Microsoft’s article is incorrect (probably by accident)
Microsoft explains how People You May Know suggestions are generated in this article. At the time of this writing (February 14, 2019), the article is incomplete. The article claims you or the contact must both take action to be visible to each other through People You May Know. For example, you must add each other in your address books. Or you must exchange an invite and acceptance.
The problem case exists, but is not listed here: if you have a mutual connection, then you’ll show up in each other’s People You May Know list. The mutual connection is someone who fits the you-both-take-action criteria.
So if Sam is connected to Ash, and Ash is connected to Stacy, then Sam and Stacy will show up in each others’ People You May Know list even though they’ve never taken any action with respect to each other.
Deleting Still Doesn’t Solve The Problem
I deleted all my contacts. Skype is still suggesting dozens of people. I don’t know any of them. As mentioned on Microsoft’s list above, Skype remembered my past connections and is still suggesting their people to me. I don’t know any of these suggested people, but now I know one of my prior contacts knows them.
This no longer works for strangers, thank goodness
When I first found this issue (Dec 2017), I created a new test account. Browsing a stranger’s profile was enough to get suggestions of people with the same last name who looked the same (presumably family members). As of today (Feb 2019), it seems like Microsoft has reined this in a bit … from my very brief testing, it seems you need a common contact to start the suggestion engine.
I still consider this a security problem, though not as bad as it was before.
You can only figure out the contacts of someone you are or have been connected with. You can’t do it to a complete stranger, you need to have one contact—invite, connection, or chat—with them first. This isn’t as big a hurdle as you might think.
Journalists still shouldn’t use Skype
Journalists beware! If you’re a journalist, using Skype can compromise your sources. JournalistChris interviews source LittleSnitch on Skype. If JournalistChris later interviews source MafiaDon, MafiaDon will have LittleSnitch suggested as a contact. After all, they both have you as a mutual contact. If MafiaDon knows about this bug, then MafiaDon may agree to Skype with you precisely to see if LittleSnitch then shows up on MafiaDon’s People You May Know list. You really don’t want MafiaDon knowing you’ve been talking with LittleSnitch.
Even with strangers, you can get some information. When you browse random profiles, Skype will tell you how many mutual contacts you have. If you only have a few contacts in Skype, you can guess with some certainty who the mutual contact is.
if MafiaDon did your interview and then immediately looked up LittleSnitch‘s profile, MafiaDon would see that they have one mutual connection—you. That might be enough to tip off MafiaDon that LittleSnitch has been talking to the press.
Lawyers and Consultants, you beware too
The problem I outline for consultants and lawyers in my article remains. If you’re BankruptcyLawyer and you chat with MicrosoftCEO, then later chat with LogitechCEO, LogitechCEO will start seeing MicrosoftCEO as a suggested contact. LogitechCEO might even Skype with you deliberately to see who else gets suggested after the chat.
Indeed, you can imagine someone doing this very deliberately. If EvilBoy seriously wants to do research they could do this:
EvilBoy creates a new skype account, live:innocent_journalist2
EvilBoy approaches BankruptcyLawyer and says “I’m a journalist. I wish to interview you for an article. Connect to me on Skype as live:innocent_journalist2”
EvilBoy interviews BankruptcyLawyer
Because BankruptcyLawyer is now the only contact in the live:innocent_journalist2 account, the People You May Know will suggest BankruptcyLawyer’s contacts to EvilBoy
Furthermore, EvilBoy can now look up anyone’s profile on Skype and see if they have a mutual contact. If so, they know that person is in BankruptcyLawyer’s addressbook
This requires a concerted effort on the part of EvilBoy, and it also requires that BankruptcyLawyer add EvilBoy as a contact, accept a connection request from EvilBoy, or chat with EvilBoy at least once.
This Can Still Be Awkward Personally
This is still a problem. Let’s say Ashley uses Skype to meet people for online dating. Ashley might answer personal ads and chat with Syd and Alex.Ashley probably doesn’t want Syd and Alex to start showing up in each other’s contact lists. That could be awkward, especially if one (or both) of the relationships goes farther than a Skype chat. It seems like the privacy problems here are pretty evident.
In summary: the hurdle has risen since I wrote that article. Instead of being able to reverse engineer a stranger’s address book, you can only reverse engineer someone you’re connected to or have chatted with. Once. EvilBoy can still use Skype to work mischief, but now it takes a bit more work. For some people, this may still be too much of a privacy breach from a product that was founded on the premise of confidentiality.
How ICOs and Cryptocurrencies Work for Entrepreneurs and Investors
With Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies all the rage, I was recently invited to participate in an ICO (an “initial coin offering”). Warren Buffett made his fortune by limiting his investments to businesses and investments he understood deeply. That seems sensible, so I’ve been delving into the ICO world to understand if it’s for real, if it’s a scam, or if it’s something genuinely new.
Much to my surprise, it doesn’t seem to be a complete scam. ICOs are a fund-raising play for a business. Coin-based entrepreneurship has aspects of equity, and aspects of … something new. It decouples the value of the organization from profit. If it’s sustainable, coin-based organizations could become a way to create markets whose bottom line is genuine societal value. The “triple-bottom line” could be an actual market reality. That’s exciting!!
Or, it could turn be unsustainable, and a fancy way for unskilled or unethical entrepreneurs to walk away with lots of investor cash and no obligation to do anything with it.
As you’ll read below, while the ICO mechanism has been invented in the context of crypto currencies, there’s no inherent reason that this has to be done with cryptography. The same structures could be put in place in the physical world, without needing to buy into blockchain or virtual currencies.
What I’ve Learned so Far About ICOs
Here’s my current understanding of “coins” and initial coin offerings (ICOs). While the concepts are being developed in the context of crypto currencies, as I mention below, they can be (and have been) implemented in ways that are totally independent of crypto, or even computers.
PLEASE CRITIQUE AND COMMENT! This understanding is about two or three hours old, so it’s my very first attempt to understand.
ICOs make a different bet than stock investments
The ICO model is fascinating. Instead of betting on the success of a company, as you would with a traditional corporation, you’re betting on the creation of a market. The entrepreneur is then pitching their ability to create a market for the coin, which can be done in many different ways, depending on the company issuing coins.
This means that an ICO has two cases to analyze. While a traditional startup only needs to make a business case, an ICO needs to make a case for the creation of the coin market, and a case for the success (however that’s defined) of the organization being funded with the ICO.
There must be a market-making mechanism
The entrepreneur needs to present a compelling case:
that their endeavor can create a market
that the market created makes sense (that there’s a reason want the coin)
that there’s a way coins are exchanged for dollars or other value that is valuable enough that people will want to trade the coins
The primary function of the business being financed with the ICO is to create a market for the coins, rather than to make an economic profit. For example, an organization issuing an ICO may not do anything on an ongoing basis, as long as they can kick-start the market for their coin.
(There’s no inherent reason that any of this has to involve blockchain or crypto, by the way. You could be issuing frequent flyer points that are tracked in a spreadsheet in an “IFFPO” and it would basically be the same thing.)
For example, an airline could simply rename their frequent flyer points as “coins” and sell a bunch of those coins rather than issuing stock. People would want the coins because they could be exchanged for flights. If the only way to fly were by paying in frequent flyer points, then the market for the points would be created by anyone who wants to travel by air. Frequent flyer points would then be convertible to and from dollars based on the price in coins the airline charges for a flight, and the overall market demand for air travel.
But the airline would not rise and fall based on its ability to generate a profit; it would rise and fall based on its ability to keep the market for FFCs boosted. It would then presumably pay its employees in FFCs, which they could convert to cash.
Coin-based financing may resemble ongoing equity financing
This scenario resembles a company that is financing itself on the strength of its equity, by selling stock to pay any ongoing expenses, rather than financing itself on its underlying business fundamentals.
For an airline, which needs to pay salaries and has high ongoing expenses, it probably wouldn’t work. But as Amazon shows, a company can consistently generate lackluster business results and have its “coins” (shares of AMZN stock) continue to be valued quite highly.
Coins can fund one-time projects as long as they create ongoing markets
The thing about coins is that the organization that did the ICO might not be an ongoing business at all, but a one-time fund raise, as long as it kick starts the market. For example, if the coins created are done so as the only currency that can be used to access some resource, like time on the Hubble telescope, then one organization can create the coins and the protocol that requires them, while completely separate organizations accept the coins and thus generate demand for them.
[One historical example that comes to mind is the currency of green stamps, which survived for decades but eventually failed. An ICO could be likened to an Initial Green Stamp Offering.]
Coins dilute … the market
Coins are like equity in that issuing additional coins dilutes the value of the coins already in circulation. The one ICO I’ve seen closely puts a cap on the number of coins that can ever be issued, to preserve the coin scarcity. That makes sense for an ICO that finances a one-time, transient organization. But if coins will be used, rather than profit, as an ongoing source of an organization’s funds, then having a hard cap on the number of coins will put a cap on the total amount the organization can raise over its lifetime.
In the social enterprise world, coins could be issued to finance social good, as long as there were some mechanism to drive the demand and market for the coins. Rather than having social enterprise rely on constant begging, a social enterprise could drive demand for their coins by striking agreements with businesses or other organizations to use the social coins as a currency. To fund a social enterprise for years on coins, however, would require a substantial initial ICO or the ability to keep issuing coins when funds are needed, so the coin used for the funding probably shouldn’t be capped.
It’s fascinating! And I have no idea how to value a coin, or whether this will prove to be sustainable in any meaningful way.
A quick public service announcement for anyone who uses Skype. Executives, VCs, journalists, researchers, and anyone who cares about the privacy of their contact list should read this.
I don’t usually post about computer security, but in this case, it seemed quite serious. It’s also the kind of thing we’re used to from Facebook and LinkedIn. But it could have very serious consequences, since people use Skype differently from those social platforms. People use social media with an expectation of public transparency, while many use Skype with an expectation of privacy.
As of a couple of days ago, the new Skype tells other people how many contacts you have in common. It also offers your contacts as potential new contacts to everyone else in your contact book. This is a surprisingly serious privacy breach.
This means if you use Skype for anything where your contact list is sensitive (conference calls with clients, planning a protest over the skyrocketing price of kitty litter, coordinating your monthly meeting of people relax by knitting exciting underwear), your contacts can quite possibly deduce who other contacts are. Furthermore, if they know about this new “feature,” they can make some smart deductions.
For example, you’re a mergers & acquisitions consultant. You are in talks with MergeMe, Inc. A prospect from WeMergeToo calls you. Immediately after you accept their contact request, they start seeing suggestions that they might know the MergeMe Inc CEO. They don’t, but they know they just connected to you —> they can quickly figure out MergeMe Inc is talking with you also.
I also just discovered I can look up a profile of someone I don’t know (they’re neither a contact nor a friend), log out and back in, and Skype will start suggesting their contacts to me as potential contacts of my own. (I can tell because those contacts have the same last name, physical resemblance, etc.) So this can be used by stalkers, bullies, harassers, and people who wish to research someone and learn who they know.
(This feature can be used for much more targeted research. I won’t go into details here. Suffice to say that you can get pretty specific.)
Microsoft’s support page says they’re considering changing this behavior someday. Of course, by that time, much damage will have been done.
I went through and deleted some of my contacts by hand this morning (it takes forever… in a triumph of “good for Microsoft, bad for the user” they make it super easy for you to give them your social graph, and super hard for you to take it back). Even deleted, Skype kept suggesting prior contacts to me. That suggests that they continue to keep that data — and probably call history and chat history as well — for use in “helpfully” building their social graph.
Important note: deleting your contact book isn’t enough. If your associates have you in their contact book, someone can still use the same mechanism to figure out the connection.
My reaction was to cancel my Skype account altogether. But because Microsoft cares so much about me, the best I can do is schedule it to be closed in 60 days. So for the next 60 days, like it or not, my contacts are going to continue to be exposed.
Also note Danida_U’s response from Microsoft: there’s no way to disable this short of opting out from being contactable at all. And no, there are no plans to remove the “feature.” They want to make it easier for friends and family to find you. My suggestion: if you want your friends and family to find you, tell them your Skype ID. Problem solved.
There are two ways to live your life: you can drive it, or be driven. Today, I’m not talking about driving your life in a grand, spiritual sense, but in a micro-sense.
You can never replace time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can never get it back. You have a limited supply (though with no fuel gauge, you don’t know how much you have left. And in every waking second, you get to choose your actions in that moment.
Friday was a passion day! Someone was wrong on the internet, and it was my Higher Purpose to make sure they knew it. Six hundred words into commenting on their status update, it hit me: I waste an unbelievable amount of time on Facebook. I log in 3-5 times a day, sometimes for as much as 20 minutes at time. Let’s be very optimistic and assume that it’s only 5 times a day, 6 minutes each time. That’s 30 minutes a day, or using the 3/30 rule, three weeks a year. On Facebook. And that’s being very optimistic.
Technology is making us reactive, rather than deliberative
Now make no mistake: Facebook is engineered quite deliberately to be addictive. If someone were to engineer a physical substance to be that addictive, we would outlaw the substance and throw them in jail. As it is, Facebook being a Silicon Valley success story, we celebrate it instead. But Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, iPhones, notifications—these have trained us to react rather than deliberate. And then, rather than living our own lives, we just become random Dopamine-driven reaction machines.
Where is life getting sacrificed
Many years ago, I wrote a lot! My article ideas file has about 300 ideas waiting to be turned into articles. It hasn’t been touched since Facebook came along. My free writing time has vanished into status updates, cat picture comments, and pointless political arguments that aren’t going to convince anyone of anything.
The toxic 2016 election discussions finally got to me this evening. My friend Tim has changed my Facebook password for me, and I’m going without until after the election is over. But I’m not abandoning writing. The time that would have gone into the Book of Face is now going to go into writing articles longer than 140 characters.
I’m very curious to experience the result. It may well be that my ideas begin to become articles. Perhaps I’ll try rock climbing. Or pursuing inventing. Or take a class. Or binge-watch Black Mirror. Whatever the decision, it will be deliberate, not reactive.
It’s your turn
Choose what to stop. Where are you spending your time out of habit or addiction, yet getting little joy from it? Does your time on social media give you enough joy to warrant the time? Are there hobbies that you’ve outgrown? Friends who have diverged? TV shows that just fill time?
Eliminate one. Just for a few weeks.
Start something better. Replace it with something that brings you joy, that moves your life forward. Maybe something old that would bring you joy to revisit. Or something new you’ve wanted to do but never gotten around to.
You do your experiment. I’ll do mine. And in a couple of weeks, let’s compare notes. We only have a limited amount of time on this planet, and it’s up to us to use it in ways that make our life somewhere we want to be.
iOS 9 marks the first iOS release where my thought has been a pretty consistent “Well, I guess Apple’s jumped the shark.” Most of the reviews I’ve read of iOS 9 have apparently been written by sycophantic Apple fanboys who don’t actually use their phones to do anything except take selfies and post to Facebook. I’m writing here from the perspective of someone who actually wants to use an iPhone as a tool. Sadly, things aren’t looking good.
In no particular order…
Low Battery Mode is a nice idea. It’s a single setting that does tweaks power things across the board when your battery is low. You can turn it on automatically (the low power dialog box now has an option to turn on low-power mode). Turning it back off later, however, requires navigating surprisingly deeply into Settings. The UI for the feature seems poorly thought-out. (Which, sadly, seems to be increasingly common in Apple products these days.)
The “return to last app” link is pretty convenient, but it’s uglier than I would have imagined possible in such a small UI element. The text has different size and baseline from the other text in the status bar, and it’s too close to the “back” arrow. If you have “Show button shapes” turned on (which I do), the underline merges into the letter. In short, it’s so ugly that every time I see it, I cringe involuntarily and think that somehow my phone must have glitched and displayed garbage on the screen. It’s a testimony to the aesthetic consistency (note: I didn’t say “beauty,” I said “consistency”) of the rest of the interface that such a minor element can look so atrocious because it violates so many design principles in so few pixels.
More bad UI (this is from iOS 8, but it’s still broken): Mail’s swipe actions still put “TRASH” on the same swipe gesture as “FLAG” or “MARK UNREAD” (depending on how you have configured your settings). This means the two most extreme, opposite options (“keep this and mark it important” and “delete this”) use the same gesture, differing only by a completely unpredictable combination of swipe distance and speed of swipe. This may go down in my book as one of the all-time worst UI decisions ever made in iOS, and iOS 9 doesn’t address it at all.
Greater battery life. I haven’t noticed, but as a big Apple fan since the original Macintosh, I have to say something positive, so I’ll pretend that the claim is true without verifying it. I think battery life has been extended, but it’s still not enough to give me a full day’s use.
The new app switcher interface is interesting in a vaguely positive way. In iOS 8, previously viewed apps were to the right in the task list. In iOS 9, they’re to the left, and they are full screen. I’m getting used to it, and it’s nice to be able to see the full screen view of what was happening in the app.
Spotlight sometimes fails to look up contacts. Spotlight on iOS used to search my contacts. I could swipe down, type the first few letters of someone’s name, and a tap would take me to their contact record. My business involves a lot of phone calling, and this was my #1 way to find a contact. From everything I’ve been able to determine, this randomly fails in iOS 9 about 20% of the time, and Spotlight doesn’t list matching contacts. So the only reliable way to look up a contact on iOS 9 has been to go into the Contacts app, scroll up, and type into the search box. And speaking of Spotlight and Siri… [Update: turning off Spotlight and turning it back on seemed to fix the problem about half an hour later. Maybe there was an indexing glitch or timing thing that made/makes my contacts vanish from Spotlight?]
“Smart” Siri guesses wrong, and recovering from her wrong guess is a lot of work. They’ve substituted “smart Siri” for the favorites” and “recents” that used to appear in the task switcher along the top. Since “smart” anything is almost guaranteed to give you the wrong answer 80% of the time, this is yet another big loss. My job is conducted on the phone, and “Favorites” an “Recents” were quite useful. Smart Siri only shows 4 choices, and it tries to figure out who I want to call, and it’s wrong.
If the theory is Siri should be “smart” to save me effort, then they need to consider what happens when Siri’s smarts turn out to be stupid. The failure mode of Siri guessing wrong is MUCH more work than “smart” Siri saves in the first place. I really would love a return to the iOS 8 model. (That’s why “favorites” exist! Because I know I want to contact those people often. Replacing my “favorites” with “smart” guesses is kinda weird.)
Maps now has transit direction! … not! Despite acquiring HopSpot, which does have transit directions, Apple didn’t bother including transit directions for much beyond San Francisco and New York. If you’re a pampered techie living in San Francisco, blissfully unaware that the rest of the country exist, I’m sure this looks like a big win. From the outside, it looks like a half-baked, duct-taped partial integration of functionality that’s already several years late coming to market. Apple has $203 billion in cash, and now we know why: because they sure as heck aren’t using any of it on software development.
Smarter web-enabled spotlight is ho-hum. I’m not sure who these people are who are continually going to new neighborhoods and cities and needing to know where the local eating spots are, but I pretty much know the neighborhoods where I spend 90% of my time. These relentless offers to show me ads from local businesses or help me find places to eat are ubiquitous and annoying, rather than useful.
Reminders now lets you move reminders between lists! Yay! But inexplicably, there’s still no way to delete completed reminders en masse. You have to swipe them one at a time. Since I have several hundred completed reminders, the swipe interface is not very useful.
Notes is better, but you can’t use the better-ness. As they did with iCloud in the Mavericks upgrade, Apple has implemented lots of new features in Notes in a way that is so incompatible with collaboration that it makes your head spin. In short, you can use all these great new features, but only if all your machines (including your desktops) are running iOS 9 and the next version of OS X (which isn’t out yet). If your notes are in a shared account with someone else, presumably they need to be upgraded too.
The problem with his scheme is that not everyone has the luxury of controlling the upgrade timing of all their devices. So it’s possible to end up with some devices upgraded and some not (or never, if the device in question can’t handle the new version of the OS), ruining sync ability without providing useful new functionality in its place.
This is not an impossible problem to solve, it just requires some thought and careful architecture. I’m sad that no one at Apple bothered to think this through.
Keyboard fail: they removed the double-tap-with-2-fingers-to-select-paragraph gesture. Since I used that very often, its removal has tanked my ability to compose and edit text quickly.
Ad blockers don’t work on iPhone 5. It says “not compatible with your device.”
Random major crashes. every now and then, with no warning, the phone simply freezes and requires a power-button-and-menu-button reboot to become responsive again.
On balance, the differences that I’ve noticed as a user, trying to get my work done, are mainly negative. The few positives are subtle enough that they don’t really do much to optimize my workflow. And removing the select-Paragraph gesture actively adds delays to any writing-oriented task I do on my iDevice.
Other than the features listed above, I’m having a hard time telling the difference between iOS 9 and its predecessors.
Underwhelming new features, and an explicit step backwards in many places.
From Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge October 25, 2004
Being at or near the the top of your organization, everyone wants a piece of you. So they send you e-mail. It makes you feel important. Don’t you love it? Really? Then, please take some of mine! Over 100 real e-mails come in each day. At three minutes apiece, it will take five hours just to read and respond. Let’s not even think about the messages that take six minutes of work to deal with. Shudder. I’m buried in e-mail and chances are, you’re not far behind. For whatever reason, everyone feels compelled to keep you "in the loop."
Fortunately, being buried alive under electronic missives forced me to develop coping strategies. Let me share some of the nonobvious ones with you. Together, maybe we can start a revolution.
The problem is that readers now bear the burden Before e-mail, senders shouldered the burden of mail. Writing, stamping, and mailing a letter was a lot of work. Plus, each new addressee meant more postage, so we thought hard about whom to send things to. (Is it worth spending thirty-two cents for Loren to read this letter? Nah….)
E-mail bludgeoned that system in no time. With free sending to an infinite number of people now a reality, every little thought and impulse becomes instant communication. Our most pathetic meanderings become deep thoughts that we happily blast to six dozen colleagues who surely can’t wait. On the receiving end, we collect these gems of wisdom from the dozens around us. The result: Inbox overload.
("But my incoming e-mail is important," you cry. Don’t fool yourself. Time how long you spend at your inbox. Multiply by your per-minute wage(*) to find out just how much money you spend on e-mail. If you can justify that expense, far out—you’re one of the lucky ones. But for many, incoming e-mail is a money suck. Bonus challenge: do this calculation companywide.)
(*) Divide your yearly salary by 120,000 to get your per-minute wage.
Taming e-mail means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on themselves.
How you can send better e-mail What’s the best way to train everyone around you to better e-mail habits? You guessed it: You go first. First, you say, "In order for me to make you more productive, I’m going to adopt this new policy to lighten your load…" Demonstrate a policy for a month, and if people like it, ask them to start doing it too.
Use a subject line to summarize, not describe.
People scan their inbox by subject. Make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it’s relevant. The best way to do this is to summarize your message in your subject.
Subject: Deadline discussion
Subject: Recommend we ship product April 25th
Give your reader full context at the start of your message.
Too many messages forwarded to you start with an answer—"Yes! I agree. Apples are definitely the answer"—without offering context. We must read seven included messages, notice that we were copied, and try to figure out what apples are the answer to. Even worse, we don’t really know if we should care. Oops! We just noticed there are ten messages about apples. One of the others says "Apples are definitely not the answer." And another says, "Didn’t you get my message about apples?" But which message was sent first? And which was in response to which? ARGH!
It’s very, very difficult to get to the core of the issue.
You’re probably sending e-mail because you’re deep in thought about something. Your reader is too, only they’re deep in thought about something else. Even worse, in a multi-person conversation, messages and replies may arrive out of order. And no, it doesn’t help to include the entire past conversation when you reply; it’s rude to force someone else to wade through ten screens of messages because you’re too lazy to give them context. So, start off your messages with enough context to orient your reader.
To: Billy Franklin From: Robert Payne Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive
Yes, apples are definitely the answer.
To: Billy Franklin From: Robert Payne Subject: Re: Re: Re: Please bring contributions to the charity drive.
You asked if we want apple pie. Yes, apples are definitely the answer.
When you copy lots of people (a heinous practice that should be used sparingly), mark out why each person should care.
Just because you send a message to six poor coworkers doesn’t mean all six know what to do when they get it. Ask yourself why you’re sending to each recipient, and let them know at the start of the message what they should do with it. Big surprise, this also forces you to consider why you’re including each person.
To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella Subject: Web site design draft is done
The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.
To: Abby Gail, Bill Fold, Cindy Rella Subject: Web site design draft is done
AG: DECISION NEEDED. Get marketing to approve the draft
BF: PLEASE VERIFY. Does the slogan capture our branding?
CR: FYI, if we need a redesign, your project will slip.
The Web site draft is done. Check it out in the attached file. The design firm will need our responses by the end of the week.
Use separate messages rather than bcc (blind carbon copy).
If you bcc someone "just to be safe," think again. Ask yourself what you want the "copied" person to know, and send a separate message if needed.Yes, it’s more work for you, but if we all do it, it’s less overload.
To: Fred Bcc: Chris
Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.
Please attend the conference today at 2:00 p.m.
Please reserve the conference room for me and Fred today at 2:00 p.m.
Make action requests clear.
If you want things to get done, say so. Clearly. There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than getting copied on an e-mail and finding out three weeks later that someone expected you to pick up the project and run with it. Summarize action items at the end of a message so everyone can read them at one glance.
Separate topics into separate e-mails … up to a point.
If someone sends a message addressing a dozen topics, some of which you can respond to now and some of which you can’t, send a dozen responses—one for each topic. That way, each thread can proceed unencumbered by the others.
Do this when mixing controversy with mundania. That way, the mundane topics can be taken care of quietly, while the flame wars can happen separately.
BAD MIXING OF ITEMS:
GOOD MIXING OF ITEMS:
We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.
Speaking of which, I was thinking … do you think we should fire Sandy?
Message #1: We need to gather all the articles by February 1st.
Message #2: Sandy’s missed a lot of deadlines recently. Do you think termination is in order?
Combine separate points into one message.
Sometimes the problem is the opposite—sending 500 tiny messages a day will overload someone, even if the intent is to reduce this by creating separate threads. If you are holding a dozen open conversations with one person, the slowness of typing is probably substantial overhead. Jot down all your main points on a piece of (gasp) paper, pick up the phone, and call the person to discuss those points. I guarantee you’ll save a ton of time.
Edit forwarded messages.
For goodness sake, if someone sends you a message, don’t forward it along without editing it. Make it appropriate for the ultimate recipient and make sure it doesn’t get the original sender in trouble.
Sue’s idea, described below, is great.
Let’s take the new design and add sparkles around the border. Bill probably won’t mind; his design sense is so garish he’ll approve anything.
Sue’s idea, described below, is great.
Let’s take the new design and add sparkles around the border…
When scheduling a call or conference, include the topic in the invitation. It helps people prioritize and manage their calendar more effectively.
Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.
Subject: Conference call Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to review demo presentation.
Make your e-mail one page or less.
Make sure the meat of your e-mail is visible in the preview pane of your recipient’s mailer. That means the first two paragraphs should have the meat. Many people never read past the first screen, and very few read past the third.
Understand how people prefer to be reached, and how quickly they respond.
Some people are so buried under e-mail that they can’t reply quickly. If something is important, use the phone or make a follow-up phone call. Do it politely; a delay may not be personal. It might be that someone’s overloaded. If you have time-sensitive information, don’t assume people have read the e-mail you sent three hours ago rescheduling the meeting that takes place in five minutes. Pick up the phone and call.
How to read and receive e-mail
Setting a good example only goes so far. You also have to train others explicitly. Explain to them that you’re putting some systems in place to help you manage your e-mail overload. Ask for their help, and know that they’re secretly envying your strength of character.
Check e-mail at defined times each day.
We hate telemarketers during dinner, so why do we tolerate e-mail when we’re trying to get something useful done? Turn off your e-mail "autocheck" and only check e-mail two or three times a day, by hand. Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, e-mail isn’t the way. When it’s e-mail processing time, however, shut the office door, turn off the phone, and blast through the messages.
Use a paper "response list" to triage messages before you do any follow-up.
The solution to e-mail overload is pencil and paper? Who knew? Grab a legal pad and label it "Response list." Run through your incoming e-mails. For each, note on the paper what you have to do or whom you have to call. Resist the temptation to respond immediately. If there’s important reference information in the e-mail, drag it to your Reference folder. Otherwise, delete it. Zip down your entire list of e-mails to generate your response list. Then, zip down your response list and actually do the follow-up.
Charge people for sending you messages.
One CEO I’ve worked with charges staff members five dollars from their budget for each e-mail she receives. Amazingly, her overload has gone down, the relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too, because the added thought often results in them solving more problems on their own.
Train people to be relevant.
If you are constantly copied on things, begin replying to e-mails that aren’t relevant with the single word: "Relevant?" Of course, you explain that this is a favor to them. Now, they can learn what is and isn’t relevant to you. Beforehand, tell them the goal is to calibrate relevance, not to criticize or put them down and encourage them to send you relevancy challenges as well. Pretty soon, you’ll be so well trained you’ll be positively productive!
When someone sends you a ten page missive, reply with three words. "Yup, great idea." You’ll quickly train people not to expect huge answers from you, and you can then proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever format works best for you. If your e-mail volume starts getting very high, you’ll have no choice.
Send out delayed responses.
Type your response directly, but schedule it to be sent out in a few days. This works great for conversations that are nice but not terribly urgent. By inserting a delay in each go-around, you both get to breathe easier.
(In Outlook, choose Options when composing a message and select Do not deliver before. In Eudora, hold down the Shift key as you click Send.)
Yes, ignore e-mail. If something’s important, you’ll hear about it again. Trust me. And people will gradually be trained to pick up the phone or drop by if they have something to say. After all, if it’s not important enough for them to tear their gaze away from the hypnotic world of Microsoft Windows, it’s certainly not important enough for you to take the time to read.
Your only solution is to take action
Yeah, yeah, you have a million reasons why these ideas can never work in your workplace. Hogwash. I use every one of them and can bring at least a semblance of order to my inbox. So choose a technique and start applying it. While you practice, I’ll be on vacation, accumulating a 2,000 message backlog for when I get home. If you want to know how well I cope, just send along an e-mail and ask….
Stever has helped me to prioritize, manage my department, manage my boss (the CEO) and harness the power of co-workers to help me achieve both individual and departmental goals. And he understands how to help one have a personal life in addition to work; he’s terrific!
— Liz Kellison, Senior Vice President, University Access, Inc.