Category Archives: productivity

Managing energy in the morning

Julie Morgenstern, in Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work:

Warming up your day by knocking off a bunch of quick, easy tasks is tempting, but it can provide you with a false sense of accomplishment.

The danger in this approach is that the bulk of your energy gets depleted over a bunch of insignificant tasks. First there’s email, then a couple of phone calls, then a meeting, then huddles with some direct reports and a quick sign-off on a project budget — then, guess what? It’s time for lunch!

To warm up after lunch, you start off with another round of email, then a client eats up your mid afternoon, and suddenly it’s 5 pm — and you never got around to, much less finished, the grant proposal — your day’s one-step-from-the-revenue-line priority. In fact, you can’t even remember what you did get done.

Solution: You must retrain yourself to choose the important over the quick, the tough over the easy, no matter how intimidating the project may be. Starting too far from the revenue line prevents you from producing the volume of revenue-generating work that your company actually relies on and pays you for.

Working from the bottom up puts you in a risky position — when that inevitable crisis appears, . . . how can you possibly handle it when you haven’t even gotten to your most important assignment yet!

Completely two or three tasks that directly make or save your company money far outweighs finishing twenty things that are three steps from the revenue line.

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6 tips for being more positive with email

Earlier this year I attended a presentation with Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence and godfather of the field of Emotional Intelligence. According to Goleman, there’s a negativity bias to email – at the neural level. In other words, if an email’s content is neutral, we assume the tone is negative. In face-to-face conversation, the subject matter and its emotional content is enhanced by tone of voice, facial expressions, and nonverbal cues. Not so with digital communication.
Technology creates a vacuum that we humans fill with negative emotions by default, and digital emotions can escalate quickly (see: flame wars). The barrage of email can certainly fan the flames. In an effort to be productive and succinct, our communication may be perceived as clipped, sarcastic, or rude. Imagine the repercussions for creative collaboration.

Tools are already emerging to address this phenomenon. See ToneCheck, a “tone spellcheck” app that scans emails for negativity and then helpfully suggests tweaks to make your communication more positive (featured in The New York Times Magazine’s annual Year in Ideas issue).

I’ve been experimenting with simple ways to encourage positive digital communication. Here are a few best practices I’ve found useful:

1. Heed the negativity bias. In this case, awareness and attention goes a long way. Consider how your communication may be perceived. Can you be more explanatory? Is your language positive as opposed to neutral?

2. Pay attention to your grammar. Since monitoring my emotional reaction to incoming and outgoing emails, I’ve noticed that in our haste, meaning is often obscured by simple grammatical confusion. “That’s not what I meant” is emblematic of digital miscommunication, and can escalate a problem quickly. Re-read your emails before sending, and make sure your intended message is being conveyed clearly.

3. Consider emoticons. Until keyboards can actually perceive the emotional content of our digital messages (not so far off!), emoticons may be the simplest method of clarifying tone. I’ve had to let go of my own perception that emoticons are silly. They may currently be our best tool for elevating the emotional clarity of digital messages.

4. Use phrasing that suggests optionality. When gentle prodding is necessary, try using phrasing that empowers (rather than accuses) the receiver. Questions in particular tend to be better received than declaratives. To encourage follow-up on a specific task, for example, you might say something like, “I think you mentioned that you would be revisiting/updating the copy on our Facebook page. I know we had an email exchange, but not sure where we ended up?”

5. Start things off on the right foot. When the news is mixed, consider leading off your message with an expression of appreciation. Then follow with the meat of your response. It could be something as simple as, “We’re off to a great start, I just have a few small tweaks I want to suggest.” Such gestures may seem like fluff, but they set the tone. Effectively saying “I appreciate the work you’ve already done…” prior to bringing the feedback that means “back to the drawing board!”

6. Jettison email… maybe. Ask yourself, “Is email the best carrier of this message?” Often a more social communication tool such as an internal project management space or messaging tool (Yammer, Action Method, or Mavenlink) can be more appropriate and serve as an emotional buffer. Reactive communication tends to be more measured in a public digital space. Plus an added bonus: knowledge sharing.


Because of the lack of emotional tone in emails, we often have to go the extra mile to convey a solicitous attitude – whether it’s rewriting a sentence, adding an emoticon, or offsetting bad news with a positive remark. Even if it seems a chore, it’s time well spent.

In the immortal words of a recent 99% commenter: Don’t treat others like a “DO IT” button, treat them like human beings.

from 99%

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