Category Archives: Productivity

Productivity

Email sign-offs – are they important?

Productivity_July22_CWhile email is without a doubt one of the most useful communication tools out there, it can be challenging to master. Sure, you probably write many a day, but because emails lack face-to-face communication, it’s easy for these messages to be read the wrong way, literally. One of the most troublesome areas people have is with the sign-off. Have you ever struggled with choosing the right words and deciding which is the most appropriate way to end your message?

When it comes to signing off in an email, you could use the same words over and over again but, it may not be correct for certain situations. A client who has made a complaint in an email, for example, may not appreciate an informal ‘Cheers’. This will likely come across as highly unprofessional.

So, what makes a good sign-off?
If you pause to think about it for a minute, you probably use only a few sign-offs again and again. While there is no major problem with this, you might be sending out the wrong message. The key to a good sign-off actually depends on a number of things:

  1. The reason for emailing - why are you replying, or emailing the recipient? For example, if you are sending a rejection letter, the sign off might be different than that of an acceptance letter.
  2. The tone - The sign-off denotes the tone of an email and can make the recipient view the whole content in a certain way. For example, ‘Cheers’ is perfectly ok in a personal email with good news but not when emailing a stranger on a business level.
  3. The salutation/greeting - In business writing, there is a generally accepted rule that the greeting used dictates the sign-off you would use. So a formal start demands a formal finish.

To make things a little easier, here are six of the most popular sign-offs and when they should be used, and where possible the greeting they should be used with.

  • Cheers - This is usually used to end friendly emails, usually among friends or colleagues. Most people will use this when they start an email with a friendly greeting like ‘Hey’. You can generally use this with people you know, but it be used with people/customers you don’t know well or where the email content is serious, or requires some gravitas.
  • Best - This is short for ‘Best Regards’, and can be used in a wide variety of situations. For the most part, it conveys a sense of friendliness and professionalism and is best used when you are replying/emailing people you know, but not necessarily that well. This is best used when you have started an email with ‘Hello’, or a neutral greeting.
  • Regards - This is probably the most divisive sign-off used. Some argue that it conveys a strictly professional manner and is ideal for professional sounding emails, while others argue that this has a slightly cold edge. You are probably better off avoiding using just ‘Regards’, and opting for the slightly more formal, yet friendlier, ‘Best Regards’. You can also use this friendly sign-off if you are emailing someone who you don’t know.
  • Sincerely - This is among the most commonly used sign-off by professionals. It is deliberate, concise and best for people who know what they are doing. If you are writing a formal email, or to a recipient you have not met yet, it is probably best to use this sign-off. Originally, in the days of actual letter writing, business English denotes that ‘Sincerely/Yours Sincerely” should be used when starting a letter with ‘Mr/Mrs’, whilst ‘Faithfully/Yours Faithfully” is used when correspondence starts with ‘Dear Sir’.
  • No sign-off - A growing number of professionals include no sign off at all. They just simply end an email, although some may include their name. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as you know the person you are sending the email to and if this is a non-sales/marketing related email. Often if you are sending a volley of emails back and forth, there is no need for a beginning or ending but simply write the body of the email. A good rule of thumb is to follow someone’s lead.
  • Thanks - This sign-off is probably one of the most popular and used by nearly everyone. It conveys a friendly and polite tone without being too formal. This can be used with nearly every greeting and is especially great for emails where you are asking the recipient to do something.

What message does the way you use technology convey to other people? Do you need to make the most of email communication? Get in touch and we’re sure to get back to you with just the right message.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

5 ergonomic tips for your desk

Productivity_June26_CRegardless of the fast pace of technology or perhaps because of it, we are spending an ever increasing amount of time in the office, at our desks. While this has its upsides, with multi-functioning workspaces, there are downsides that could pose serious risks to not only your productivity but your health. In order to stave off potential health risks that come with sitting all day, it is a good idea to look into the ergonomics of your desk, and whether any improvements can be made.

Here are five ways you can make your desk more ergonomic:

1. Don’t use the keyboard feet
Many keyboards have feet at the top which can be used to move the top of the keyboard up. The reason for this isn’t actually for improved ergonomics, but to make the keys easier to see. If you type with two-fingers, this is effective, but if you are a touch typist, keeping the feet deployed could actually cause strain on your wrists. It’s best to keep the feet folded, and your keyboard as flat as possible.

2. Focus on the location of the B key
In order to reduce muscle, wrist and elbow strain, it’s important that you position your keyboard and mouse correctly. While you are sitting at your desk, you should make an effort to line up the B key with the center of the desk, or directly in front of you if you don’t sit at the center of your desk.

What this does is ensure that your wrists rest in a more natural, and comfortable position. You should also keep your mouse on the same level as the keyboard, and in close proximity. Basically you should move horizontally, not vertically.

3. Adjust the height of your seat and monitors
The height of your seat is vital as the ideal seat height will allow you to sit with your feet flat on the floor, and your arms are at the same height as the desk, or where your keyboard and mouse are.

While you are at it, you should also adjust the height of your monitor. While seated at your desk, you should be looking at the upper 2-3 inches of your monitor. If you find yourself looking at the bottom of the screen, it is a good idea to try and lower your monitor a little, or practice a better posture.

4. Practice good posture
When spending long hours at a desk, it can be tempting to slouch into your chair. While it definitely feels comfortable, it’s not the best for our bodies. The optimal posture is one where your feet are flat on the floor with your heels slightly in front of your kneecaps, back straight, with elbows close to your body and arms at the same height as the desk.

While sitting at your desk, it’s a good idea to maintain this posture, but relax your back and neck muscles. If they are tense, you are putting pressure on various nerves which could cause more problems. For example, the ulnar nerve, which is the main nerve of the arm, runs up through the neck. Having a tense neck could put strain on this and lead to increased chances of a repetitive strain injury.

5. Keep important things within reach
If you find yourself always reaching for something that is just out of your grasp, you could be putting undue strain on your body. You should take a step back and think about what you use the most, then move this within reach. This will reduce strain in the long run, and make you more efficient.

Having an ergonomic desk likely won’t make you noticeably massively more productive, but it will make you productive in the long run, because it can minimize the risk of injury which can take you away from your work. If you are looking into making your workspace more ergonomic-friendly, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Four apps to help boost productivity

Productivity_May29_CProductivity is without a doubt one of the more popular technology buzzwords nowadays. Business owners, managers and employees all seem to be striving to increase their productivity but may not know the best way to go about doing so. One way could be leveraging technology, more specifically, apps, to help improve efficiency.

Here are four productivity apps that could help make you more efficient.

1. Doodle

A common hindrance to productivity are meetings. Everyone has to take time out of their day to attend, and it can be even harder to schedule a time to actually meet, especially when your colleagues are so busy. Doodle is an app that helps users find a time and date to meet.

It works by the meeting leader setting a number of dates and times for a potential meeting. Doodle then creates a calendar with these times and dates, allowing users to click on. The app aggregates the feedback and then suggests a time and date that works for all invitees.

The Doodle app also integrates with Outlook, Google Calendar, Yahoo and iCal, which means you can schedule meetings and send invites directly from the calendar. The basic app is free, but you can also sign up for the Premium version which gives you more functionality, such as being able to send reminders and mobile support. Click here to learn more.

2. Any.do

As a business owner or manager, you are likely busy and have a never ending to-do list which may get out of hand from time-to-time. Any.do is a beautifully designed and simple to use task manager for your mobile device and Web browser. When you enter a task on your mobile device it will seamlessly sync with other versions, meaning lists will be the same wherever you view them.

An interesting feature that sets this app apart from many similar apps is that you can share lists and tasks with people to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what needs to be done today, tomorrow or later. It’s free and available for most browsers, Apple and Android devices. Visit the Any.do website to learn more and download.

3. Due

Sometimes being productive means you actually have to be proactive. You may need a little nudge or reminder to get an email written, or file your tax return if you can’t ever seem to find the motivation, best time to start, or even to remember.

Due is an app for the iPhone whereby you set reminders for yourself. A flashing a message on your screen acts as a reminder and continues to alert until you have completed the task and marked it as such in the app. It could be annoying, but just the right prompt you need to get important tasks started. You can download the app from iTunes for USD$4.99

4. HootSuite

There’s a good chance that you, or someone you work closely with, spends a seemingly inordinate amount of time each day on social media. Maybe it’s maintaining your company’s profile or finding interesting content and physically posting this. If you have more than one social media account this could prove unproductive.

HootSuite is a social media dashboard that brings all of your social media platforms into one app. You can schedule posts for all of your networks at once, and easily view each service from one screen. This cuts down the amount of time you spend on social media and allows you to focus on running your business. The app is free for up to five social media accounts and one user, and USD$8.99 a month for the Pro version. Check out the HootSuite website, to learn more.

There are countless apps available that can help improve your productivity, or at the very least make you work in a more efficient manner. What are your favorites? Let us know.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

5 ways to manage your inbox

Productivity_May02_CIt’s safe to say that email has become the primary communication tool for businesses all over the world. Its instant nature has also made communication infinitely easier. Despite all of the benefits of email, there are some drawbacks, with the sheer amount of emails we get on a daily basis being the biggest of them. If you inbox is a little unruly, there are steps you can take to reign it in.

Here are five tips on how you can better manage your inbox.

1. Address last
Most people start an email by typing in the address of the recipient(s). While there is nothing wrong with this practice, it can lead to emails being sent before they are finished, which could mean more emails in your inbox asking for clarifications or you having to send a correction email.

To stop this, try writing the body of the email first and when you have finished, put the addresses of the recipients.

2. Merge social with email
Sometimes it can be hard to know who you are writing or replying to in your email. Using an app like Rapportive, which brings social information into Gmail can help. This app puts a bar to the right-side of an email with information about the sender, including their social profiles, recent tweets and even links to their LinkedIn profile. You can look up your recipients and connect with them directly from the email.

3. Use links, not attachments
With the increasing number of cloud storage and productivity apps like Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive which allow you to share files by sending people links, there’s no need to attach files to an email. This is incredibly useful if you find yourself sending document versions back and forth on a regular basis and struggle to keep everything up to date.

These services use one version of the document that users you share it with have access to. Everyone sees the same document, which will cut down on the number of emails and confusion when it comes to version control of important documents.

4. Don’t use email for everything
Email is so quick and easy that we tend to rely on it for everything. However, there are certain situations when email is not the best form of communication. For example, if you have a tough problem, need to reprimand an employee, etc. it would not be a good idea to do so in email, it’s just too impersonal.

As a rule of thumb: If there’s any chance of human emotions entering into a response or being affected by an email, it may be a better idea to communicate face-to-face.

5. Cook all your bacn at once
Bacn (pronounced Bacon) is solicited email; email you want, just not right now. Social media updates, newsletters, website update notifications, etc. are all forms of bacn. Checking these takes time and can be a distraction if you have work to get done. It would be a good idea to schedule a set amount of time where you focus on reading, deleting or archiving these emails.

Alternatively, you can unsubscribe from these alerts or set up a new email account that is just for this type of emails.

There are thousands of things you can do to make your email easier to manage. What do you do? Let us know. If you are looking for even more ways to manage your inbox, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Six tips to writing better emails

Productivity_April03_CThink back to the last time you received an important email, only to be confused or unsure of what exactly the sender wanted. Emails like these have become near commonplace, and can negatively influence our productivity. There are a number of things you can do to mitigate this however, the most important revolves around writing good emails.

Here’s six tips that can help ensure that the emails you send get your message across. By writing quality emails, you could see your productivity increase as you will have more time to do your work instead of clarifying sloppy emails.

1. Have a clear decision or action
99% of the emails you send are to ask someone to take an action, make a decision, reply etc. So, before you write any email pause for a minute and ask yourself: Why am I writing this and what do I want the recipient to do with this email?

If you can’t provide a clear answer to these two questions, you may want to try contacting the recipient through another medium, or take some time to think and come up with an answer.

2. Write it backwards
Once you know why you are writing your email, the actual writing becomes a lot easier. Because you will most likely be asking the recipient to do something, why not start with the request. Simply write down, in clear English, what you want done.

It’s important to be as clear and direct as possible to avoid any confusion and potential follow up emails that will distract you. Once you have stated what you want, then you can provide justification to your request, or background information.

The reason this works is because many business owners/managers/employees are busy, they don’t have time to read a whole report’s worth of information that ends with a request. Most of the time they will just skip to the end anyways, so why not put the most important part – the action that you want them to take – at the beginning.

3. Use lists
Many poorly written emails aren’t actually poorly written. They are just formatted in an inefficient manner. In most English classes, students are taught to develop their ideas or arguments through logical paragraphs, while having only one point to each paragraph.
Pause for a minute and think: If you get an email asking you to make a decision on what product to buy with five paragraphs each talking about a benefit or reason, would you actually read the whole email? Chances are the answer is no.

To be more efficient, break your ideas/reasons/arguments into a list. You can usually summarize the majority of main ideas of each paragraph into a single sentence. This makes them easier for you and the recipient to read.

4. KISS
We don’t mean you should kiss your monitor. In this context, KISS stands for Keep It Simple and Straightforward. You shouldn’t have long essays or arguments with lots of padding. Get to the point immediately and provide the essential information.

If you find yourself writing an essay or long report, email is not the medium you should be using. Instead put your thoughts into a word document that you attach to the email. In the email itself put a brief overview along with the most important points and tell your recipient to check the attachment for more information.

5. Have a relevant subject line
The subject of your email is like the title of a report or news article. Without a solid subject, the chances of your email being opened and read are low. It would be a good idea to write your whole email first, then the subject.

A good subject line can A) Interest the recipient enough to get them to open it and B) Provide enough insight so the reader can infer what you want. If you look over a subject line of an email you are about to send and see that it doesn’t make sense or reference the email itself, it would be a good idea to re-write it.

6. Proofread everything
This may make sense now, but we are all guilty of writing an email and pressing send without reading the content over. Once you hit send, the damage is done, you won’t be able to get the email back. That’s why it’s a good idea to read over your email after you finish.

You should look for any obvious spelling and grammar errors along with ensuring that the content makes sense. If you think it’s ok, then you can probably go ahead and send it. If you are the least bit hesitant, walk away from it for a few minutes then come back and read over it again. You will likely be able to see a couple of changes.

There are many options at your disposal that allow you to enhance your and your company’s productivity. Contact us today to see how our systems can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Are remote workers productive?

Productivity_March06_CTechnology has reached a point where you don’t necessarily have to be in the office in order to work. Many companies have remote employees and have had success with this idea. With the right hires, and defined roles, many telecommuters are just as productive as their office-bound contemporaries. However, one big company doesn’t agree.

In late February, an internal memo from Yahoo was leaked. The memo contained a statement indicating that all remote and telecommuting employees will lose their jobs if they continue to work from home after June 2013.

To many in the tech industry, and indeed others who work successfully with remote employees, this might seem like a giant step backwards. There has been a fair amount of backlash on this decision from news outlets, tech experts and employees alike, especially since working from home has proven to increase productivity among certain employees.

According to the memo, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” The two key points here are ‘collaboration’ and ‘communication’. If these are both executed successfully, you have generally productive employees and increased profits.

On the other hand, technology is at a point where employees can log in to their work systems from anywhere. Combine this with video conferencing and cloud solutions such as Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365, which allow real-time collaboration, face-time in an office could be seen as somewhat of a redundant idea. If remote working is executed efficiently, you might save money, see productivity increase more than it might in a physically present team, and profits potentially rise too.

It’s certainly an interesting debate. Does physical face-time or telecommuting equal greater productivity? What we can say, is that it depends on the company and the industry to a large extent. Obviously, restaurants couldn’t operate using remote employees. But, if your business can support it, this may be a viable way to boost productivity, keep employees happy and cut expensive overhead costs such as rents for office premises.

We’d like to hear that you think. Would you rather work from home, or do you benefit from the structure and face-to-face dealings in an office? Where and when are you most productive?

We’d love to get your feedback. Let us know what your opinion is.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Productivity key to work-life balance

While being an entrepreneur can be a rewarding experience, it’s also a time consuming one. Work-life balance to many business owners is non-existent because they spend all of their time focusing on so many different aspects of their business. An entrepreneur’s attention is often pulled in 100 different directions at once, which often leads to poor productivity and a non existent work-life balance. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are three tips to help small business owners or managers be more productive and from that achieve a more desirable work-life balance.

Learn how you spend your time
To be productive, you need to know how you spend your time. The easiest way to do this is to keep a log, or journal, of what you do each day. You should include everything you do in relation to work, including: travel time, Facebook breaks, time spent checking emails, meetings, etc.

The goal here is twofold. Firstly, you get a solid glimpse of how you spend each day; secondly, you can see if there is anything you do that takes up way too much time. Some experts suggest you do this for a week at least. To get the best results though, it would be better to do this for at least two weeks to a month.

There are a number of different ways you can go about journaling your activities. For the old-fashioned among us, go buy a day-timer that has at least one page per each day. For the more technical, your email programs like Outlook or Gmail have powerful calendars that you can record activities on. For the mobile crowd, mobile versions of Outlook, Google Calendar or even your phone’s native calendar app will work great.

When you have your day timer/calendar app, it’s time to start recording your activities. Record when you start one, and when you finish. From there, clearly label the activity. Over a few weeks, or even days, you will begin to see a clear picture of how you spend your time.

Plan to be more productive
After you have figured out where you spend your time, you can begin to schedule around your strengths and weaknesses. The key here is to schedule time that is uninterrupted so you can focus on one task. If you find that you are checking your email every five minutes, it may be a good idea to schedule time in the morning and just after lunch for checking and replying to emails. When you aren’t in that time period, you can work in a focused way on something else.

By sticking to a more rigid schedule you will find your productivity starts to rise. If you are having a tough time keeping to a set schedule, try using the pomodoro technique. This is where you set a certain amount of time for one task, and gradually increase the amount of time you focus on that task.

Play off your strengths
If you are a small business owner, chances are you wear lots of hats. One minute you’re wearing a spiffy salesperson hat while the next you’re wearing an HR hat. This constant switching of roles, or doing everything yourself, is not good business practice.

If you are aware that you are constantly spending time on bookkeeping and yet hardly get anything done because you lack the necessary accounting skills, it may be a good idea to look into hiring a part-time accountant.

Many business owners struggle with delegation, as they feel the need to control everything. One way to challenge this idea is by looking at your hourly rate. If you charge $100 an hour and an accountant is $50 an hour, it makes sense to hire the accountant instead.

By outsourcing, you will find that you have more time to focus on what you’re good at. As a result your productivity will rise and a better work-life balance will soon follow. If you’d like to learn more about how our IT systems can help make you even more productive, please contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Looking for new tech? What kind to get?

When it comes to technology, nothing is better than a new computer or system. The problem many small businesses face is that they often can’t afford new tech, and normally wait to replace items. The end of the year, and first few months of the new one is historically the best time to purchase new technology, especially tech that depreciates in value quickly. An issue faced by many owners is that there’s so many different types of devices out there it can be overwhelming trying to pick the right kind.

When shopping for new technology it’s beneficial to know what types of devices are out there and what circumstances they are ideal for. Below is a list of the major categories of technical devices available.

Thin clients
Thin clients are a type of computer where the computing power is stored on a server. On an employee’s desk there will usually be a monitor, mouse and keyboard that they use to access the system – hosted on the server. These systems are typically low power, but are generally cheap to run and maintain. Any updates are done on the server and are instantly accessible to all users. The beauty of thin clients is that the servers don’t have to be in your office. They can be in another location, managed by another company – where everything runs in the cloud. Because of this, thin clients are becoming an increasingly popular option.

Due to shared resources, thin clients are ideal for positions that only require minimal computing power. For example: retail operations, restaurants, sales departments, finance departments, etc. For positions that rely on computer processing power, use programs like CAD, or use legacy systems thin clients aren’t a good choice.

Desktops
Desktops are the standard in the majority of offices mainly because they offer solid computing power and systems meet the needs of a wide variety of budgets and needs. Desktops can take up space and businesses usually require a solid management plan to ensure every desktop is secure and using the same software.

Desktops are ideal for employees that need computing power, or who have resource intensive roles e.g., engineers who use CAD, designers who use Photoshop Suite, etc. Desktops are not a good solution for employees who are out of the office extended periods of time, or if you have limited physical space.

Laptops
Laptops are portable, relatively cheap and can do nearly everything a desktop can. Their size means they are popular with mobile employees, e.g., salespeople, franchise owners, board members, etc. While laptops can handle many of the same tasks as their larger cousins, they do struggle with multi-tasking. If you need to have more than one window or program open it can be annoying having to constantly switch.

Tablets
The iPad has shown that the tablet is here to stay, with some companies even being able to do away with the laptop. Like the bigger laptop, tablets are designed to be mobile and are ideal for keeping in touch with the office while on the road. They are perfect for employees who give lots of presentations or need to multi-task. Where they lack is in document creation and editing. While this can be done on tablets, it just takes time and a whole lot of patience.

If you have a mobile workforce that doesn’t need to change documents on a regular basis e.g., salespeople at trade shows, tablets are a great choice.

Smartphones
It’s pretty clear that the smartphone is ideal for nearly every company. Users can check and reply to email, look at most files and many have even started to use it as their main phone. If you have employees that need to be connected to the office e.g., doctors or support staff, the smartphone is a great way for them to stay in touch while not having to be in the office.

With the sheer number of devices and uses, you can guarantee that different positions will require/benefit from different tools, and you should take this into account when looking to buy new devices. The other thing that works well is to adopt a multiple device scheme where users have complementary devices. For example, you can have one desktop for two sales staff who also have a tablet. They can use the tablet while out of the office and the desktop for heavier tasks when in the office.

The key here is to pick devices that will best complement your employees, and allow them to be productive wherever they may be. If you’re looking to purchase new devices for your office this holiday season, why not contact us? We may have the perfect solution for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

When to use To, BCC and CC

Writing letters are so last century. Can you remember the last time you actually wrote a letter using pen and paper? For many of us, that would be a very long time ago. We’ve switched almost exclusively to email, and for many this has lead to a communication revolution. While email is fairly simple, there are some finer points that many users fail to master, including the To; CC and BCC field.

Below are some tips on how to properly use the To; CC and BCC fields in emails.

To
The To field is typically used for contacts who you want to communicate directly with. If you add a few people here then you need to put their names in the salutation part of your email e.g., Hi Tom, Neena and Irina. If you are sending out a company wide announcement, or an email to your team, you can put the individual addresses in the To field and instead of addressing everyone individually use something like: Hello Team.

One of the unwritten but largely accepted email rules is that if an email address is in the To field, you’re saying it’s ok for other recipients to email one another regarding the email. There is a common perception that you should limit the number of people in the To field. There’s no real limit on how many addresses can be included, as long as all the recipients are directly involved in the subject of the email. Even if it’s 1,000 people you can still put them in.

Where this view of limiting addresses in the To box stems from is that more email addresses make the email look unwieldy and could anger people who want their email address kept private. Many users create groups and give each group a name which will show in the To field to all users. This will often eliminate the issue of people wanting their email addresses kept private while simultaneously cutting the number of email addresses people have to scroll through.

CC
CC stands for Carbon Copy and is usually used for people who should know about the content of the email but aren’t directly involved. As such, contacts who are CC’d are not expected to be a part of the conversation but can jump in if they want to. CC can also be used to tell the recipients that they aren’t the only people who have seen this email; if you CC management, most people will see this and will likely be more inclined to follow through on the content of the email.

BCC
Email addresses in the BCC, Blind Carbon Copy, will receive the email, but recipients in the To and CC fields won’t see the address of those in the BCC field. BCC is most commonly used for mailing lists, or other periodicals and for when recipients request that their email address be kept private.

You should be careful with BCC though as, for example, if you are sending an email with sensitive information to one party, and you BCC another, you get in hot water if either party finds out and is not happy about what might be thought of as secret sharing.

These are just a few simple tips to ensure you follow email etiquette. If you would like to learn more about better ways to send emails, please contact us, we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.