Author Archives: denis

About denis

Hi I'm Denis, CEO of Twoodo. I write and build tools to help people collaborate and communicate more easily. Come say hi on Twitter

How-to-manage-email-and-not-let-it-manage-you

How to manage email and not let it manage you

Unless you do your job exclusively via email, there’s no excuse for you to have that tab or app open. There I said it..

But you do have it open most of the time, right? It’s hard to ignore. Suddenly you see the Inbox (1) in bold appear and you rush to see what it is. And it’s never a game changing message. But the micro-second between seeing it and comprehending it gives us a rush, and that rush becomes addictive. Email is an important medium of communication, indisputably. However, constant interruptions (let’s say every 30 seconds to 15 minutes) do not allow our minds to focus on a task at hand. Without focus, errors are more likely. Silly slip-ups that leave you banging your head against the wall and sending out a flurry of apologies. Or, it can result in serious accidents and poor decision-making with huge consequences. This is why disciplining ourselves on how to manage email is so important.

“…a three-second distraction can double the number of mistakes people make” – Live Science

But “priorities” doesn’t just mean your job. With smartphones, laptops and tablets hanging around the home – and with many public places now supplying free wifi – it’s easier than ever for our brains to get it’s fix of email-checking. We are wasting our precious time all the time. And on what? Why do we give more attention to apps and videos than to our loved ones or to our own self improvement?

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Why do we check our inboxes so often?

Psychology Today goes into more detail here on the points they believe are why we crave checking our inboxes so much.

1. Connecting to other people

Many tasks are solitary. Sure, there are meetings, but once your task is assigned you must go to your corner and get it done. If it is a time-consuming task this means long stretches of time alone. Despite our assertions of being able to work independently, we require human communication at intervals. The email inbox provides relief, but it’s overkill. Do you give a child a single candy, or do you leave a bowl of candy within arm’s reach? It’s irresistible to all but the most focused.

2. Respite from a difficult task

 

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Knowledge work is becoming a larger and larger portion of white-collar jobs. And knowledge work requires more brainpower, more creativity. This can lead to the mind feeling exhausted faster than a repeated task job. So, we find relief by looking at our email, or notifications on our phones and social media. It’s the mental equivalent of taking a breather after doing 10 lengths of the swimming pool.

3. Changing it up

When you are stuck, it’s good to do something else for a while until inspiration strikes again. This is especially so with tasks that require creativity. Unfortunately, instead of changing over to another worthwhile task, we waste time on trivial email. The ideal solution would be to have two projects on the go so that you could switch between the two when roadblocks are encountered in one. I personally found that freelancing a few hours a week with another company gave me a fresh perspective on working on my startup. And having your own startup is one of the most totally immersing things around!

4. Distractions make us feel better and are therefore addictive

Even if distractions don’t end in real results, it’s good to feel busy. It’s also good to feel noticed. Psychology Today states that you get addicted to email and notifications because of the low but regular feelings of worth, as opposed to the irregular but massive (by comparison) rewards of completing a challenging or long task. Self-discipline is not easy and technology has made it even harder. Multi-tasking, interruptions and distractions arguably make us more stupid. Our mental energy is spent trying to remember where we were in a task and getting back into it, rather than reaching a deeper state of concentration and insight that comes from focusing.

Email makes you focus on…

  • trivial newsletters
  • notifications
  • invitations to webinars, hangouts
  • updates of services you subscribe to
  • requests that are not the highest priority

“More generally, email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, rather than send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action.” – Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton

Would there really be a life-or-death scenario if you didn’t check in more than once an hour? Alright, I’ll admit that once I lost a bid on an apartment rental… but that’s as serious as it’s gotten. Being overwhelmed by info, and being used to it, all day long has mental health consequences. Erin Anderssen wrote this excellent in-depth overview of the war for our attention by technology. Not surprisingly, as we check our email and notifications for the tenth time in the day and nothing is there – anxiety and depression lurk in the background. You may not even notice it. Being contacted makes us feel important, even if the contact is automated or unimportant. Eventually, NOT being contacted has the opposite psychological effect. She quotes Linda Stone – that perhaps we need to talk about “attention management” rather than “time management”. We’ve even developed “interruption science” which studies the effects of disruptions on job performance. And the guilty party is… “NOTIFICATIONS!” notifications-hell

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It’s that bad. There’s no shame in wanting to be connected, to take a mental break, to add variety to our day. But whilst we over-engage in the trivial, real life is passing us by. Are people at music festivals who spend their time uploading photos and videos of the event really enjoying the moment with friends? Time is precious. Use it to create and add value rather than get bloated on information we’ll never need.

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How to manage email

#1: Batch your time

Cal Newport, in an article for 99U, describes how he applied the most commonly-cited solution (batching your time) to a workday. This involves breaking your time into 30 minute batches of either one long task or a bunch of short tasks. If you decide to check an email, you are required to spend a full half an hour on short tasks. It’s all or nothing. “…if you survive the annoyance, there’s also no avoiding the reality that your work will be of a much higher quality” So, the payoff is the difficulty of arranging the times when you can look at email versus better results in your larger, more important projects at the end of the day. Not a bad trade if you can stick to it. But most people can’t handle the inconvenience.

#2: Check email/notifications at a specific time, for example 5 minutes once an hour

This plan offers more flexibility and freedom than the half-hour batching BUT the temptation is to go over the time limit. So, for example, if you end up spending 20 minutes on email in this hour then you miss your 10 minute stint in the following hour. Basically, the aim is to spend no more than 10 minutes per working hour, i.e. 80/90 minutes per day on email. If you think that is still excessive (it is almost 20% of your work day) reduce it to 5 minute blocks.

#3: Do a major email blast first thing in the day, and once in the afternoon

This is the nuclear option, some would say! Check, organize and reply to all your email at 9am and at 2pm. No matter how long it takes! And under no circumstances can you check in between those times. You can orient your contacts to this new system by including it as an email signature (due to email overload, all email will be responded to at the following times…). You can arrange to have your closest collaborators call you if something extremely important comes up. If there are contacts that are ALWAYS urgent, set up a “red alert” system only for these contacts.

#4: Don’t have an email address

Hmmm. I hate to say “impossible”…

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“It’s not an immediate priority” Security Advice for B2C and B2B Tech Startups

2014 was yet another year filled with largely publicised security breaches of big and strong companies. EbayApple and Sony are a chilling reminder of how vulnerable tech giants are to attacks. But don’t feel safe just yet, it’s not only the giants that are under threat. Our smaller companies can also be targets.

While building our startup we were amazed that security was not something our first users asked us about. I mean, in building what we call the future of teamwork, we handle a large amount of our customer’s sensitive company information every day. Security was a top priority for us. We also thought it would be a huge selling argument. Yet very few of our smaller clients even asked about our security measures and protocols. If ever the question would come up weeks after signing up and our “security” page is one of the least visited. Could it be that smaller companies are less worried about security?

“In this case, ignorance is not bliss” – Sonja de Vries, ilionX

In April 2014, we presented Twoodo at the Social Now conference. Against industry behemoths like IBM and Oracle, our tool shone through and won the appeal of the audience. Great! But then the questions arose about security – this was a B2B audience of vendors to large companies, mostly. We’d never been in such a context before and finally the security questions started pouring in.

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A lot of the big companies and are struggling with the problems of BYOD policies (bring your own device) where employees were being rather reckless with security – logging into the enterprise app over free wifi, using a simplistic password, downloading a malicious app and so on. All tech startups are BYOD. We hadn’t even thought of checking if our own intern’s laptop had a firewall! It is not only BYOD that are the problem. Now, most companies hand out laptops, tablets and smartphones so that employees can work any time, any place. So, instead of coming to work to work on fixed desktops, the employee is taking work >> data everywhere (physically). Secure data is leaving the secure company building and is:

  • exposed to theft or loss

  • being used by others (children or spouse)

  • being used at home for online shopping etc.

This issue alone is one that smaller companies need to think about seriously.

How did security not become a priority issue?

Tech startups don’t often consider the role of security, unless security is part of what they intend on selling (or like us, they have a security guru on the team). SaaS startups in particular are vulnerable in this regard. Sure, there may not be time during the hectic early weeks and months, nor the manpower to implement a stringent security system. But wouldn’t it be worth it? What would you do if your laptop was stolen, and access to the user database or code was available to the thief? Unlikely – but possible, especially with easy-to-nab smart devices.

“Unfortunately, it is not enough for startups to recognize that they need to care about application security; they need to take action. The challenge is cutting through the apparent complexity and building-in application security from the very beginning, while minimizing costs.” Technology Innovation Management Review

The bright young non-techie founders in the startup world right now have a fatal flaw, in that they are so accustomed to being around IT that little thought is put into the risks involved in, say, free public wifi or letting Chrome extensions have access to your full email account. And also – not every technical co-founder is very experienced and naivety might be the fatal flaw in this case.

Here were the top 10 security flaws of 2013 – a handy checklist for noobs still learning the ins and outs of IT security:

it-security-flaws-1it-security-flaws-2

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In the end, the biggest security flaw is typically people, not the system. How often I hear ‘the system is fine but people are idiots!’

Don’t feel too bad. Here are some of the big companies hacked in the last year or so:

  • Adobe
  • Twitter
  • Ebay
  • Evernote
  • Feedly
  • Facebook
  • Apple
  • Yahoo
  • Sony

Some refer to it as the ‘year of hacking’ after all these internet giants fell down. And yet, even after the recent Heartbleed revelations, people are still loath to change the most basic and best first defense against hackers: a decent password.

Take a look at this list of the 25 Most Popular Passwords of 2013 – and weep!

most-popular-passwords-2014

But changes are creeping in. More services I sign up to now have fervent messages stating that they absolutely will not sell my data/soul for ad targeting or any other nefarious purpose. Services such as LastPass can generate unique passwords and also ensure that you only ever need to remember one.

But I digress. My point is – security is a hot topic and people are beginning to take on board the advice they’ve been given for years. As startups are having a hard enough time growing, convincing a skeptical public that you have excellent security measures can:

a) give you an edge over the competition, and
b) is just awesome to have set up from the beginning

Time and money are two things founders must spend wisely, that much is true. But would instilling security measures from Day 1 prevent future calamities that would ultimately cost more time and more money to fix? I would argue – yes. A startup that loses credibility with it’s users in the early days might never recover.

Where do we start?

IT is constantly shifting – there is no static fix that can be implemented, unfortunately. In light of this fact, Ira Winkler (from the appropriately named ‘Dark Readings’ blog) suggests that loss mitigation is a better approach to have than a simple ‘keep them out!’ frame of mind.

Yes, it will most probably be the user’s fault for making a mistake

- but your systems have to be there to take the fall and survive it. You must also realize that your own team members may be the unfortunate ones that wreak havoc on your system – not out of spite, but out of ignorance. This is where ‘awareness training’ typically comes in useful, but as Winkler asserts – it has to become part of habit and not just an occasional reminder like ‘don’t forget to bring an umbrella.’ It is the CEOs role to make this part of the fabric of the startup. Simply, the way you all work.

“People mostly have a strong relationship with their personal data. What’s worse? Having your digital camera stolen, or losing the pictures of your wedding day that were on the SD card? The data on the SD card is most important to most people. If people could have that relationship with work data, protecting it and taking care of it will most likely be habit. Having a (strong) pin code or password would be natural, not a hassle.” - Sonja de Vries, ilionx

When a person has a vested interest in the data, a personal connection, they are more aware of losing that data. But an employee for example will not have the same urgency at protecting the data that the founders or managers would. This is why security measures and security habits should not be taken for granted.

Relate IQ have a great blog post with practical tips for startups on how to have a security mindset from the beginning.

…BUT make sure to also read this Guardian article - it discusses some of the shortcomings of RelateIQ’s suggested security measures for hard drives in more depth.

Here is our top security advice for tech startups

Passwords and Identity Verification

  • A strong password these days is not good enough, leading the new norm in verifying your identity at a new level of security is Google with 2-Step Verification, read this link for a nice explanation

The 2-Step Verification process is an open standard, as such Microsoft is another example of a company that has recognised users are demanding better security and have adopted the open standard for 2-Step Verification in Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail).

The Google Authenticator mobile app makes the 2-Step Verification process a breeze, and since it is based on the open standard, it works with Microsoft’s 2-Step Verification for example.

Protect your source code

  • On the development side, our source code repository is also hardened against brute force password attacks, by adopting SSH keys over passwords for connecting to the repository.

As a team, working on MacOSX and Windows 7 and above our hard drives are encrypted by the built-in OS technologies (FileVault 2 and BitLocker, respectively). So in the event of loss/theft we can remain calm in the knowledge that any sensitive/confidential information remains safe. We use Google Drive for storing files in the cloud, removing the need to worry about backing up files.

Other important points

  • Using an external provider for a HTTPS certificate
  • Data protection layer : Webserver access, data replication and server protection => Amazon Web Services provides good security easily (S3 storage and ssl access)
  • You have to have an SSL certificate (also known as HTTPS) which will stop people on the same network to be able to read the information that you send and receive.
  • You have to limit access to files and directories on your server. They shouldn’t be able to browse your server to find information and private files should not be accessible without the user being verified (ie logged in). Amazon Web Servers provide great security tools for this, read up.
  • Limiting access and encryption

A simple way of guaranteeing no leaks is to simply not give people access. This is not foolproof, but it limits responsibility to a handful of individuals. If a leak occurs, it can be quickly identified in this case.

Grow, but grow safe

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Many tech startups have a ‘growth team’ or ‘growth hacker’ as part of the core business. Why is this relevant to security advice? Well, part of what the growth team does is try to make signing up (for example) as smooth and convenient as possible for new users. A lot of ‘growth hackers’ recommend that you don’t have a 2-step authentication process because conversions drop – despite the fact that it is more secure. The same for Captchas.

“Proper methods for protecting sensitive information on computer systems, including …[the] use of two-factor authentication.” Dara Security

Take a look, even, at this list of standard startup growth hacking tools - none deal with making anything more secure.

Of course, you cannot entirely blame the growth team for people’s impatience, but you are facilitating them! Is this ethically acceptable? It’s up to each startup to decide.

If you are a SaaS provider with your sights set on the enterprise market, you better be ready for a long list of requirements around security and compliance… Managing ever-changing security and compliance requirements as your SaaS business scales is hard to do well. – Keren Elazari, Gigaom

This is not to put people off starting B2B business – not at all! – but don’t go blindly in without really thinking through how you are going to deliver a secure and trustworthy service.

We would like to thank Sonja de Vries, Security Awareness Consultant at ilionX, for taking the time to answer our questions – much appreciated!

 

Snackable Stats About Company Communication And Collaboration Today

Snackable Stats About Company Communication And Collaboration Today

At Twoodo we’ve read almost every white paper and report on team collaboration and workforce communication. All in all it’s probably taken us a hundred hours to go through all those documents. We wanted to start sharing the most interesting findings in the form of small infographics. Just to make it more digestable. So if you’re hungry for snackable stats about company communication and collaboration, you’ll love these…

The first stat that really stood out came out of a Holmes report and stated the enormous amount of loss that miscommunication can create.

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We also found that the #1 reason why projects fail is due to bad communication.

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So why is this happening? Well according to reports by softwareadvice.com many companies are using old inefficient ways to communicate.

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which is scary when you consider how much time workers spend daily on communicating and collaborating.

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Email takes a lot of heat. But let’s face it, email just wasn’t built for team collaboration and it wastes tons of time.

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The way we see it, email is great for 1–1 communication but the world is changing. 1-many communication is becoming the norm and email just doesn’t cut it anymore.

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And in come “social collaboration tools” which are build for teams and 1-many communication.

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Our research then led us into the realm of the Future of Work. We were surprised to find that one of the biggest factors motivating employees to choose one job over another was “flexible work arrangement”.

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And this also has benefits for companies as they spend less on office rentals.

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But things can’t be all bright and beautiful for remote teams right? So what are their main obstacles?

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The #1 answer was again communication and by digging a bit deeper we found what this communication problem was actually made of.

biggest-communication-issues-with-global-virtual-teams-twoodo

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve created these infographics.. so we thought we’d dive even deeper and bring some amazing new insights into the power of internal communication tools.

companies-with-good-internal-communication-tools-offer-higher-shareholder-revenue

So can poor internal company communication hurt your business?

disengaged-employees-cost-money-to-companies

but wait, there’s more..

companies-spend-too-much-time-clarifying-communications

ouch!

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Why The Shared To Do List Is Linked To Our Ancient Past..And Wheat

Rice or Wheat? Depending on what your forefathers grew, it affects how you collaborate now!

When we want a break from revolutionizing the ways teams communicate at Twoodo, our whole team likes to dive deep into the history of human collaboration. After all, the behaviors we have today are remnants of our past.

For thousands of years, we farmed for ourselves and our community. Wheat is a mainstay of “the West” and rice is a staple crop of “the East”. What is so interesting about these two crops is that they quite possibly changed the way we collaborate today. A study was conducted to see why Eastern cultures in Asia (generally speaking) are more collaborative than the individualists of Western regions such as the USA and Europe. The researchers say the cause is rice and wheat. Not kidding!

Growing rice and growing wheat are two very different activities. Wheat is relatively simple – plant, water, wait. The activities afterwards, like harvesting and grinding into flour took a group effort that ran up until recent times, but did not involve an entire community. Rice is different. A rice paddy requires many hands throughout the growth process to maintain the irrigation.

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This way of life affected the culture to become interdependent rather than independent, and strongly based on custom rather than exploring new ideas. Yes, the Chinese in particular learned to be great at community collaboration – but because of excessive groupthink and abiding by custom, analytical thinking and innovation was lowered. They were 700 years ahead of Britain in forging iron, yet the Industrial Revolution did not happen in China. The practice was all but forgotten.

This is not to say that the wheat-growing West is all the better for being more independent. The European Union was developed since WWII at first as an economic institution, but then as a larger institution built to drive better cooperation amongst Europe’s fragmented nations and cultures. But the base philosophy of this area of the world supports the rights of the individual – and with that comes freedom from community duties and the chance to think differently, to try out new ideas without being a social deviant.

Food is survival. Cultivating it has been the primary activity of humans for a large part of our existence. It is no surprise that the manner in which we cultivated it would strongly impact our relationships to each other and our perceived roles in a community.

Blending both for the optimal mix – the shared to do list

We have moved on from our agrarian past to city life and labour. But we carry vestiges of our long history of how we grow and gather food. Large projects require many hands. Creative tasks require thinking differently. Individuality and teamwork have both pros and cons, but it is a skilled manager that can harness the pros of both for his team. As a project grows larger, roles need to be defined better. Tasks across individuals need to be known by the group at large so that the scope and progress of the project is clear. Even a community project is a series of individual tasks all combined fluidly together. A lack of knowledge as to who is doing what can unravel the operation. This is why shared task lists are such a simple and effective of collaborating but within the scope of individual and communal benefits.

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The other barrier to working as a group but in individual roles is the clash of tools. If information cannot be transferred effectively in a group, it damages the success of the project. Imagine if half the people working in the rice paddy spoke two different dialects of Chinese? A vague notion of what needs to be done is understood but precise actions are a mystery. I have encountered this often in my freelancing projects. Different people use different tools just for the simple action of exchanging information. I have to download multiple programs or learn different tools that I abandon as soon as the project is over. Or we both have to learn new workflows, for something as simple as she’s on iOS and he’s on Android. And this is despite our technological prowess.

Why do we collaborate now?

New machinery has changed how we cultivate food and work together. In fact, you could argue that it has encouraged even more individualism as we depend less on other people to help us out. Is there a risk that we are forgetting how to work together? Are our individual, creative ideas worth much if we cannot work well as a group or a community to bring the idea to fruition?

We are developing a collaboration tool to help teams communicate naturally. One of our biggest challenges is getting people to use it with their whole teams. As we talked to our super-users about why they collaborate, we found ourselves in a somewhat philosophical moment as we searched for the real “why”. Why do people used shared task lists and project management tools?

shared-to-do-listshared-to-do-list

 

 

 

 

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A method developed by the founder of Toyota, and later repurposed by Eric Ries for The Lean Startup, seeks to find the root cause of something. It is commonly used for problem-solving, but it can also be used for behavioural analysis. We knew why we loved using our tool. We wanted to explore why our super-users loved it, and understand more profoundly the added value. This information could be used to refine our brand, streamline our copy, become the base of our design choices. Here is what we found out.

Question: Why do you use a shared to do list or project management tool?

  • “To get things done in team projects.”
  • “To coordinate our team’s efforts”
  • “To know what everyone is up to?”

Why?

  • “To meet our objectives.”
  • “To reach our goals”
  • “To make sure all deadlines are respected and projects are successful”

Why?

  • “To get recognition from the rest of the company.”
  • “Because I’m responsible for this important project”
  • “To make the company successful without having to work 16 hour days”

Why?

  • “To feel good about myself and get a raise.”
  • “Because 21 people’s job depend on it”
  • “To be more relaxed”

Why?

  • “To have a happier life.”
  • “To maintain stability and comfort in my life and that of our employees”
  • “To have more time for my family and friends”

After the 5th “why” the answers tended to all be the same. Collaborating on projects and tasks is ultimately in pursuit of happiness!

With the comfort of hindsight, we can look back at wheat and rice growing communities and see how Eastern and Western societies have developed different attitudes to collaboration. We can zoom out to compare and contrast the results. The takeaway? We have the tools to take the best of both worlds and apply them to our workflows. Despite our deep ties to the past, we have an amazing capacity to adapt to new and better ways. To be happy.