Sill organising email into folders? Then STOP!!!

About a year ago I was listening to a podcast to do with work and productivity and one of the subjects being discussed was email management and not letting it take over you life.

At work we all receive a lot of emails, in-fact recent stats shows light users receive 180 emails a week, heavy users receive 2100 emails a week. Now most of these go in the trash or get picked up by spam filters, but a lot is still emails from colleges needing action, some can be deleted and some just need to be kept for the future. With the ones needed for the future a lot of us file them into folders (often organised by projects) so that they can easily be found in the future.

But when that future date occurs you discover that your folders are actually full of hundreds of emails. Worse still a lot of them were items that could probably have been deleted a couple months after reading them. Now theres no way of finding the one you wanted by looking through the list, so your only option is to use a search to find the email you wanted. This is ok though as searching emails actually works quite well now. But if searching actually works well now and we’re going to do it anyway, what was the point in all that time you spent filing emails into individual folders?

So here’s my recommendation. Create 2 folders one called Keep Forever and the other called Keep for 6 Months. Set a rule on the 6 month folder so that anything older than 6 months get automatically deleted (if your concerned you can always make the rule for a year). Then when emails come in if it needs actioning leave it in your inbox, if you need to keep it forever and move it to the forever folder and if it’s something that might be needed over the next few weeks put it in the 6 month folder. This way you inbox is kept small with things you need to reply to, you still have all your emails to search in the future, and the crap that is only relevant for the next few months will be deleted automatically in 6 months time.

Going Further….

In Outlook you also have the ability to tag an email with categories (or multiple categories), each category is also colour coded. An extra step you can take is to choose a category for each email that comes in that your going to keep or need to action. e.g. I tag my emails with a client category.

This is much simpler than organising into folders as you can do it as you receive/read emails (not when filing), you get the benefit of being able to find emails to action in your inbox visually by colour, and when you need to search in the future you also have the power of the category filter.

Give it a try for a few months and then wonder why you spent all that time filing emails.

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Office 2010 vs iWorks09

I often read comments stating Microsoft is approaching demise due to its over reliance on Office and the fact that because iWorks can read and save in the Office file format the need to use Office is gone. My own previous experience with iWorks wasn’t great but as there’s so much support I decided to give it another go and see if I really could replace Office with iWorks.

Firstly for the record although my day job is as a .net developer, im also a huge Apple fan and have been for the last decade, so im fairly unbiased towards each company.

Word vs Pages

Being a .net developer my main tool is visual studio, actually using word is not a regular thing for me, my general use is to write specs, documentation and user guides. Features like mail merge or printing labels are things I’ve never even needed to do once. There are a few features though that I regularly use and need. These include styling text, adding screenshots, comments, tables and using the smart object function to make illustrations.

UI

So first off the UI. Microsoft have done away with toolbars of old and tried to squeeze everything into 1 tab bar at the top of the page. Apple on the other hand have a toolbar plus an object inspector popup containing a lot of tabs.

UI is largely a personal thing but I would give this one to Microsoft. Pages toolbar is good at changing fonts and adding charts but overall I felt like they had just dumped most of the functionality into the object inspector to make the toolbar simple. The result is the object inspector contains a lot of functionality in a small space organised into tabs with cryptic icons rather than words.

Styling text

Both packages have the standard font drop down, bold, underline, colour etc that you expect from any word processor. Apple however have a button that seems to quickly fill a page with Loren ipsum text including made up headings and sub headings. I guess the idea with this is that you then replace the text with your own and the sections are already styled.

Microsoft on the other hand have added icons to there ribbon toolbar that let you select from a predefined set of styles for headings, sub headings etc. They also have a format painter tool that allows you to copy the styles on an existing section to another.

In the styling comparison I would award the category to Microsoft. I personally prefer the quick style links and they have been something I’ve come to rely on, but there also nicer styles than what Pages auto page fill feature creates.

Screenshots

One of my most loved features of Word is the screenshot button that lets you insert a screen clipping of any open window or select a custom clipping with the mouse. As one of my main uses is to write documentation, this is something I use a lot. As far as I could tell Pages does not have an equivalent feature. The screen grab app must be used to get the screen shot which you can then paste into the doc.

Comments

Both apps support adding comments and in both cases they highlight in nice colours. Word does have a lot more options with its comments compared to Pages which just has add and delete, but this is no real issue Pages does as much as is needed.

Tables, charts

Inserting a table or chart can be achieved daily easily in Pages as can it be in Word.

Smart Objects

For those that don’t know, Words smart object feature allows you to quickly create diagrams like a higherarchy chart with very little effort and choose from a set of nice designs. The closest thing in Pages is manually drawing lines and text boxes. For me this is a big win go Word.

Excel vs Numbers

On the whole I generally use Excel for sorting data and fairly basic formulas. Numbers seemed to fulfil these needs without issue, however like with Pages I did miss the ability to quickly style my sheet using predefined styles.

One other major issue I came up against was the ability to connect to a remote data source like a database. Numbers doesn’t do this at all, but the ability for me to connect an excel doc to our management systems db to automatically pull in data on current projects is something I ultimately rely upon, without it I would have to constantly copy data from exports.

Conclusion

iWorks is probably a very good set of tools for anyone doing homework or other home use but for the workplace and my needs it falls short. It also isn’t the equivalent product to Office. There is a big price different but Microsoft also offer Office web apps for free which is more similar in features. In the windows world Microsoft also give away Office Starter for free which again is more equivalent in features. So rather than Apple have a product that could kill Office as its only £30, Microsoft are actually giving away something just as good for nothing.

Microsoft and music

When it comes to music Microsoft are the undesputed champions of having a completely messed up strategy. On Windows they have Windows Media Player and Zune, on Xbox they have a section called music, something else called Zune that’s not quite the same as Zune on the Pc, they had a portable device called Zune and a subscription service called Zune pass. The one brand that is potentially getting the chop is also called Zune!

We’ve known for a while that a successor is in the works for Zune (although which Zune that means isn’t 100% clear), so what could this end up being? Well here’s what im hoping for…

Xbox

The original Xbox was the first to introduce music storage but sadly that part of the Xbox has never seen an update since. Apps like Zune have been added with streaming abilities and improved UI, but they are separate and there remains no way to sync your music from PC to Xbox.

Id like to see that changed, my Xbox and pc should be able to talk to each other and move mp3’s from one to the other. Better yet link into my Windows live Id and offer a service like iTunes match! The UI updates and Kinect integration that the Zune app has should also be included making one ultimate music experience.

Rebrand the Zune app as marketplace and add the ability to actually purchase music! Or download songs if the user has a Zune pass, similar to how marketplace on WP7 works.

Windows Phone

So far Windows Phone is actually doing a good job. It has a music hub simply called music & video with a clear distinction of what a Zune pass adds to it. But getting music on the device still requires linking to my pc or buying on the phone. Also if a buy on the phone I can’t then download again on ny pc, so if my phone breaks in between purchasing and the next sync (which could be months) I’ve lost my music.

Again a windows live id sync here would be perfect, but also how about a sync with Xbox. A lot of families have one family computer but the kids often have an Xbox. Why does the pc have to be the main device? Why can’t Xbox be at the centre of my music storage? Xbox after all should now just be a PC optimised for TV.

Windows 8

From what I’ve seen so far Windows 8 looks like it has a new simple app just called music. Give this the same Zune pass integration as WP7 and syncing features listed above and I think Microsoft will be onto a music strategy that gets my music everywhere in a simple way.

The message is simple. Don’t think up stupid names and then refer to everything as that name. Think of individual devices and services. On a device just call the app music as that’s what it is. And make everything sync. Make managing music everywhere easy, add on any device and play on any other.

Xbox music, oh no

So around a month ago Microsoft announced that Windows Live ID was going to be rebranded as Microsoft Account. The reason was people didn’t understand what Windows Live was. In the beginning Windows Live was the name for Microsofts online services, however at some point they started using the name for everything like Windows Live Gallery and Movie maker, 2 windows programs that actually have nothing to do with Windows Live at all. So the name is being killed off and replaced with Microsoft account, something that makes a lot of sense.

Now a month later Microsoft have made another announcement, on there strategy to make the Xbox 360 the centre of all your media they are launching Xbox music. Also to come later in the year is Xbox videos, both of which are just rebranding of Zune. Windows 8 will also feature Xbox music and video apps along with the games app. So after all that good work at fixing the mess of Windows live they go and start to destroy Xbox.

2 major things jump out at me with this:

First how do you open the app with xbox’s voice controls, currently you prefix everything with Xbox, as Xbox now means the actual box. Saying “Xbox music” currently takes you to the music page, so then to choose the app do you say “Xbox Xbox music”?

Second one of the features of windows phone 7 is that it is the only phone with Xbox. But now if they are completely disassociating Xbox as a stand alone name to mean games shouldn’t that tile be changed?

I can’t help but also think this is a repeat of Zunes bad naming. Here’s a list of things called Zune:

Zune – the name of a series of mp3 players
Zune – software on windows
Zune pass – subscription music service
Zune – software on Xbox to use the Zune pass on Xbox
Zune videos – software on Xbox to buy videos

With the Zune devices dead the brand was getting a bit easier to understand, and to anyone outside the US it was only ever related to the software. I’m sad to see it go as to me the name Zune separated the subscription music service from all devices and made it the name of what it is.

But alas Microsoft want to stop using the name due to the failed devices, but couldn’t they have just called the music service music and left Xbox as just the name of the actual box?