The 23 Browser Tabs I Open to Start Every Workday

Five years ago, my workday routine was much the same as it had been for the better part of a decade. Arrive at the office. Open Outlook. Open Word. Open Excel. Prepare and revise documents that would be saved on my PC or my office LAN and then would be distributed via email.

Those days are long gone. Today, I find myself working more and more in my browser and Web-based apps and less and less in Microsoft Office programs.

Yes, I still open Outlook when I arrive at the office (though I have already cleared most of my email from my BlackBerry). The traditional flow of calendar requests, email, task assignments and notes are there. And it works extremely well.

But from that point forward, everything is different. I don’t open Word. I don’t open Excel. Instead, I go straight to my browser. And I’ll spend a significant proportion of my day in my browser. And to make the start up process easier, I save a set of tabs that I open as the start of every day.

So, what browser tabs do I start my day with?

Tabs 1 – 7: Publishing

WordPress admin consoles for the blogs I publish or contribute to: ProPR.ca, Social Mediators, Inside PR, Corum App, and the CCPRF. I’ll moderate comments and try to write early in the morning – ideally before I answer email and begin to be dragged into the routine of the day.

The Aggregator Admin consoles for the Thornley Fallis and 76design Websites. Our Websites feature content drawn in from a variety of blogs written by our employees. I use the Aggregator Admin console to curate the content that appears on our Websites.

CoTweet: I use CoTweet to check and manage the @thornleyfallis and @76design identities on Twitter.

Tabs 8 – 11: Collaboration

Present.ly: We use Present.ly as our “behind-the-firewall” micro-publishing app. I keep this tab open to follow conversations among the TF/76team members.

TF Wiki and Agent76: We use a Wiki as our Intranet. It’s also a gateway to agent76, our time tracking and activity diary app.

Another WordPress admin console for my internal company blog, “Joe Behind the Firewall.”

Tabs 12 – 17: Social Networks & News

Google: I use Google.ca to get search results tailored to my interests as a Canadian. And my iGoogle homepage includes: Google Reader, GMail, Google Map Search, YouTube Search and Google Trends. I use this tab constantly throughout the day.

Google News: I open this every day. But I have to confess I rarely use it. Virtually all the news I want comes into Google Reader through my subscriptions to online news sites RSS feeds.

Meetup: I use Meetup to coordinate the Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa social media meetups. I keep the app open all day when a Third Tuesday is approaching. When Third Tuesday is inactive, I’ll close this after a quick check.

LinkedIn: This social network is on the upswing in utility. I don’t spend much time in discussions here. I’d rather participate in the open discussions on blogs and Twitter. However, LinkedIn has proved to be a highly useful place to recruit new employees for our firm. So, I see myself investing more time in this network in the future.

TripIt: TripIt is an outstanding service that I use for trip planning and to find friends who are travelling to the same locations as me. It helps to cut down on the room service meals.

Facebook: With 500 million users, I can’t ignore it. But Facebook can be the greatest time suck. And I rarely open it during workdays. Much activity of little consequence.

Tabs 18 – 23: Measurement

Radian6: We’ve standardized on Radian6 as our preferred social media monitoring, management and measurement suite. I track everything relating to our companies. Clients too.

PostRank: PostRank gives me unique insight into the engagement of my community with the content I publish. What’s getting their attention? What’s not. An indispensable tool that just keeps getting better.

Google Analytics: another view of what’s really going on with my blog? With our Websites? A free analytics tool I couldn’t live without.

Feedburner: Although Feedburner has suffered from inattention and hasn’t really been developed since Google acquired it, it’s still a must-have to spot trends of use with my RSS feeds.

Google Insights for Search: I start here when I’m trying to understand which search terms people are using for concepts that I’m interested in …

Google Search-based keyword tool: … and then I use the search-based keyword tool for ideas on other search terms I should consider.

How about you?

How much has the programs and apps you use in your workday changed in the past few years? Are you still using traditional wordprocessors and spreadsheets or are you relying more and more on Web-based apps?

Help! I'm drowning in a sea of email!

I’m snowed under. I’m awash. I’m overwhelmed. By email. Lots and lots of email.

istock_000002649953xsmallHow bad is it? I’m on a trip to Australia. Away from the office. And today, I logged over 5 and 1/2 hours reading and responding to the emails I received since yesterday. That leaves precious little time to actually do the work that’s important to me.

I’ve put practices in place to try to deal with my emails more efficiently and keep the important ahead of the urgent. I try to touch each email only once, deciding on first reading if I need to respond or if I can delegate any necessary action. I quickly delete emails that have been sent simply to me to “keep me in the loop.”

But what remains takes too much time.

And as I ask myself why, I think I’ve seen a pattern. The emails that take most of the time are those that ask my opinion. In many respects, it’s the emails that are asking “what should we do?” or “what is your opinion?”

Now, if this were a face to face encounter, I would respond by asking the questioner what he or she thinks we should do. The smart, competent people will always supply an answer that I can quickly agree with or that we can refine together.

But I find it tougher to respond to an email in this way. It seems rude. Worse, it also delays a decision and can turn into the dreaded email ping pong exchange. So, I invest my time to think through the question – and then I write a considered response. And that can take a lot of time. Over five hours today alone.

But I simply can’t keep going this way. I have to get my head up above this email tsunami.

But how?

What do you do to keep email at a manageable level? Can you do this and still do your job if as a manager? How can you do it without offending people? Is there no other way than to step back into another century and hire an assistant to divert most of the flow?

Can you throw a guy a lifeline? What can I do to get my head above the email flood?

The value of writing it down

BlackBerry with notesPeople who have been in meetings with me will tell you that the first thing I do after I sit down at the table is to pull out my BlackBerry or open my notebook computer and start to take notes.

I use the MS Outlook notes function to take notes in meetings, telephone calls and to jot down random thoughts whenever they hit me. This forces me to review what I heard and thought when I “clean” up the notes by deleting or saving them.

Very often, I find myself stopping on a point that may have been quickly glossed over in a meeting or conversation. Sometime, the participants in a meeting do not give the points the time or attention they deserve as different individuals with greater rank, ego or just need push the discussion to suit their own purposes. Other times, a clear connection with something else I’ve been thinking about or working on will jump out at me during my review. Or I’ll simply find that quiet contemplation of the notes allows me to find meaning and significance that I had previously missed.

Management guru David Maister also adopts a similar approach.

How do you ensure that you remember and think about what is important in each day? Do you have other exercises and habits that work for you?

Effective use of time: Reading list triage

As I sit here choosing whether to dive into the half foot high pile of “things I really want to read” or to find time to blog (after a hectic week in which I had time to do neither), I have to admit I’m stretched too thin. So what to do?

Kathy Sierra offers some great advice for cutting down on the backlog of reading. While she has written primarily for a tech audience, these ideas can be put into action by anyone who needs to cope with exploding information flows – and that’s all of us. The picture accompanying Kathy’s post sums up the problem:

Keeping Up

She offers practical advice for what I call “reading list triage.” Some of the best tips:

  • “Find the best aggregators.” There are websites and services that filter content and feature the best (That’s one of the ways I use blogs.)
  • “Cut the redundancy!” (Is the news really different in three daily papers?)
  • “Unsubscribe to as many things as possible.” In my experience this is particularly useful. I periodically unsubscribe from blogs and let magazine subscriptions lapse. It’s surprising how many I can live without. And I can always resubscribe to the ones I really value.
  • “Recognize that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes.” Oh yeah. Playing solitaire on your PC is as good a use of time.
  • “Be a LOT more realistic about what you’re likely to get to, and throw the rest out.” The ultimate solution. Don’t be afraid of this step. Before I leave the office every Friday, my last act is to clear my desk. And that doesn’t mean filing things. That means discarding the things I just don’t have the time to read. And it’s amazing how rarely I have to ask for a copy of one of the things I’ve dispensed with.
  • Kathy offers additional tips in her post. I think you’ll agree that reading it is time well spent!

    FeedDemon 2.0: PC Magazine Review Gets it Right

    Nick Bradbury points with justifiable pride to the positive review of FeedDemon 2.0 in PC Mag.

    PC Mag calls FeedDemon 2.0 “simply the most comprehensive, feature-rich, and intuitively organized RSS feed aggregator/reader for Windows.”

    The review concludes by pointing to FeedDemon’s

    amazing combination of simplicity and flexibility that lets you easily organize feeds into folders, sort and share feeds, subscribe to new feeds, and generally manage everything from within a single interface. Keeping track of your feeds (sometimes even seeing them all) is generally much harder in browser-based RSS readers. You’ll save money using them, but you’ll lose time. If you can’t live without your RSS—and a whole lot of it—and you prefer to keep your feeds in a standalone application instead of teasing them out of an Outlook add-in or a browser, the FeedDemon 2.0′s $29.95 price tag is a bargain.

    Amen to that.

    FeedDemon 2.0 is released

    FeedDemon 2.0 has been released and can be downloaded as a free trial off the FeedDemon site.

    I’ve been using FeedDemon for almost a year and I love it. It allows me to organize my feeds into groups, post directly to del.icio.us, email and save entries. Version 2.0 also synchronizes feeds with Newsgator Online, allowing me to switch freely between my office and home computer, knowing that my feedreader will reflect all of my recent feedreading and subscription activity, regardless of which computer I last used. Views can be easily be formatted to reflect personal tastes through and intuitive interface.

    Congratulations to Nick Bradbury for a great job on this upgrade.

    Responsiveness: Your success may depend on it

    Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, says that responsiveness is essential to business success.

    In Hyatt’s experience,

    So many people I meet are unresponsive. They don’t return their phone calls promptly. They don’t answer their emails quickly. They don’t complete their assignments on time. They promise to do something and never follow through. They have to be reminded, prodded, and nagged. This behavior creates work for everyone else and eats into their own productivity. Sadly, they seem oblivious to it.

    …Reality is that we live in an “instant world.” People want instant results. They don’t want to wait. And if they have to wait on you, their frustration and resentment grows. They begin to see you as an obstacle to getting their work done. If that happens, it will begin to impact your reputation. Pretty soon people start saying, “I can never get a timely response from him,” or “When I send her an email, I feel like it goes into a black hole,” or worse, your colleagues just roll their eyes and sigh at the mention of your name.

    …The truth is, you are building your reputation—your brand—one response at a time. People are shaping their view of you by how you respond to them. If you are slow, they assume you are incompetent and over your head. If you respond quickly, they assume you are competent and on top of your work. Their perception, whether you realize it or not, will determine how fast your career advances and how high you go. You can’t afford to be unresponsive. It is a career-killer.

    Thanks to my colleague Jason Prini for pointing to this article.

    Why Business Schools Cannot Develop Managers

    David Maister posts on the important difference between management skills and business knowledge.

    ‘Business’ as a subject (and a degree program) is all about things of the logical, rational, analytical mind: Mike Porter’s five forces, the numerous P’s of marketing, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, etc, etc. It’s about knowledge.

    Managing, on the other hand, is a skill, and has nothing to do with rationality, logic, IQ or intelligence. It’s a simple issue of whether or not you can influence individuals or organizations to accomplish something. It’s about influencing people, singly or in groups (or in hordes.) No amount of intelligence will help if you are not able to interact with people and get the response you desire….

    And of course, this is not accomplished by taking a college course in psychology, sociology, anthropology or any other ‘ology’ where we sit around and intellectualize about ‘human resources’ but never have to actually deal with a real live human being. (It reminds me of the Linda Ronstadt / Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris song which contains the line – you don’t know what a man is until you have to please one!)

    To help people develop as managers doesn’t mean discussing management (or even worse – leadership), but rather requires putting people through a set of processes where they have to experience it, try it out , and develop their emotional self-control and interactive styles.

    These observations are important to keep in mind when assessing people for management positions and when charting a professional development program for new managers.

    Effective business communications

    The speakers and attendees at the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario convention held recently in Toronto offered a wealth of practical advice for communications in the workplace according to Globe and Mail columnist Virginia Galt.

    Management consultant Peter Taylor of Peter Taylor and Associates Inc. in Oshawa speaks of the need for face-to-face meetings to communicate about contentious issues:

    If an issue is contentious, it’s better to handle it in person. “A face-to-face meeting is probably most important when you are afraid to have it; the more contentious, the more you need to be there,” Mr. Taylor says.

    Ms. Alderson says people will often hide behind e-mail when they have unpleasant news to deliver and, like Mr. Taylor, she recommends that the most complex matters be handled in person.

    Ms. Alderson says e-mail is effective and convenient for conveying messages and information, but less effective as a communications tool. Face-to-face communication is best, when possible, and telephone contact is the next best option for genuine dialogue. E-mail adds “another degree of separation,” she says. “Communication is a two-way street. Most of what we are doing today is not communicating; we’re simply sending messages.”

    Mr. Taylor, who counsels clients on the importance of operating with “emotional intelligence” — including being aware of how one’s actions affect others — says it is much easier “to pick up people’s reactions if you have some sort of live interaction, be it face-to-face or voice contact.”

    James Gray, principal of Toronto-based Media Strategy Inc., has some good advice for those of us who are prone to turn to the phone while on the fly:

    Ms. Alderson says it is important, as well, to make sure that you are in a time and place where you can give the person on the other end of the telephone your full attention.

    Conducting a phone conversation while you are on the treadmill breathing heavily into the telephone, or tapping on your keyboard at your desk, sends a message that you are “distracted, disorganized or disinterested,” she says.

    Mr. Taylor says it is important to listen to telltale signs that the other person is rushed or distracted as well. Ask if it is a good time, and whether they prefer to conduct business by e-mail, by telephone or in person. If they say it is not a good time, don’t ignore them and launch into a long discussion anyway, Ms. Alderson adds.

    Conversely, it is not always prudent to pick up the phone when you are in the thick of something else. “Be selective” and let voice mail pick up at times, Ms. Alderson says. Avoid, too, the common trap of responding to every e-mail as soon as it lands in the inbox.

    Good, practical advice that’s worth remembering and putting into practice.