Controlling Email Flow Can Transform Your Company

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In most companies, “email” means more than having a messaging app on your computer. Its ubiquitous nature, plus its tendency to be addictive has turned it into a productivity killer most people abhor. Gaining control has become more than a personal choice for individual benefit – it’s a matter of boosting corporate capacity.

Readers of this column may know that controlling one’s environment is a skill that’s essential to high productivity in the digital age. Visual distractions, audible disruptions, and haptic alerts are the modern contrivances of clever designers, intent on pulling your attention away at random times.

Email is no exception. It exerts a unique influence due to its central role as a communication medium used by all companies. It cannot be avoided: all professionals must teach themselves to cope with ever-increasing volumes of email if they hope to grow their business or ascend the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, as I have explained in prior columns, most don’t cope very well at all. Using stale techniques, they struggle, falling short of expectations. The evidence? Inboxes filled with thousands of unprocessed messages.

A few try to keep up by remaining hyper-alert to every notification, checking for new messages over 100 times per day. It’s called a FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. By contrast, the best alternative is to shift to batch processing: going through all your messages a few times per day, emptying the Inbox each time. Here are three steps that may help you implement these two difficult changes.

Step 1 – Learn how to control your personal flow of messages
One way to gain control is to avoid checking your email outside pre-scheduled times. To stay focused, turn off all email-related notifications so that you aren’t tempted to break the practice.

To help accomplish this discipline, use software to pause email downloads between visits. In Outlook, this trick is achieved by hitting Ctrl+Alt+S. Up pops a screen with each account displayed. Select the one(s) you use, and un-tick the setting for “Schedule an automatic send /receive every [ ] minutes.” Now, when you revisit your Inbox to process messages, hit the Send/Receive button and all your unread email will be downloaded in a single batch.

If you are a Gmail user an add-on such as “Inbox Pause” can be used to the same end. In either case, you may discover a new ability to focus on the task at hand. How can you maintain it?

Step 2 – Start to Manage Your Mind
Many of my productivity trainees argue that their notifications cannot possibly be turned off. Repeating the same arguments, they announce the need to be available to respond to a possible “emergency.” As proof, they cite stories of instances when they picked up an important, urgent message and avoided a disaster. It’s all the proof that’s needed, in their eyes.

Unfortunately, they are committing a cognitive error called the “Availability Heuristic.” It implies that an action which works once shouldn’t necessarily become a regular habit. According to several studies, being hyper-responsive to electronic notifications carries a tremendous cost.

Once you decide to turn off notifications in order to focus, you must learn to manage your mind by not falling prey to a FOMO. If your anxiety won’t go away, I recommend techniques such as meditation or Byron Katies’ “4-Question + a Turnaround” technique.

However, in the typical company, these personal changes are not enough: you must involve other people.

Step 3 – Launch a Movement
By far the biggest obstacle to overcoming this problem is one that’s social. In a prior article I showed that it’s maddeningly easy to destroy the productivity of others: just insist that people respond immediately to urgent email. This ties up untold amounts of attention as people check their Inboxes over and over again, just in case something important happens to have just arrived. This wasteful habit is made worse by the fact that some 10-15% of messages get lost in cyberspace.

The problem that gets created affects people at all levels, so your movement must include them. Don’t waste time looking for a single person – no individual ever owns this issue. Instead, become the educator-in-chief even as you look for people who are already implementing the right solution: insisting that other channels be used for urgent communication instead of email. Encourage them to make the switch, even as they gain control over their Inbox.

Even though this may make sense, be aware that things won’t change overnight. Although the problem is widespread, your real enemy is not people, but their ignorance. As such, be prepared to act as a lonely voice of reason until you can build a critical mass. Only then can you join others who have also produced this transformation which, in the end, benefits everyone.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

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How to Avoid Costly Responses to RFP’s

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A juicy Request for Proposal (RFP) could be a dream or nightmare. As a business-owner, how can you tip the scales in your favour so that you end up winning a higher percentage of better opportunities?

It comes as a pleasant surprise. A casual scan of the Gleaner reveals an RFP that fits your company’s work. From all appearances, it’s an easy shortcut: a lead which has fallen into your lap without any marketing effort.

Unfortunately, “easy” is a misnomer. By definition, each RFP wastes the time, money and resources of losing respondents, who are in the majority. In the worst cases, they fail to be awarded so no-one benefits. How can you protect your firm from costly distractions? Here are three suggestions.

1. Adapt Your Approach to Your Offering
There’s a big difference between responses to the following kinds of RFP’s:
(a) a delivery of five computers.
(b) the installation of a new plumbing system.
(c) teaching a farm how to use different kinds of soil to grow better crops.
(d) helping a business overcome the sudden loss of its founder.

RFP’s are ideal for commodities like example (a) which involve a tangible object delivered via a single transaction. Usually, price is the main criterion. In the case of its extreme opposite (d), that factor is modified by the length of the engagement. In this case, a mutual relationship of trust with the client organization is critical.

Understanding these differences is the first step.

2. Read an RFP Critically
If your product or service offering has a high relationship component (c) and (d) you must be wary about RFP’s which are poorly written. They are the ones which treat all products or services as if they were just like a commodity (a).

Also, keep an eye out for the RFP which makes no attempt to stimulate your interest. The most basic ones are little more than cut-and-paste jobs from prior projects, intended for desperate vendors with a lot of time on their hands. They are the ones happy to gamble on an RFP, even though they know the odds of winning are low. They ask nothing of the prospect, even when obvious facts are missing.

Take note of these discrepancies. The client’s lack of foresight is your opportunity to shine. For example, the company may not appreciate the trust and partnership required the make the project a success.

3. Act in an Extraordinary Way
Most vendors squander opportunities to forge a relationship with the company issuing the RFP. Don’t be like them: take the initiative to create a relationship as early as possible, much as you would a “normal” prospect.

There are many approaches to take, even when the RFP limits them.

One ethical alternative is to ask the kind of questions that make it obvious your firm has specific insights which are critical to the success of the project. This not only builds credibility, it also allows you to subtly shift the decision criteria. Better yet, conduct such a Q&A session in person. Try to include decision-makers who you need to work with closely if your project is to succeed.

Regardless of what’s written on paper, or espoused, you should understand that no-one wants to work with people they don’t like and trust. Your use of smart, caring questions can enhance both.

Of course, this strategy works if you actually do possess adequate expertise. That’s why I recommend that you avoid RFP’s where you can’t demonstrate a significant difference in capability.

The fact is, your knowledge and experience usually far surpass that of your prospective clients. Their self-diagnosis is often piece-meal, while the decision-making process they intend to follow is likely to be crammed with more legalese than anything useful.

Given your experience, once you have made your best attempts to follow the above steps, don’t rush to write the proposal. Sit back and ask yourself whether or not the project is adequately defined, and if you have significantly improved the odds of winning. If you can create a checklist to help you think through the pros and cons, that would help.

As you may imagine, the greatest risks arise from unwritten, word-of-mouth RFPs. When responding, be prepared for random, unpredictable behaviour – the client may be protecting a pre-selected vendor. To prevent this problem, ask if there are additional bidders who have already been invited. For this and other reasons, it might be wise to cut your losses and walk away from unresponsive, inept, un-clientable companies.

If you proceed to respond, fill your proposal with unique insight and details that make you professionally proud. By eliminating the faults, you have made your best effort to make your involvement in the project a success.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161204/francis-wade-avoiding-costly-responses-rfps