I pledge once again to not react negatively to any well wishes during the month of December. More time will be spent appreciating that I am lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy celebrating with friends and family for an entire month including all sorts of different spellings, traditions and associated goodies. Happy, Merry, whatever you like to call it. I wish you all the best. If anyone finds these times more challenging, I also care about you and I am sorry for whatever conditions make this time of year a challenge for you.
Many of you know that I am an electronics hobbyist and maker. My work touches on electronics, and knowledge of Mechatronics is extremely valuable to understand that world. Much of knowledge appropriate to a small business owner is understanding what is possible. You can always, and often do, hire people who are experts in a variety of fields. That might be interesting, however, being interested in Electronics has introduced me to a world of passionate and dedicated individuals all over the world who share this experience. Through the wonders of Facebook, YouTube and other tools I’ve interacted with, shared and learned from people who live in extremely different conditions. While reading a condescending and ignorant comments in response to a gentlemen asking how to fix a broken speaker, it occurred to me that I was also very ignorant at one time, about how other people live.
If you search for electronics examples, how to do something with a certain chip or device, you often find yourself watching a video on YouTube in broken English, by someone in a distant place. These videos are fascinating, these people do so much with very limited resources. Usually equipped with nothing more than a basic multi-meter, a basic lighter, a very basic soldering iron, and a bit of solder, they show incredible capability. They salvage all their components, wire, pcb boards and other components from discarded electronics. For less than perhaps 10 USD, they are building working circuits, and sharing them with people like me, half a world away. I’m fascinated and inspired by these people, who typically have knowledge of electronics that makes mine seem a bit like a grammar school math being compared to university level calculus.
Before thinking for even a moment about why someone would be tasked with say repairing a ~$5 USD speaker, some people eagerly jump to judge:
How old are you?
Buy a new frigging speaker!
The good news, there are also counter points of intelligent responses that explain step by step how to fix it, by people who obviously know by necessity how to fix stuff that most of us would just discard and buy new. Such as Dean:
you must remove crown from the magnet-unglue all metal parts including magnet, using cut tool skalp on the end of the cartoon paper membrane float cuting clear line in circle, then you must create new spun coil if that coil basic is crack or damage, use heat to unglue all metal parts, use universal glue to glue coil end and amm parts and laquer glue for the spull coil heat resistance minimum 125″ degree , use two components glue to gule magnet and grown again, and be careful with centred if the speaker, if you want to fix that speaker
U can rewind it by identifying d swg nd number of turns
These people also inspire me, being selfless with their time to once again share their knowledge with others and provide the questioner with answers. It’s hard for me to not look at this entire situation and feel an incredible level of appreciation for the person asking, and those providing real answers. I know trolls are everywhere on the Internet, but those people aren’t worth our time. The real leader’s are people who do a lot with very little and still have time to share. Yep, you all are the ones that keep this maker interested and informed. Kudos to you all and much respect from El Dorado Hills, California, USA.
One of the downsides to technology is the hold it has on us at times. You see people walking down the street checking their phones oblivious to the world around them. Or how about those people sitting across from each other at a restaurant on their phone, completely absent from their potentially beneficial physical experience? The phenomenon has actually made driving less safe, in fact the CDC reports that 9 people are killed and 1,000 injured each day in the US involving a distracted driver, a growing number of which involve cell phone use. There is a very strong neurological case for why we feel so inclined to review and respond to each of these inbox/social media stimuli – a hit of dopamine. So that’s why our inbox is sacred ground, and we need to re-claim it. We can no longer blame OCD or some work obligation. We need to become present, and claiming your inbox is one way to get there.
Outlook and Android Here
Context is important, to clarify this is written by a Microsoft Outlook and Google Android guy. Many of our peers are using the latest iDevice and Google Apps. So your solution may need to be different from mine but philosophically and scientifically it could be the same.
The first step
When I read The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (with a shout out to the best local book store ever), I learned how wrong I was about a lot of things. Such as being great at multi-tasking. Or that an indicator of effective mental capacity was how much one could keep track of in their head. Or that being great at serving customers was about checking any new email frequently and responding quickly (still somewhat true, more on that later). This book forces you to own up to your shortcomings in the area of neuroscience, and to start to make changes to terrible habits that you had little understanding of the consequences of. Admitting that was the first step, some of the immediate goals after reading where to:
- Focus on single related tasks, humans are terrible at multi-tasking and changing from one activity to another frequently.
- Get as many things out of my head and stored in a logical and easy to access way.
- Limit stimulus that had a dopamine loop, distraction – dopamine – distraction – dopamine – distraction – dopamine.
Now that we know why, we will have to save much of the “how” for later, because it would be more of a series of blog posts. For now let’s focus on how your Email inbox became a key battleground for all three of these items.
The Inbox Battleground
There really is no place so sacred in a business persons life than perhaps their Email inbox. This is where so much critical correspondence enters and leaves your work activity stream. For most, the inbox is treated as a todo list. If something is there it probably means there is an action related to it that has yet to occur. The reality is, even with great effort to the contrary our inboxes are full of useless distraction. Most of it serves one purpose only – other than perhaps an unhealthy hit of dopamine, a priority for someone other than you. That might sound rash, but if you do not make an effort to claim your inbox as sacred ground, you will find that statement to be true. In fact Statista shows that even in 2017 where relatively good anti spam measures are in place, over 50% of Email is still spam. This is an improvement since a high of over 71% in 2014, but still a tremendous amount of useless messages. So to reclaim your inbox, the first priority needs to be ensuring that as many irrelevant or non critical messages are not there. This can be accomplished by taking the following steps:
- Ensure that your email provider offers great anti-spam service.
- Perform an Opt out frenzy
- Create folders and rules to sort messages to them based on organized criteria.
- Stay diligent, stay the course
- Constant Improvement
Now let’s see what it looks like to address those steps, one at a time, and work to reclaiming your inbox.
No-one should have a high tolerance for poor anti-spam filtering. If you’re serious about reclaiming your inbox, you need to be prepared to shop around for a new Email provider if necessary to address this. Speaking from experience both Google Apps/Gmail and Rackspace have quite good filtering. Your mileage may vary, and you may have something even better. Quality filtering involves two criteria:
- Little to no spam arriving in your inbox
- Extremely rare false positives
Many providers will have you thinking the above are difficult to impossible, do not accept that. If you have both of those criteria well at hand, you have a great anti-spam provider. Here are some additional things you can consider to improve this regardless. You should know how to or be prepared to:
- Consider a change, test out a new provider, see how they handle your messages, you can forward your old address to the new one and get an idea.
- White list your friends and any domains and Email addresses that you want to make sure you receive messages from.
- Black list any you discover that have nothing positive to offer and never will.
Hopefully you can get spam under control, if not then maybe you need a more intensive solution. Do not accept less, life is too short to waste away droning away sorting and deleting useless Emails. Having been in the IT industry for much of my career this has been paramount to effectively using Email in business.
Opt Out Frenzy
It seems obvious If you didn’t sign up for something or aren’t interested (or will never read it!), request to be removed or use the unsubscribe option. An alternative to unsubscribing is to black list the domain. It seems harsh but that is often the best way to go particularly if you feel the senders organization has nothing positive to offer. In some cases it is faster to just blacklist. Over time you will start to get a feel for which companies to make a legitimate attempt to reduce and which ones need the nuclear (welcome to my blacklist!) option.
Creating folders and rules
Given that we’ve established how your inbox is sacred, we need to simplify what that means. The simplest test is to aim to have only messages that require priority up to the minute responses, or require action within a relatively (to be determined by you) time frame. This can be a lot of messages for some people, if you’re one of them you may need an additional step beyond what is being discussed here, but this should be a step in the right direction. Here are some things to do to make your inbox more actionable and sacred, you should be prepared to and learn how to:
- Create folders that organize by topic
- Use rules/filters to move messages to topic folders or for messages you cannot manage with black lists or anti-spam
- Give your rules names that make sense, I use two major formats one is “Move items to (Folder Name) by Domain” and “Move items to (Folder Name) by sender
Topic Oriented Folders
Earlier we talked about how humans are terrible at multi-tasking. This means we work best when we work on similar tasks together and don’t jump around much. Obviously things of the utmost priority (hopefully only what is in your inbox) merit this kind of multi-tasking. You can’t exactly leave a critical request laying around for days while you wait for other similar requests. You can however leave lower priority items hidden away in your unread items, sorted by folders, for eventual efficient review and action at a time of YOUR choosing. You can set aside time to look at them when you’re mind is tired from doing your high quality work for the day, or for a time when you are focused on a certain topic area. In my case this is things like:
- Rotary (checked the day before the weekly meeting)
- Makers/IOT (later afternoons or during cleanups*)
- Manufacturing Industry Advocacy (during focus times while working on the Manufacturing Advocates Podcast or periodically during cleanups*)
- Social Networking, etc. (During time emphasized for the Podcast, Inbound Marketing, or during cleanups*)
*A cleanup is a time when you can go into the “Unread items” in Outlook and sort through messages sorted by their topic folders and often mark huge numbers of them read saving you hours of time wasted on low priorities. 🙂
All of these items have their time and place, but not when you are fresh and capable of your best work. That’s when your sacred ground is most sacred, reclaim it and perform at your top level for the things that matter most to you. In the next step we’ll review how to automatically get content into these folders so it bypasses your inbox.
Rules and Filters
In order to get messages into your topic oriented folders, you need to learn how rules work to automate this process. In Outlook, there are rules that allow you to use a wide range of criteria to accomplish this. These are some best practice tips for doing this:
- Update an existing rule whenever possible rather than adding a new one.
- Be prepared to use a separate rule to move back certain items that might match another rules criteria but should be in your inbox.
- Be clever and unafraid to learn, rules are extremely powerful, you may find uses for them that go well beyond what is talked about here.
Another bit of neuroscience to keep in mind is that it can take a while to form a habit but once you do it is difficult to undo. Use this to your advantage, form a habit of being diligent about performing the positive tasks related to the reclamation of your inbox. Embrace the dopamine your brain likes doing things that serve you, your family and your customers best. Don’t stop performing that simple test when you see something new in your inbox and decisively deal with it or save it for a time where you can handle a group of them together.
You’ve probably heard the saying at some point to the effect that if you’re not improving you’re declining. There are dozens of books written about this subject, but it is true. Anyone who has formed the positive habit of working to be the best they can be at their craft or role know this. It is doubtful that you are not one of these people, or you probably would never have gotten to this last paragraph of this article. Thank you for taking the time to read it, and you are likely to have something to add. Comment where you saw it shared or here on the blog. I love hearing from people interested in being the best at what they do. – Joe
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Last Friday night I sat down anxiously to read more of “The Organized Mind”. Fortunately I had a couple of hours before my usual bed time to gather more valuable lessons. This book is already shaping the way I organize my tasks and more importantly it is providing me with a reference on how our brains work.
After gathering my highlighter pen, book, some note cards and a regular pen I adjusted the lighting and oriented a comfortable chair to accommodate the magic of learning and inspiration that was about to happen. After reading a number of pages and highlighting some content, my eyelids started feeling a little heavy. This is not an uncommon, but on this night it was evident that the eyelids were winning and before long I succumbed to the call of an earlier bedtime.
My “Eureka!” Moment
To give things a little context, specifically weather related, there is a bit of a rain and wind storm that’s been going on the last two days here in Northern California. The conditions have affected my sleep with the winds being loud enough at times to wake me up. During one of these brief episodes early Saturday morning I started thinking about an article written by one of my manufacturing clients. The article was part of Christian Frueh‘s quality management series, specifically his third in that series “failing more often: gaining for randomness and volatility“. There was one concept in particular, the idea that being tested to the point of failure leading to improvement. My mind drifted a bit as I considered some real world areas where this concept would have a huge positive impact and instinctively had to get up and write about it. 🙂
Things You Want Tested While House Shopping
If you’ve followed this blog recently you probably know that last summer my family relocated to El Dorado Hills. We’ve been holed up in “temporary” accommodations since the end of the summer. The house shopping process has not gone exactly like we might had hoped. It’s been an educational process though, and we’ve had a few near hits. One thing is certain, testing things to the point of failure is extremely valuable as a house shopper.
The Beautiful Oak Tree
One fantastic thing about the Sierra Foothills is the amazing oak trees peppered across the rolling hills. From fall to late spring (early summer on a rainy year!) the lush green hills stun you with their beauty. One big oak tree in particular is an actual “feature” of a house that we have considered making an offer on. The tree is both a blessing and a potential curse. You see, this particular tree is quite old and majestic. If it were to be badly damaged or die the value of the property in our eyes would drop significantly.
Remember those high winds I mentioned? If that old oak survives those winds, it’s probably in pretty good shape. We’d certainly have an arborist check it out if we were putting an offer on that house. What the arborist could not tell us is what would happen to the tree in a heavy wind storm. Only knowing that it’s been through several in just the last few months can tell us that.
The Drainage Problem
El Dorado Hills appears to be a mix of iron rich soil and granite. The presence of rock does make one feel more comfortable about how stable the hills will be during heavy rains. In December we had some incredibly heavy rains, with several large storms back to back. The area shed the water off as if it was built to handle these types of storms.
One house that we had our eye on and showed a lot of potential for our needs had a sudden price decrease recently. Great news, right? We learned an inspection report had revealed a drainage issue, among other things. There was actually water under the house in at least one significantly sized area. Heavy rains are a great test of roofing materials, gutters, drainage and grading. Imagine if we had purchased this home last summer only to learn about this later? Yikes.
Forest and Wild Fires
Before humans started building houses and more specifically, had the ability to contain wild fires, the forests were far more healthy. Fires would clean out the under brush periodically and cull unhealthy trees leaving a fertile environment behind for new healthier trees and shrubs to grow. I remember flipping through “Fire in Sierra Nevada Forests: A Photographic Interpretation of Ecological Change Since 1849″ at a family members home and seeing a compelling visual history of this.
Many fires today are catastrophic, leaving nothing but charred earth and tiny charred stubs that were once fully grown trees. Our forests would benefit from more frequent failure and restoration of the more natural cycle. Last year the King Fire near Pollock Pines consumed 97,717 acres, 12 single residences, 69 other minor structures and caused 12 injuries. Here is a picture I took of the King Fire, from a very safe distance:
Frueh’s article gave me a lot to think about and as the brief bought of “Eureka!” moment insomnia indicates, hopefully this will have the same affect on you. Without the insomnia, of course.
Last year while transforming my business it became evident I was missing out on opportunities. Imagine having dozens of customers that you’ve never met, never been able to share meal with, learn about their kids, or even walk around their facilities and learn more about what makes them unique. The solution was a plan to hit the road to meet them and as a huge bonus be able to have family travel with me. In December of 2013 an appropriate RV was purchased that would make this possible. It wasn’t just any RV, after tirelessly determining all the features that would be involved the Newmar Canyon Star 3920 was selected. The Newmar 3920 is a big class A motor home with a garage that can be used as an office. The first big trip was a huge success, it was a bit of an adventure for my family and also connected me much more tightly with many of those remote clients. The visits also brought several significant sales that offset the costs of the trip! Woohoo!
Something Really Bad Happened
In the parking lot of the RV storage facility at the end of the trip, water was dripping from a spot where it shouldn’t. Luckily the slope in the parking lot tilted the RV enough for water to escape the membrane that lines the bottom of the coach.
As (bad) luck would have it, water had been leaking from the trap under the shower probably since it was purchased. It was a construction defect and the ramifications of it were huge. After seeking an RV Repair place with some good reviews (much harder than it sounds) we discovered Prairie City RV in Folsom, CA. They were the obvious choice for these issues because the owner actually cares about his customers! The owner Greg and his team found not only water infiltration but also mold, and lots of it.
This made me feel sick and appropriately concerned.
After looking at the damage closely with Greg and his team, I decided to request a replacement coach from Newmar. This would be a big ask, but in my mind due to no fault of mine the coach was in really bad shape. The amount of work involved to restore the coach to its previous state is staggering. For some reason I was still calm, and that’s when it hit me….
I was calm because I had chosen the right company, Newmar.
The Right Reputation
Everyone you talk to at this Newmar is helpful, they return calls, they tell you the process for requesting replacement, and they follow up with you when they say they will. Greg from Prairie City said the same thing, too. My storage place said similar good things. The dealership I bought it from said great things. Everyone seems to like Newmar, what a great reputation. Then I realized something, part of my due diligence had really paid off, a company with a great reputation for taking care of it’s customers and producing quality products was getting a chance to prove how great they are.
This hit me like a ton of soft, fuzzy movie prop bricks.
We all love companies that do things right, with enthusiasm, and who care about their customers. How often do we make purchase decisions because of it? There was a similar rig from a competitor that was about 15% cheaper than this one, did I make the right decision? The fuzzy bricks are saying yes, yes you did.
Reputation Builds Confidence, Action Leads to Trust
I trust Newmar, they have done nothing to erode that trust, and I am going to continue to believe in them as they have given me no reason to not trust them. Right now they are working with me to get the RV transported to their plant to get it repaired and also concurrently getting me information so I can make a formal request for a replacement. I am confident this will have a happy ending, and talk about a great reminder why we should place a high priority on quality of service, you can’t buy piece of mind when you find yourself in a situation like this one.
The Big Take Away
Next time you are considering who to do business with, I hope you will evaluate based on what will happen if things get really challenging. Remember it’s never fun, but you want to be shoulder to shoulder with the right people when it does.