxiety for me is the need to switch off completely for short and extended periods of time. Last year, I took the liberty not to be available for four weeks over the summer. Some of my email accounts were not checked while I was offline. That created stress when coming back. Same happened when I was out sick for three weeks with COVID19 this year.

There is enough research to show that you should completely switch off from work for at least two consecutive weeks each year. However, in most of your jobs it is still expected that you are available during vacation and weekends, especially during launches, emergencies, crisis and personnel related decisions.

As a matter of fact, according to a YouGov survey 60% of people check their work inboxes also during holidays. We don’t do it necessarily because we want to, but because we feel some sort of obligation to do it. The same research found that 80% of the respondents would actually prefer to “switch off completely”.

Being Responsive versus Productive

Another issue is that I would like to be responsive. It’s one of my trademarks. And there are certain limitations between being responsive and being productive. However, in order to be able to do “deep work” and to focus on quality time online with my clients I sometimes have to wait with a response until my work day is over or until I get a break. This might be only an issue when you are a small company and nobody else can cover for you. Most companies now don’t expect a response on weekends and responding within 24 hours still seems to be acceptable.

Underlying Relationship and Trust Issues

The third theme I notice has to do with email anxiety when you receive emails from certain persons. I assume that there is an underlying relationship or trust issue with this person. Maybe this person has treated you unfairly in the past or they have turned around something you wrote in an unacceptable way. Maybe they belittle you in their emails with their manager in cc or they shame you publicly. A good manager would give their feedback in more appropriate ways than emails but we know that there are a number of mediocre managers out there as well.

What is inbox anxiety and where does it come from? 

According to Ron Friedman, author and psychologist, the reason why we feel overwhelmed when we find a lot of emails in our inbox is that each message is a new demand of our time and it triggers one more decision to make. This leaves most of us with less energy for the work that matters. Another reason that could make you anxious might be the lack of clear expectations and etiquette especially in the intercultural context you live in as an expat. 

 

Also not having anybody to delegate emails to and feeling responsible for client service even when it’s not in your direct area of control could considerably make your stress level rise. In fact, studies have shown that checking email frequently leads to higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. 

 

We feel stressed also because we don’t feel productive. As we are constantly interrupted by a “PLING” our cognitive performance is reduced resulting in an attention deficit. According to research done on the negative effects of email on productivity, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the tasks after we’ve been interrupted. Now, think of how many times they interrupt you at work and make an average calculation. It’s scary.

There is one more issue related to inbox anxiety and this is known as “email apnea.” In fact, 80% of people tend to hold their breath unnaturally when going through their emails causing a change in  their normal breathing patterns. Holding your breath can contribute to stress-related diseases because it throws off the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide.

Seven Tips to Help you Take Back Control

Here are seven tips that will help you take back control of your inbox, time and productivity.

1 – Clarify the Purpose of Your Conversations

Make sure you know the communication policy and etiquette of the company where you work. This will also make clearer why and how you’re using emails and not other tools. 

2 – Build Better Relationships to the Senders and Receivers

If you don’t know the other person well, try to reciprocate their tone. You don’t want to come across as too friendly or too formal if the relationship is just at the beginning. When I communicate in German I struggle because the connotations between how you address a person are quite different depending on the cultural context. In English you can easily be far too informal and hurt somebody’s feelings. As a general rule, avoid emotions and emotional topics.

When you aren’t familiar with the sender, another good alternative is picking up the phone. If you are a millenial calling someone you don’t know might not be your preference, but I still think it’s the best way to establish first contact with someone. 

3 – Stop Escalations and Solve the Real Issue

I love to watch escalation bingo on email only when I’m not in the firing line and cc-ed but not cause of anger. I personally read too many emails that are escalated to the appropriate management level too late. We are then often reading a lot of blame-storms and cover-your-back when the real underlying relationship issue is not addressed. I’m pretty good at NOT responding and I’m often slow when it’s heated or emotional. The reason is that I often need a break from the emotions that are triggered. 

I can leave emails drafted for days only to discard them. It’s a skill I learned. Sometimes I might come across rude or negligent…It even happens that I forget an email. However, it’s often not that important or the person can find another route to talk to me. If the person knows me, they will reach out by phone, text message or just resend. 

4 – Stop flagging, sorting, deleting and trust your inner priority manager

I hear people are still flagging, filing in folders, reading and answering emails all the time although I notice that response time has become from 1 minute to 1 week to ghosting. Frankly speaking, I sometimes don’t respond to an email because I don’t feel that I have anything to say. In some cultural contexts this is a perfectly acceptable behavior, however, in some others this could come across as rude. 

5 – Limit the times you check inboxes and respond

Role model the change you would like to see in this world. If you don’t want to be bothered by emails after 7 pm, either you are powerful enough not to respond anymore or you also stop sending emails after “normal office hours”.

6 – Apply a Filter, Deactivate Notifications and Practice Writing Better Headers for Receivers

Have a policy for all your media who you accept and what kind of messages you will respond to. Instead of responding to every tweet I have now connected Twitter to Slack. I can check first if I want to respond or if it is a random tag.

I get a lot of system notifications, newsletters and promotions that I just scan but usually I only need to read the header or key words to know if it’s worth going deeper.

7 –  Track how much time you spend emailing, messaging and with whom

Try using RescueTime to track how much time you spend emailing. By doing this, you can realistically plan how you can gradually reduce the time you spend emailing. You might try to reduce by 5 to 10 percent weekly the time you spend on your inbox. One way to do this is to practice writing shorter emails. 

If you notice that you are so busy because you spend an hour sending cat videos to friends and family you might want to change that. And you might not know right away what you want to change and how. I recommend you call me for a 15-minute chat. Maybe I can give you guidance on how to reduce your inbox anxiety. A helpful program would be our RockMe! program.

Kind regards

Angie

Resources

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-practice/201805/3-types-email-anxiety-and-solutions

https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/heres-why-email-makes-us-so-stressed-out-2015-2

https://happiful.com/how-to-deal-with-inbox-anxiety/

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/the-6-rules-of-email-how-to-eliminate-email-anxiety-and-take-control-of-your-inbox

https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/email-apnea-how-email-change-breathing-2012-12

https://www.rescuetime.com/

https://blog.trello.com/work-life-boundaries-as-a-remote-worker 

References

Mark, G., Gudit, D. and Klocke, U. (2008). The cost of interrupted work: more speed and less stress. Conference Paper, DOI: 10.1145/1357054.1357072, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221518077_The_cost_of_interrupted_work_More_speed_and_stress

Mark, G., Voida, S. & Cardello, A. (2012). A pace not dictated by electrons: An empirical study of work without email. Conference Paper, https://sites.oxy.edu/clint/physio/article/APaceNotDictatedbyElectronsAnEmpiricalStudyofWorkWithoutEmail.pdf

Waldersee, V. (2018). The majority of employees check work emails while on holiday. YouGov, https://yougov.co.uk/topics/economy/articles-reports/2018/08/15/majority-employees-check-work-emails-while-holiday

RockMe! Retreat

Have-Done-Lists are a great tool to boost your productivity. It is the opposite of the To-Do-List and was promoted by my coach educator Boudewijn Vermeulen. Like me, Boudewijn used to work in a consultancy company and he also coached a lot of lawyers. He knew about our ridiculous hours and how we were always trying to multitask to get more done in a shorter time frame but you probably know this situation from your own experience.

It’s 6.05 AM and you are just getting out of the shower… Your hair is toweled up and you light two candles. You get into your meditation pose and close your eyes. Then you realize that you have not set your alarm. So you get up and get your phone from the bathroom where you were reading an interesting article about the entrepreneur scene in Europe. Then you see that you have three new messages on WhatsApp…

At 8 AM you realize that your late and you hardly remember to take the train ticket, your badge, your purse and sunglasses and whoosh – you’re out of the door. You remember the candles, open the door again, blow them out and while you run to catch the train you think: “Didn’t I plan to meditate?” Sounds familiar?

We have too many distractions nowadays (oh no…I overcooked the pasta while writing this) that I often wonder how people get any work done at all. Have you ever caught yourself in the last 24 hours thinking “What am I actually doing right now?”. We have programs and routines and they do not seem to require the same brain activity as real challenges and often we are just keeping busy but our output is not really that relevant.

I saw several people walking on their Sunday stroll the other day and they all talked to someone on the phone via a headset. They did not just get a call. They planned to use their walking hour to speak to someone. I sometimes combine routine activities with other activities too. For example, I would watch a video or listen to a podcast while ironing. It works really well to combine such activities.

However, it does not help me in order to create. I prefer to mono-task and give my full attention to the task even if it seems mundane. I want to give my brain time to reflect and digest the input it receives during the week (and believe me there’s a lot of input). My creative side suffers when I don’t give my brain time to digest, reflect and organize. Unfortunately, with Social Media, I have such a love-hate relationship that I really need to discipline myself to get off them.

If you constantly feel that you are not getting enough relevant work done, I urge you to try the Have-Done-List.

1) Write down how you spend your time by using a “Have-Done-List”

I find the easiest way to do this is by having a notebook (old-school) next to my laptop or computer which just serves for this purpose (and other crazy ideas running through my head). You can add anything on this list that you have done during that day even this: “Sat down on a bench and enjoyed the sunshine in my face.”

Use Have-Done Diaries
Use Have-Done Diaries

2) Join our RockMe! Program and the RockMeRetreat

In RockMe!, we make weekly reflections a mandatory process. 15 minutes per week and you will be amazed at how much more you achieved than you thought. The thing is that if I don’t gently encourage you to do this you’d rather spend those fifteen minutes watching cat videos. For the youngsters amongst you, we have developed the RockMeApp.  If you are constantly feeling in a rat race you will profit from joining our RockMeRetreat.

Please share this post with all your rat lab friends and corporate clones.

Kind regards,

Angie Weinberger

PS: If you wish to have a fun chat with me about productivity please book a call with me here.


I’m sure you have been told countless times in recent years that in this driven, fast-changing world, the agile will reign supreme. I’m sure you have also wondered, what exactly does that mean?

I think the simplest answer to that is: Professionals who can keep up to date with their skill set are the ones who will find sustained success. Keeping your skills and knowledge in tip-top condition is something I’ve touched on in a previous Club Sandwich too, but today I’d like to focus on the aspect of digital competency. For many professionals, maintaining a current skill set as this new world gets more digital-centric is the real challenge. This means asking yourself, are you someone with a robust IT skill set or do you ‘just get by’?

If your answer is the latter, perhaps it is time to consider ramping up the attention you give to this aspect. Being able to work with a few basic apps and systems will no longer take you the distance. I understand that getting to grips with this rapid change can be too much for some professionals, who feel that their learning progress has hit a brick wall, or become a slow crawl. This can naturally lead to a feeling of frustration and impatience for ‘not getting it’, which may directly affect your productivity and self esteem.

What I’d like to do today is to help you boost your productivity in ways that may also bolster your digital competence. The following are a few methods I’ve used personally and have assisted clients as well. Let’s do this!

Have a read through of Jane Piper’s excellent book Focus in the Age of Distraction
Jane Piper is a digital wellbeing expert who draws on her experience in Focus, highlight key consequences of living in the digital age that can impact productivity. There have been several studies on how digital apps, especially networking ones have affected our ability to focus and engage – something that is now visible in workplaces around the world. For those among us who find themselves struggling to focus and perform at their peak, this book is a must read!

Start using a productivity app
Now, don’t get scared! Most productivity apps on the market can appear daunting, and hide most features behind a paywall, that is, they let you use their basic version for free but require you to pay a one-time or recurring cost for premium features. That means you never know if the money spent will be worth it. Instead, I’ll focus you towards the best apps that offer these features for free, allowing you to find your own groove.

A productivity or task management app can be something as simple as Gmail’s Tasks list, or something more elaborate like Microsoft To-Do and Todoist. What is similar about these apps and what you will learn is this: lists help your mind declutter and refocus. These apps provide additional help by providing reminders, categorization options and cross-system(platform) support.

The unique thing each app brings is what will determine if they are something you will wish to use long-term. People who enjoy the satisfaction of making lists will prefer Todoist, while those who may require organizational options will go for Microsoft To-Do.

Find the app that works for you and start planning your day better!

Are You More of a Visual Thinker? Then Play to Your Strength! 
Productivity apps are great but only if you can harness their power effectively. For those among us who are more visual thinkers, or work with visuals and design, will definitely find themselves flocking to Trello and its card-based approach. It’s like having a digital corkboard to map out your tasks, and definitely worth trying out.

Experiment with Global Virtual Team Collaboration Apps
For those among us who run teams, there are group productivity and task management/collaboration tools such as Slack and Asana that are worth looking into. A note on Slack usage: It is primarily a team collaboration tool but its productivity boosting capabilities come from its ability to integrate with Google Drive/Dropbox and Salesforce. I find it important that you experiment with your team and review after a few months what worked well and what didn’t work well. You might notice generational differences in app usage and effectiveness.

Simplify and find tools that work for your team or collective
Yesterday, I listed all the tools we are using in one of our collectives on a flipchart paper. I tried to paint the icons without looking at my iphone and had to smile later because they actually look slightly different. However, I realized that we often use many tools already but we haven’t agreed on simple communication principles. So the work only starts when you have identified the right tools. (The hammer alone doesn’t help. You also need to bring in energy to slam in the nail.) We will continue to discuss global virtual team collaboration in the upcoming issues.

Unplug and keep a have-done diary
One aspect (that is also addressed in Jane Piper’s book) is how the pressure and stress of work combined with the always-on digital aspects can put us in a state of mind where we are unable to focus on anything, much fewer deliverables and time management. 

Here’s what you do: List down your completed daily tasks. I recommend a notebook and handwriting for this exercise. Not only will this give you a break from the screen but help you analyze your productivity cycle, its peaks and low points. I’ve learned this method from my coach educator Boudewijn Vermeulen and it served me well during hectic times.

I talk about more productivity hacks that can help you reclaim your diary here. Practice one of these hacks per week and let me know how your experience went in the RockMeApp! You can add them to your “weekly practices”.

 

 

I just looked at my diary in shock. Lucy, our holiday lights will be lit in Bahnhofstrasse on Thursday. My agenda is full of evening events and the dentist popped the question first for 2017 “Do you already have all your Christmas presents?”. I think, he was kidding. Mid-November, who has Christmas presents already? Is that a thing?

 

It’s high time you and I discuss the secret to managing the year-end.

Maybe it is obvious to you but the secret to managing the year-end and every other transition phase is to take small steps, baby steps actually.

 

Most bigger projects in life such as an international assignment with a move to another country or a move to a new company seem stressful because we are trying to tackle everything at once.

 

Transitions force us to change and do stuff in a different way, which our whole body resists too. (I’ll spare you the long explanation but you can read about cultural transition phases if you like.)

I used to feel overwhelmed when trying to create more space on my laptop BUT two weeks ago, I had been to a coaching retreat where I reprogrammed my brain. Then I approached the laptop issue step-by-step. (@TK, no, I still don’t read instructions…I still go intuitively).

 

I updated my dropbox, so I can move the photo library to my bigger Mac. Then I cleared space for old files. Then I finally updated the laptop. Then I used a program called Gemini to find duplicates and now I have 19 GB free space and can work on the road again. (Not literally the road but when I am traveling.)

What we are trying before the Christmas holidays looks a bit like my laptop pre-retreat. We are trying to stuff more activities in the same amount of time and then our system blocks and goes into overdrive- We either explode or despair.

One of the qualities of Switzerland is planning. Here, we schedule in advance so that all processes can run smoothly and without clogging. Sometimes this feels very slow. When you come from an action-packed, high activity country, you might get impatient.

 

I had a hard time adjusting to planning for at least two years. Then I finally accepted that this is the way it is and since then I plan my lunches four weeks ahead. I take the next appointment for the hairdresser while I’m still sitting there.

Yes, this is the way the rabbit runs in Switzerland (literally translated from a German proverb).

You probably wonder how to take those baby steps. I recommend first of all that you start planning 2018 by buying a physical calendar that shows the whole year. You can already enter your industry events, vacation, seminars, and other long projects. Anything you already know you committed to. Also special days such as anniversaries, birthdays, children’s vacation where you probably won’t work a lot.

Then buy a pack of colorful post-it notes. Split your whiteboard into five sections for the time until the year-end. Write down headers as Week 47 to Week 51.

Now, add three post-its of the same color of the most important projects you have to complete in each week. You should come up with your 15 main professional priorities. I would suggest you use pink for those but it’s up to you. Then take a picture and send it to me. I will continue to explain next steps next week.

Have a productive week ahead (and start buying those Christmas presents).

 

Kind regards

Angie Weinberger

PS: Sign up on our mailing list, if you wish to receive information about the RockMe! Retreat 2018

Do you remember the last time you actually closed down your computer only to realize how many open documents and unfinished business you have? Or do you remember the five new business books you ordered from Amazon and when you wanted to dive into them after the first few pages you got a call and then, did you follow up on that?

I laugh at myself when I look through old diaries or notes that I have taken 10 years ago or even longer. I see that my essential challenges are still the same. They boil down to finances, back pain and imposture syndrome. On a bad day, I will probably fall into the trap of telling myself the same story all over again. I also notice that nowadays when I maintain my weekly “sanity rituals” I get out of that self-talk with my inner monster Gollum a lot faster. (I decided to call my inner critic “Gollum” because deep down inside I believe that I am Bilbo Baggins’ granddaughter.)

Do you still believe that it is the agenda and influence of your manager, the loud colleague from the other end of the open plan office or your wife that stop you from completing projects?

On the surface, it is easy to blame others for what we don’t do or don’t achieve. I find it wonderful to use the “I cannot afford it” excuse in order not to invest in my education or in new clothes for example.

When you say “I do”, how can you keep yourself on track?

Here are four approaches to improve your commitment to projects that are important to you.

1) The Engineering Approach

  • Prioritize your projects with an easy classifier such as ABC.
  • Set a deadline for the overall completion.
  • Break down the projects into milestones.
  • Write a project plan that breaks down every milestone into a task and plan time for completion.
  • Do it and tick off every achievement on a daily basis.

 

2) The People Approach

  • Visualize the end result and paint a detailed picture of it.
  • Add post-it notes of people you see connected to this end vision.
  • Consider which role they will play in your end vision.
  • Reach out to them and let them know that you need their help.
  • Find two commitment buddies who will check in with you on your success and report to them on a weekly basis.

 

3) The Agile Approach

  • Focus on one project at the time
  • Pick the one that has the highest lever for you.
  • Work from the bottom up by defining what you would like to achieve in the next three weeks (“sprint”).
  • Spend 80% of your work time on this sprint.
  • Then take a week of reflection, check what worked and what didn’t and take a long weekend off.

 

4) The No-Pain, No-Gain Approach

  • Pick a skill that you would like to have and that you always avoid.
  • Invest an incredible amount of money in order to force yourself to commit (an example could be a personal trainer to follow your fitness routine, or an MBA or a course in Excel).
  • Tell your mother about it and see what happens.

 

I would suggest that you try to work with the approach that speaks to you most. Whichever approach you take you will probably notice that you are committing yourself to DOING rather than just THINKING ABOUT DOING.

What I’ve thought about before writing this was that I would like to share a secret with you. I took an important decision for next year. I’ve applied to a Masters programme in “International Human Resource Management and Global Mobility”. While the thought of spending two intensive weeks with GM Professionals from around Europe totally excites me, I also feel anxiety creeping in as I have graduated back in 97 and universities have changed a fair bit since then. It’s one thing to teach in a program and another to actually go through it yourself. I’m also considering an additional coaching education that will require funding and time. Imagine me running my business and doing a double degree in one year. I’m taking a mix of a no-pain, no-gain approach and a people approach here. Step 1 completed.

Have an inspired week!

Angie