Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quick Tip: Share Ideas With Colleagues With

By Matt:

This great tip was inspired by reader Florian Hollender in response to our recent post "A New Twist On".

Today we have two quick and easy ways to share articles, blog posts, and ideas with your co-workers by saving web-pages with

METHOD 1: Use the 'Links For You' tool built into Save the target webpage with the tag for:USER, where USER is the profile name of your co-worker. These saved pages will now appear in your co-worker's 'Links For You' page listed on their profile.

METHOD 2: The other option is to save pages with a very specific tag name (that you wouldn't use for anything else). For instance, if you work in Strategic Marketing, tag these items as "strategicmarketing". Next, instruct your colleauges to subscribe to the RSS feed of items tagged as "strategicmarketing" on your profile. This is easily done by directing them to this link:
  • USER is your unique profile name for, and TAGNAME is the specific tag that you defined for your department.
Send us your additional tips on how you're using to increase productivity - we'd love to hear how you're using this great tool!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How To Stay Productive During A Frantic Week

By Matt:

Last week was a nightmare. A major industry convention, multiple account meetings, numerous hours out of the office, and the overarching expectation to keep things rolling business-as-usual made life pretty insane for the last seven days. I write this post, not so much as a "How-To" based on experience, but as therapy to help myself manage a week like the last better in the future.

Here are three basic (though I won't say easy) steps on setting yourself up for success during a busy work-week:
  • Preparation: If a busy week is on the horizon make a preemptive strike before things start to get hairy. Look at next weeks to-do items. Can you work a little harder the week before and knock out some important activities early? Can you whittle down your overall list by tackling items you were planning to do next week? Take care of some big chunks now, and reap the benefit of a less hectic schedule in the week to come.
  • Weekly Review: GTD methodology requires a weekly review of your entire to-do list. Never is this more important than the Friday before your week-of-insanity begins. Get extremely critical. Analyze everything that has a due-date set in the midst of your busy week, and if possible move it to the following week. Clear your schedule so you can instead focus on the important activities of the week. If there is an item on your to-do list that must be done next week, place it in your Priority List (below).
  • Create A 'Priority List': This is a temporary capture bucket of the most important items that must be done during your busy week. As items come up that absolutely must get done during the busy week, place them in the priority list. This segregates them from the other normal to-do items that you have and isolates your thinking... in other words, only work out of your Priority List, not your regular to-do list. During your busy week you should only be thinking about A) Your conference, account meetings, business trip, etc and B) Items in your Priority List. This is built in filtering - leave everything else until next week.
If I'm honest, I was mediocre at following my own advice last week. My major foul ups? Lack of preparation and a poor weekly review the Friday before. I overheard someone say recently that "Productivity is 60% planning and only 40% execution". Not a bad mindset to work under, and based on previous experiences where I actually have done a thorough weekly review, the results in the week to come astonish even myself.

How do you manage those crazy weeks? Do you have any productivity tips we can all learn from on how to handle life outside the norm?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Decipher US Interstate Signs

By Matt:

In 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower championed the institution of the Interstate Highway System, citing the German Autobahn as inspiration, and the logistical necessity to move ground troops quickly in the event of a national emergency. Today the 46,800 mile network of highways collectively comprises the largest road network in the world.

But as you're driving across America, have you ever wondered to yourself what the road signs - the numbered highway markers - actually mean? Believe it or not, roads are not assigned some random highway number for kicks, but are instead part of a vast numeric system that can actually help you navigate yourself across the country. Fancy, huh?

  • Primary Interstate highways are assigned a one or two-digit route number less than 100. Highway numbers that are divisible by 5 are considered to be major arteries of the system, carrying traffic great distances across the country like I-80 or I-35.
  • Highways assigned an even number run East to West, starting with I-10 through the Southern states increasing to I-90 through the Northern states.
  • Highways assigned an odd number run North to South, starting with I-5 which runs along the West Coast increasing to I-95 which runs along the East Coast.
  • Spurs are offshoots from the main highway which often terminate in an urban area. They are generally assigned a three digit route number with the first digit being ODD to indicate it as a spur, such as I-394 in Minneapolis. Be careful with spurs, because they'll often abruptly drop you off in the middle of downtown.
  • Loops are auxiliary routes which often by-pass an urban area and connect with the main highway at a later point. They are assigned a three digit route number with the first digit being EVEN to indicate it as a loop, such as I-680 in Omaha. Loops are often helpful in navigating around busy rush-hour traffic in an urban area.
I admit that I'm a nerd for even knowing this stuff, but as I've demonstrated before, I have an obsession with having a bearing on where I am at all times. However, when I'm traveling, this basic understanding of the Interstate numbering system comes in handy in keeping me on the right path and on time for my next meeting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hack Your Desk Phone With A Relevant Voicemail Greeting

By Matt:

Last month Jon offered some tips regarding how he uses his desk phone at work (or better, how he doesn't use it). Personally, I don't care to leave the "Send Calls" button on permanently and opt instead to decide on a case by case basis whether or not the call needs to be answered, but I'll let you review his post and decide for yourself.

Today, however, I want to tell you how I recently improved my office phone voicemail greeting that I implemented to cut down on voicemails and increase efficiency by redirecting traffic to my email. This is my new greeting...
Hi this is Matt. The best way to reach me is by email at If you have an urgent need you can call my cell phone at ###-####. If you would like to leave a voicemail here, you may do so after the tone.
On the surface this doesn't sound too earth shattering, so let's break it down:
  • First, I tell people that the best way to reach me is by email. This communicates the most appropriate way to garner my attention and solicit a quick response. Why email? Text based emails are easy to process and give colleagues the opportunity to outline their issues and needs, going into as much or as little detail as necessary. A voicemail on the other hand is a crapshoot - you never know what you'll get, and more often than not it ends up as a rambling six minute message that goes into excruciating detail, which you then have to listen to four times because the caller talks too fast, or mumbles, or is drowned out by the sound of an electric bandsaw from the construction next door.
  • Next I explain that if they have an urgent need they can call my cell phone. This sounds like I'm simply inviting more phone calls, but I'm not. This is really a redirect - the phrase urgent need forces the caller to make a value judgement: "Is my need urgent?" I wager that most people will consider their needs important, but not urgent, and therefore will not call my cell but send an email instead. This option is comforting to the caller though; they aren't merely left to send a faceless email but instead have my mobile number at their disposal which in effect makes me appear even more available if a situation does arise.
  • Finally, I offer the opportunity to leave a voicemail at my desk phone. Sometimes people just want to leave a message, and while this isn't ideal for me, my desk phone is ultimately my responsibility. I give this as the last option for a couple reasons, which leaves the caller with two impressions: 1) That this is not the best method to reach me, and 2) By leaving a message the caller must concede that what he has to convey is really not that important, and that to escalate his need he should (you guessed it) send me an email.
To be clear, this is not some lame attempt to avoid interaction with people. I do some of my best work by walking around the office talking to people, but if I'm in the midst of plowing through critical tasks I do everyone a disservice in taking time to field random phone calls. Also, as a person who is susceptible to a high degree of meetings, this method minimizes the instances where I come back to the desk with a boat load of time-waster voicemails.

Take charge of your phone and don't let the blinking red light rule your life. By filtering incoming calls with a relevant voicemail greeting you empower both yourself and your colleagues to get more done.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Transfer To-Do Items Right Away

By Matt:

One sure fire method to ensure you completely fail at GTD is this: After capturing action items, procrastinate on transferring them to your master to-do list.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and written down a whole mess of tasks, but then you get back to your desk and have misplaced that piece of paper you had captured everything on? Before long, you'll forget everything and that's about when you start dropping balls right and left.

Habitual Transfer
Productivity is about consistency and the diligence to manage yourself the same way, day after day. This means you need to create some good habits for yourself, one of which is the diligent transfer of action items to your master to-do list.

You probably record action items using any number of capture devices - a Moleskine journal, a text document on your computer, or a message sent from your phone using Jott. But ultimately, these items need to end up on your master to-do list. And so the crux of this entire post is to encourage this all important habit:
Transfer your action items to your master to-do list as soon as possible.
What this means is, when you get back to your desk from that meeting, avoid the temptation to check your email first - you'll get distracted. Don't start making phone calls, and don't continue working on the sales analysis document. Spend just three minutes transferring your new action items, and save yourself countless hours of lost productivity in the long run.

It sounds simple in theory, but it's a tough discipline to train yourself on - it is for me anyway. Test yourself this week. Can you spend a couple minutes adding items to your to-do list every time you sit down at your desk? Let us know how it goes starting today!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quick Tip: Swap Windows In .0013 Seconds

By Matt:

This will likely be remedial for the more seasoned, but for the benefit of the rest we wanted to share this most important of all keyboard shortcuts.

To quickly alternate between open windows on your desktop - like from Outlook to Firefox, or Firefox to Word - train your fingers on this sequence:
Alt + Tab
In Windows this will alternate you between the window you're currently viewing and the last window you had open. I use this all day long, especially when I'm writing emails and need to reference data on an open Excel page or website. Note that holding down the Alt button while pressing Tab repeatedly will allow you to browse through all open programs.

Likewise, Mac users have a similar shortcut they can use to access the most recently viewed window:
Command + Tab
Hope this speeds up your day, or at the very least gives you a quick way to navigate away from your Facebook profile when the need arises.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paper is Useless in 2008's Office

By Jon:

10 AM, Tuesday morning. Your weekly staff meeting has just begun. Everyone's gathered around a conference table with their own little camps set up; you've got cups of coffee, bottles of water, huge notebooks, pens and pencils, pads of paper, and document after document, strewn all over the table.

As your team lumbers through the agenda, the table becomes more chaotic and cluttered; a sales report is passed around, a new marketing campaign is presented and suddenly the table's drowning in 8 1/2" by 11"s.

After the meeting, you return to your note-filled desk and write down a couple sticky notes and slap them on your phone. You file the documents from the meeting in a hanging file rack on your desk which bulges from the weight of a month's worth of documents.

After following up on your phone notes, you spend thirty minutes updating the documents in your three-ring binder, just in case you need any updated data or decks. In your next meeting you spread all this info around the conference table, confusing those around you but allowing yourself easy access to anything you need at one glance.

...this is TOTALLY ridiculous behavior. I'd only accept this if a company held a "topless" meeting policy, forbidding laptops and Blackberry's from being used during meetings.

Come to think of it, I don't accept that. That's a horrible policy.

Laptops and Blackberry are not the problem; behavior is the problem. If people could effectively multi-task and use their laptop to bring insightful information to the meeting, then so be it. If they can't, stop holding meetings.

But, I digress. Paper is the issue here at the moment. Every action I outlined above could be replaced more efficiently and more effectively by removing paper from the equation. Your task list and notes can be incredibly streamlined by using a digital source on a laptop.

I've been using digital notes or a Moleskine and not printing anything for about the last six months. I have three little paper holders attached to my wall that let me store anything I may need in the near future (invoices, expense reports, etc) and then they're scanned and shredded as soon as I'm done with them. That's it. Nothing else, not even files or storage.

Just take your laptop with you throughout the day and insist upon being emailed all meeting documents and agendas before the meeting. Your life will become more simple, believe me.

If you don't have a laptop, beg your boss and IT for one. Trust me, it's worth it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How To Capture Your Life

By Matt:

Let's break down the idea of GTD capture. In the 'Getting Things Done' philosophy of productivity, Capture is the term applied to the gathering and recording of action items. If you want to become more efficient, not only at work but at life as well, you need to define and perfect a method of capture. This post will help you do just that:

GTD helps you get things out of mind and on a physical to-do list so that you don't have to remember every single thing that needs to get done by the end of the week. Specific methods of doing this are going to vary from person to person, so before defining your plan, consider how you live your life. Check out these questions...
  • Do you spend a significant amount of your day in front of a computer?
  • Are you mobile with a laptop or blackberry?
  • Do you spend all day in meetings?
  • Are you a road warrior, spending a large amount of your time in the car?
  • Are you attached at the hip to your cell phone?
Continue to consider these questions as you review the methods of capture outlined below, evaluating how each might practically fit into your daily lifestyle.

  • GTD / To-Do List Application: Web and desktop based applications abound for GTDers looking to organize their productive lifestyles in a digital world. Popular programs include Remember The Milk, Thinking Rock, and our personal favorite, Todoist.
  • Text Document: The best GTD methods are generally surprising simple, such as using a basic text editor like Notepad to list to-do items. Check out our post on TXT docs to get started.
  • Google Notebook: Similar to the simple Text Document concept, catalog your lists online with Google's Notebook app. Lifehacker offers an overview of using gNotebook for capture purposes.
  • Email: For most office workers email is the most common arrival point for action items, and they are generally sent to you by other people, but don't overlook the capability to send yourself an email if that's an easy way to notify yourself of a to-do item. Email should only be an entry point... DO NOT use it as your master to-do list
  • Text Message: If you're quick with a cell phone, hammering out a quick text message is a great way to send yourself to-do items on the go. Did you know you can text message directly to email? I send my to-do item text messages directly to my personal Gmail address.
  • PDA / Blackberry: Both tools great for when you're on the go, and again you might opt to send items as an email to yourself.
  • Jott: This fantastic online application enables you to record a message for yourself which is automatically transcribed to text and then sent to your personal email. I prefer this method of capture when I'm driving in the car and shouldn't be using my hands to write text messages.
  • Moleskine Journal: There is something simple, elegant, classy and entirely functional about a Moleskine journal. I use mine for handwritten meeting notes and also tab off a section to capture to-do items. Personally, I prefer Moleskine's Large Squared Notebook - the grid lines are great for keeping straight columns and sketching quick charts. In reality, any simple bound, ruled notebook will suffice in lieu of a Moleskine.
  • Hipster PDA: The Hipster PDA was introduced by Merlin Mann a few years ago and quickly spread like wildfire through GTD culture. It's basically a bunch of 3"x5" notecards binder clipped together with notes written on them - that's it - check out the original article on 43 Folders.
You need to develop an arsenal of capture methods that will work for you and your daily lifestyle. If you're a mobile person, always on the go, you'll probably opt for some of the more mobile devices. If you're constantly in front of a computer the digital methods are likely most efficient for you. If your company has rules against electronic devices in meetings, you're going to need an analog method of capture. Personally, I utilize a hybrid of email, text messaging and Jott's transcription service, as well as a Moleskine journal, and all action items from these methods ultimately end up in my master to-do list on Todoist.

Two simple rules when it comes to application:
  1. Keep It Simple - Capture needs to be ubiquitous, meaning it happens continuously regardless of where you are. You will be best equipped to do that by keeping your arsenal small and uncomplicated, utilizing only a few simple methods.
  2. Focus On Capture, Not Organization - Methods of capture are only for gathering action items, not for organizing and refining them. Organization happens on your master to-do list which needs to be kept separate from your methods of capture.
The beautiful thing about GTD is that it is completely customizable for your situation, lifestyle, and needs. Experiment with different capture methods and determine what works best for you. Don't ever let your methods become a point of distraction - they should focus on streamlined efficiency allowing you to quickly and consistently gather action items while allowing your brain to focus on the knowledge demanding situations that your job undoubtedly requires.

Do you use other methods of capture that weren't listed here? Let us know about them in the comments below!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Laptop Freedom

By Matt:

Yesterday was a glorious day. After four years (!!) of pestering and begging, I was finally given a laptop at work.

For as much as I am a proponent of leave-your-work-at-work, and unplugging your weekends and not becoming all consumed by the job you are only paid to do from 9-5, the laptop can actually be an incredibly freeing thing. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent transcribing notes that could have been typed. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where I haven't been able to provide that critical piece of data at the critical time. Or how many catastrophes could have been avoided were I able to log into the network from home. Those days are over.

A desktop computer keeps you anchored at work as well. I live in windowless cube-ville, and I can't begin to describe how drained I feel between the hours of 1-3PM, fighting off the post-lunch crash and suffering under fluorescent lighting. We have a couple conference rooms with windows around the office, not to mention an outdoor courtyard with picnic tables... I fully intend to spend significant time working from these locales in days ahead.

For me, this is a personal post of celebration... here we are in 2008 and I have finally entered the unwired world. But we can't leave this topic without providing a little how-to, therefore, keep your eyes open for a post from Jon in the days to come. For you desktop-bound folks that still remain, he has some excellent tips on how to acquire a laptop using reason and logic. Good stuff that you'll want to check out - to make sure you don't miss it, click here to subscribe to The Corporate Hack!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clean Your Desktop

By Matt:

I'll often glance over at a colleague's laptop during a meeting and see a desktop that is cluttered to the max with folders, files, icons, and various shortcuts. A typical desktop can fit up to 10 icons vertically and 15 horizontally... that's 150 icons on the desktop! It's hard to make out that pretty picture of the tropical beach you have as your desktop wallpaper when you have that many icons taking up space!

If you're this person who, for reasons I'm sure seem logical, keeps 150 icons on your desktop, I want to suggest the following desktop overhaul.

Many people use their desktop as their launching point, and for good reason - it's convenient and centrally located. But this efficiency is completely lost when you store too many items there. It becomes impossible to quickly navigate to the files and folders you want because you spend so much time manually sifting through the clutter. Here's how to increase your efficiency by removing up to 95% of your desktop icons:

Create A Current Files Folder
Navigate to your My Documents folder (or similar location) and create a folder simply called 'Current Files'. Next make a shortcut to this folder and place it on your desktop - yes, this is one icon that you actually get to keep.

Next do some serious housecleaning. Move every document, spreadsheet, picture, and video file currently sitting on your desktop into the newly created 'Current Files' folder. Anything that is an actual file, or a folder containing multiple filesm must go... don't worry about organization, you can take care of that later. At this point all that should remain on your desktop are your icons for My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin, and shortcut icons.

Cut Your Shortcuts
Now I want you to take a critical look at your desktop shortcuts. Shortcut icons include any quick-link that points to a file, a folder, a network drive, an application, or an online destination. I will venture to guess that most of these shortcuts do not get used during any given week, but there will likely be a couple key shortcuts that get used multiple times a day.

As you did for your files, create another folder in My Documents for 'Shortcuts', and again create a desktop shortcut for this folder. Next, move any shortcut that gets used less than five times per week into this new folder. If any of your shortcuts are outdated and never get used delete them. If you have shortcuts that point to a website, I suggest you move these to your internet browser - create a bookmark for them, or better yet, use a social bookmarking tool like

You should move all application shortcuts - shortcuts that launch a program - to this folder. The exception to this rule are application shortcuts that are used multiple times per day; drag these key icons into your Taskbar to automatically create quick-launch buttons.

In terms of shortcuts, all that should remain on your desktop are high traffic shortcuts that point to critical and often-used files, folders, or network drives.

The key to a clean desktop is that it becomes an efficient workplace - a launching zone from which you do your work. Consider these tips for keeping your desktop in prime working condition:
  • Save new files and downloads that you'll be working on to your 'Current Files' folder to keep the desktop clean.
  • Make use of the ability to filter in your 'Current Files' folder and sort by name, date, and file type... remember that you wouldn't be able to do this on your desktop.
  • If you find that a certain shortcut icon is not getting traffic, remove it from the equation by demoting it to the 'Shortcuts' folder. Likewise, if you are having to dig through your 'Shortcuts' folder multiples times per day to find a specific icon, elevate it to your desktop.
  • Periodically archive files in your 'Current Files' folder as they become dated and obsolete by moving them to an appropriate folder elsewhere on your hard-drive.

And Just For The Record
I have a nice 17" widescreen laptop as my personal computer, and as such can fit as many as 209 icons on my desktop. However, using the steps above I keep this whittled down to just five icons, and as a result maintain my sanity. Plus for all you tweakers, a clean desktop uses less RAM than one covered with icons.

In addition to My Computer, My Documents, and Recycle Bin, I also keep a 'Current Files' folder and a shortcut to a folder for 'The Corporate Hack' on my desktop. This method, partnered with Google Desktop as a hard-drive search tool, are all I need to keep every file I might desire at my fingertips.

To be clear - you cannot remove unwanted desktop icons by sticking your Macbook in the dishwasher. We want to hear additional tips you have have on making your computer desktop an efficient workplace - leave a comment below! Good luck with the cleaning!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quick Tip: Fluorescent Lighting Is Terrible

By Jon:

I don't know about you, but I seem to have been getting a lot of horrible headaches lately. I took a step back a few weeks ago and tried to identify their cause. I didn't get them on the weekends and they weren't tied to caffeine use, so I was able to narrow it down to my workweek. I took a look around my workstation and realized one simple fact:

I had fluorescent lights beaming down on me from all sides.

Our whole office uses fluorescents because they're cheaper and last longer. Even my desk lamp was a FL! I emailed our facilities team and asked them if there was any way to kill the lights above my head. A short email and 24 hours later and two massive lights above me were turned off. That was weeks ago and I've felt better since day one.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple email and your facilities/maintenance team can do a lot for you. Since then, I've gotten a wireless mouse, a wireless ergonomic keyboard, a new lamp and I'm working on having a section of my cubicle desk removed to increase the size of my available office space. The sky's pretty much the limit, considering all this is available elsewhere in our building and it's not costing anything to our bottom line. Send some emails and see what you can get out of it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Create A Powerful Resume With A Profile Statement

By Jon:

It's time once again to dust off that old resume, check it over and make sure it's all updated. Don't get antsy, nobody's going anywhere -- it's just good to have that thing updated just in case. I mean, you never know what could happen.

Fire Your Objective Statement
When you're crafting your resume, think of your prospective employer. How would they feel about seeing the following as the key point of your resume?

OBJECTIVE: To obtain a position of employment in the field of applied actuarial economics.
Other than thinking, 'wow, what a nerd,' they'd probably be skimming over that statement and moving on to other sections of your resume. Do you really want to waste that valuable top level real estate on something so bland?

I mean, you did give them a resume for an open position right? There's no mystery here. You don't need an objective statement as a form of consent. A good cover letter should have made your honorable intentions more than clear. Let your resume do it's job -- selling you as a good candidate.

Introducing The Profile Statement
I'd much prefer a great Profile Statement sitting at the helm of my resume, giving the all-important elevator pitch right after my contact info. In a worst case scenario, if the employer doesn't read anything other than my Profile, they know who I am in a nutshell and how to get in touch with me. Perfect, right?

Here are some things to think about when building a profile statement:
  • Abilities: Are you smart? Are you fast? Are you skilled?
  • Experiences: Team player? Deadlines? What have you done?
  • Goals: Why should we care about you?
  • The High Points: What's the key things from each major section of your resume?
With these guidelines you should have a nice set of keywords that can be used to describe you. Let's try putting them together into something cohesive. I'd recommend a short paragraph that's easy to follow but loaded with good terminology about yourself.

Let's use a different example than our actuary friend above; I have no idea about calculus or insurance. How about, well, my profile statement?
PROFILE: Works well in challenging, fast-paced, high-stress and deadline-oriented environments individually or as part of a team. Proficient in project management and digital technology as well as operational supply chains; also heavily experienced with customer and employee relationships as well as technical support. Knowledgeable in creating detailed reports, documents and presentations. Focused on consistent quality work and a desire to simplify and innovate the daily operations of corporate culture and the industries of music and technology.
In four sentences I've boiled down my whole career and goals into a quick morsel of info. Now, as always, your mileage may vary, but from my experiences, interviewers tend to really enjoy this profile (tip: don't steal mine verbatim unless you're all those things too).

A well crafted Profile Statement is much easier for interviewers to swallow than an entire resume, and it opens up the interview to lots of detailed questions right out of the gate. I can use the profile as my jumping off point and reference specific areas in the resume to back up my explanations.

Best of luck getting your resume formatted just right, but remember, the resume always takes a backseat to actually being fun to talk to, being good at your job, and knowing people to get you in the door.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Use Summarize To Get To The Point

By Jon:

DISCLAIMER: This is a function for Apple users only. I know, I know, I use a PC at work too, but this is so cool I had to share it with you.

Have you ever received an email or been passed along an article that you're encouraged to read, only to find that it's 16 paragraphs of solid text? Rather than spend twenty minutes digging through this text, a hidden but incredibly valuable tool can help you get right to business.

The app is called Summarize, and it's normally located in the Services menu of any Apple app you may have. It's also located in the Services folder of your Library for quick access. Personally, I use it in conjunction with Quicksilver, so I'll be sure to explain that incredible app in a future post.

Here's what you do:

Select a block of text in an email, a website, or a document, then access the Summarize function. It'll pop up this display (I've selected a recent post of ours as an example):

As you can see, I've got the slider set to 100% and the whole article is displayed. Let's drag the slider down to, say, 4 sentences.

As you can see, it's pulled out 4 unique and important pieces of info from this post; this gives us a general idea of what the post is about and what it's explaining. Turns out Apple uses an algorithm to deduce how often this sentence is referenced (or how unique it is) and how important it is to the overall structure of the piece. Fancy.

Now let's drill it down to just one sentence:

A-ha! This is a one sentence summary of what the post is going to be about -- unconventional directions.

This might seem a little confusing at first, so I'll toggle over to paragraphs for a little more clarity:

Interesting. The article is teaching me how to find directions based upon the sun. The summary also includes the caveat paragraph, good if I don't live in the Northern hemisphere.

This is just an example, but I've seen this get used to great result with company emails, presentations and other corporate memos. If I just don't have time to read something, I'll fire this up and get to the heart of it immediately.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tell Direction With Your Cell Phone and the Sun

By Matt:

There are a number of articles available with tips on how to orient yourself out in the wild. You can put a stick in the ground and watch the shadow's movement for thirty minutes, and you can even use an analog watch to create a makeshift compass.

But here's the thing - when I'm on a business trip driving in an unfamiliar place, and I'm late for a meeting, I don't have time to pull over and put a stick in the ground. In spite of that, I can quickly orient myself and get a general sense of direction using nothing but the clock on my cell phone. Here's how...

These are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind for our Northern hemisphere readers:
  • At 12:00 Noon the sun is directly South
  • At 6:00 AM the sun is directly East (even if it hasn't risen yet)
  • At 6:00 PM the sun is directly West (even if it has already set)
  • Facing the sun before Noon means you are looking between East and due South
  • Facing the sun after Noon means you are looking between due South and West
Based on these rules I can estimate the four cardinal directions - North, South, East, and West - and quickly be on my way:
  • For instance, if my cellphone says it is 9:00 AM the sun is going to be halfway between East and South (or Southeast). Approximate South by visualizing a 90-degree angle with the left line pointing towards the sun, and bisect the 90-degree angle to arrive at South.
  • If it's 3:00 PM, the sun is halfway between South and West (or Southwest). Again visualize a 90-degree angle, this time with the right line pointing towards the sun, and bisect the 90-degree angle to arrive at South.
  • Basic geometry can help you find South at other odd times. At 2:15 PM, use the same 90-degree angle process as the 3:00 PM example above, but this time adjust for the fact that it's earlier in the day. Bisect the angle again, but this time South will be slightly farther to your right (not more than 15-degrees, as the sun moves across the horizon at 15-degrees per hour).
Disclaimers And In Practice
Now it is important to remember is that these are approximations, and just a basic way to get a general sense of direction. Our Southern hemisphere readers will have to remember that at Noon the sun is directly North, not South, and the tips above will need to be reversed to account for this. Also, the guidelines are further complicated by Daylight Savings Time - which will shift your results by 15-degrees - but again, these are just basic orientation tricks.

With some practice you'll be able to glance at your phone, and glance at the sun, and determine your direction within a matter of seconds. So if you're driving along the Interstate and your hotel is located North of downtown, but it's Noon and you're driving away from downtown with the sun blazing through your windshield, then you're traveling the wrong way!

I hope these tips will aid to ease your mind during your next "I'M LOST!" panic attack... let us know how it goes!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Unsolicited Rant: Skipping Meeting Not Kosher When You're The One Who Called It

By Jon:

So early last week, I get a meeting invite with one of our clients.

The meeting was scheduled for two hours and was set to go over their biggest products of the year. It was apparently high profile enough for our SVP to announce it during our division meeting at the beginning of this week. Big event, I figure - I'll make sure I'm present.

When I arrived, our whole marketing team (about 10 people) are sitting in our boardroom, waiting for our client. Everyone's complaining about a two hour meeting and they all look ready to hunker down (with water bottles, etc). Ten minutes pass, and no one shows up.

We call down to their offices, and no one answers. Another call to their receptionist later, and we've got their head of sales on the phone. He remarks that he doesn't have the meeting on his calendar and didn't know he was needed.

Umm... he's the ONE WHO CALLED IT.

We all sort of stumble through it and leave feeling slightly more aware of their plans and products, but overall I don't feel like anything good was accomplished. Seriously people, you have GOT to make sure your email/calendar programs work, and you have GOT to bring an agenda to a meeting that long. Otherwise it gets off task or worse, off your calendar.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Simple Beauty Of A .TXT

By Matt:

Ever since I started hacking corporate life I've been trying to figure out what I should do with all of the notes that I take. From meeting notes to conference call notes to personal brainstorming sessions... I've got notes everywhere.

I think I've finally hit upon the solution, and it wasn't near as complicated as I thought it would be:

Reviving Plain Text: The Power Of A .TXT
One of the most basic programs that come standard on any computer is a plain-text editor. On Windows systems this would be Notepad, and on Macs TextEdit. These simple, no-frills programs capture plain unformatted text and allow you to save it as a Text file (or .TXT).

I've recently started logging all of my notes - whether entered directly, or transferred from my Moleskine journal - into Text files. Here's why:
  • Text editors have a minimal impact on your computer's RAM so they open quickly and run fast
  • The text is plain so time isn't spent "beautifying" your notes - bolding, underlining, making pretty tables with colors, etc.
  • The files are extremely small and easy to move, upload, and share cross-platform

Where To Store
It's important to keep all of your Text files in one central location. I've created a folder called 'Text Files', creative I know, and have placed a shortcut to the folder on my desktop so I can get to it in one easy click. Ultimately it doesn't matter where they are stored, as long as they're together and easy to get to.

I also maintain a subfolder called 'Archive' and periodically move outdated and unused files here to keep down on clutter.

How To Name The Files
File naming is critically important to maintaining your family of Text files, and there are several elements that go into each of my file names:
Uber Marker | Project | Filename | Date .txt
  • Uber Marker: Is a general differentiator that denotes what the category of the file is. I use three categories - Notes, Lists, or Reference
  • Project: The project level component defines what the broad subject of the document is - this could be an account name or the name of the person I met with
  • Unique Filename: This is the most specific part of the name which drills down to the specific topic of the document
  • Date: My date format is yyyymmdd, so April 9th, '08 would be represented as 20080409
My Uber Markers -
  • # - Notes: Notes from meetings and phone calls. I use the "number" symbol because 'number' starts with "N" and so does 'notes'.
  • @ - Reference: Reference documents are long-term files containing information that is relevant in my day to day job on an ongoing basis.
  • ! - Lists: These are quick simple documents that contain exactly what the name suggests... lists on everything from to-do items to groceries, and marketing concepts to ideas for pranks to pull on co-workers. An exclamation mark looks like a lowercase "L", and 'list' starts with "L".
Example File Name -
So based on these guidelines, an example filename for a document of notes from a conference call w/ an account called "Stinson", regarding the launch of a product called "Widget 35X" would be...
# Stinson Widget 35X 20080410.txt

File Tagging
A final identification practice I do is "tagging", and this happens within the document, usually after I have transcribed my notes. On the first line of the document I enter in several keywords that I would associate with this particular file - things that would come to mind when trying to search for the document, but may or may not have been explicitly use in the notes themselves. This aids in searching for the files later, for example:
TAGS: Stinson, Widget 35X, Widget Launch, Spring Promotion Plan

Recall: Searching For Your Text Files

Being able to call up your notes quickly, on the fly, without hesitation is key to this entire process. PCs and Macs both have built in search functions, but I find these somewhat clunky and slow. Ultimately everyone has their own search preferences, but the key to my searching success is Google Desktop.

Google Desktop brings the power of Google's search engine capabilities to your hard-drive and networked drives. It is a powerful, and in my opinion, unmatched resource.

I do not use the Google Desktop Gadget - these eats up computer RAM. Rather, I use the keyboard shortcut - pressing 'CTRL' twice - to bring up the search dialog. If I am searching for a notes document, I simply type in a combination of keywords, and immediately the file I am looking for appears:
EXAMPLE SEARCH: .txt # stinson spring promotion
Two final notes on Google Desktop, and a matter of personal preference:
  1. I set my default search option to 'Search Desktop' as oppossed to 'Search Web' - with Google Desktop I'm primarily concerned with finding things on my hard-drive and not on the internet
  2. I also tell Google Desktop to index everything except Web History... again, I don't want to pull up my browsing history in my search results

Tying It All Together
Proper note taking, integrated with your ability to manage your to-do list and maximizing personal productivity are core components of GTD. Admittedly, the note-taking aspect of GTD has taken the longest for me to perfect, and due credit needs to go to Merlin Mann at 43 Folders for his insight on the process. My tips written out here are a modified form of his TXT Setup.

I'm curious to know your thoughts on this subject: How do you catalog and store the notes you have taken? What program do you use to search for notes you've stored on your computer? Do you even look at notes after a meeting... or are they just a time killing process for you?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Quick Tip: Show Two Timezones In Outlook Calendar

By Matt:

From time to time I lead meetings with international counterparts, primarily based in either the UK or Australia. Being located in the United States myself, I'm always having to do quick math, adding and subtracting time-zones, as I try to figure out how I can get two parties on the phone without either one having to go to the office at 2:00 in the morning.

So for you globally minded corporate hacks out there, this Outlook-based quick tip should help you navigate the intricacies of the International Date Line without causing an aneurysm:

Display Two Timezones In Your Outlook Calendar:
  1. From the Outlook menu select Tools > Options
  2. Select the button for 'Calendar Options'
  3. Select the button for 'Time Zone'
  4. In the resulting dialog box select the check-box for 'Show An Additional Time Zone'
  5. Next, select an additional time zone to display from the dropdown menu and give it a unique label so you can differentiate it in your calendar
Hopefully this little trick will help make scheduling cross-continental meetings a little easier... and if nothing else, it will give you North America based readers an excuse to squeeze in another break in the name of Afternoon Tea before lunch rolls around.

More Outlook Tips @ Corporate Hack

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Working By Walking Around

By Matt:

I don't remember a whole lot from my high school classes. I was there. I learned things, so said my report cards.

But one thing that does stick in my mind vividly was a passage from a business text about Hewlett-Packard co-founder Dave Packard's principle of "management by walking around". It was such a straight forward simple idea:
Get up off your rear and go interact with the people that work for you.
Bring the team together, listen to your employees, involve everyone, make them feel important. Makes sense right? I said to myself, "Self, when you're a boss someday, you need to do this."

Fast Forward
Fast forward 10 years and, well, I'm not running a multi-million dollar computer manufacturing company. Technically I don't manage a team of individuals either, but I still find Packard's concept very valid.

I work in a building of 200 employees, and my job regularly involves the coordination of many cross-divisional individuals towards a common purpose. Meaning, I have to convince numerous people to focus on a goal that is collectively beneficial even though it's not a core focus of their day-to-day job. When all is said and done, one of my most useful techniques for getting things done in the team atmosphere has been a derivative of Packard's ideas - I guess you could call it "working by walking around".

Working By Walking Around
It's really the same core idea as Packard's - I will be much more effective in getting everyone on the same page if I get up off my rear and just have an actual in-person conversation instead of relying on phone and email. I maintain that meetings are generally inefficient, and I would much rather correspond by email, but we are humans after all, and sometimes a little face time is all it takes to get somebody on your side. Here are some "working by walking around" tips that I try to put to use:
  • Build Relationships: Begin by simply leaving your desk and seeking people out. The end goal is to create genuine friendships so find a common ground - hobbies, sports, music, the latest episode of Lost. Friendships that center around the water-cooler tend to remain superficial, so make an effort to visit their office or desk, so long as this doesn't come across as intrusive.
  • Not Just When You Need Something: It's easy to get in the habit of visiting a colleague only when you need something from them. It's also easy to get in the habit of having a genuinely friendly conversation, and then changing the topic to something work-related because you feel guilty. Resist these urges from time to time. There's enough work going on already - sometimes you need to take a moment to just be real and genuine with your co-workers.
  • Sharing Bad News: When you have bad news you must share regarding a project, force yourself to convey it in person. It's much more difficult than sending an email, but delivering the message personally conveys a greater sense of joint ownership, and in my experience co-workers will appreciate your personal approach.
  • Befriend The Assistants: It's human nature to be friends with our direct peers, therefore, in terms of organizational hierarchy - if you're a mid-level employee - be very careful that you don't overlook the assistants and administrators. At the end of the day, when you need to get something done, you'll need to have these folks on your side, so befriend them genuinely.
  • Your Needs, Their Needs: If you come to a colleague with a need or a request, be sure you end the conversation with "Is there anything I can do for you?" You'll leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth if every time you show up at their door you have a new project for them to work on. At the same time, you can convey a genuine team atmosphere by offering your assistance, help, insight, feedback, and support towards their goals.
To be clear Working By Walking Around is not some superficial form of colleague manipulation in order to "get things" from them. It has both business-related and personal intentions, as well as payoffs. I genuinely like the vast majority of the people I work with, and this is because I have taken the time to get to know them on a level deeper than "Where are we on this?"

So while, yes, Working By Walking Around helps me get things done more efficiently and effectively, it also makes work-life exponentially more enjoyable. And enjoyment in our work leads to fulfillment, and after all... that's the point of all this anyways, isn't it?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A New Twist On

By Matt:, the social bookmarking manager, has been around for a while now helping us share all our favorite online destinations. However, I've recently been using in a way that doesn't so much emphasize it's social nature, but instead takes advantage of it's ability to help me more efficiently get things done online.

Here's a quick look at how I use to write blog posts, pay my bills, and buy birthday presents for my wife:

First, a couple notes that are important to maximize the usability of Firefox and are the perfect pair, primarily because of these two features only available via the Firefox extension:
  • Sidebar: When you click on the icon in Firefox it brings up a handy sidebar panel that allows you to quickly search through your bookmarks, and browse your existing tag categories... 10 times easier than going to the actual website and wandering through your links.
  • Do Not Share Function: When clicking on the tag icon in Firefox, the pop-up offers a 'Do Not Share' option which effectively hides the listing on your public profile. You will still be able to see the saved private links when logged into your account, but others will not.
Getting Things Done With is a powerful tool for the productivity-minded. Here are just a few of the ways I put the power of to use...
  • Writing Blog Posts: As I'm browsing across the internet, often I'll stumble across articles, posts, or websites that inspire an idea for a post. When I do, I save the page using my browser button, being sure to add a few quick thoughts in the Notes box about my post idea, and then tagging it using a unique tag name. Later on, when I'm trying to think of topics to write about I simply review the pages I have tagged for post ideas.
  • Paying My Bills: I have multiple financial accounts online, from bank accounts to student loan accounts, and so on... all with a different website and their own unique username and password. I don't claim to have the best memory in the world, so I've tagged all of these sites and I have included important log-in information in the Notes section. To protect my identity I always select 'Do Not Share' so that the information is not made public. Furthermore, you may want to make your notes somewhat "cryptic", so that only you can understand them, as I can't vouch for the security of' servers.
  • Shopping For My Wife: Bad memory coupled with the difficulty of finding something new and unique to give your spouse at each holiday is a difficult conundrum, but makes it a little easier. If my wife mentions something that she would like, or if I stumble across something I think would suit her well, I save it with a "Gift Ideas" tag. And to make sure she doesn't stumble across the things plan to buy for her, I select 'Do Not Share' on these as well.
If you haven't experimented with yet, now is a good time to get started. Take a quick tour of the capabilities here, and then be sure to download the new Firefox extension. Do you have any tips and tricks on the way you use social bookmarking? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Well, Hello Lifehacker!

By Matt & Jon:

To our surprise and delight yesterday Lifehacker featured one of our recent posts about Taking Meeting Notes on their blog. If, as a result, you found your way to The Corporate Hack and are a new subscriber, we welcome you!

The response to our post yesterday on Lifehacker was interesting. There were a bunch of folks who thought our concept of sending follow-up notes to the meeting leader was a blatant attempt to suck up. There were those who felt this practice would ultimately lead to being designated the permanent de facto note taker for all future meetings.

But there were also some great insights from readers: EricSoderberg offered that taking and distributing notes ensures that your voice gets heard, even if you tend to not speak during the meeting. EricSlaw appropriately points out that notes must be sent immediately after the meeting as he's not getting paid for his word-smithing abilities. ProlificProgrammer got a raise for taking notes and posting them to his company's internal wiki!!

Jon wanted to offer this follow-up to the post in response to the many great comments:
I was absolutely blown away by the comments we got on this post -- tons of great insight and some surprising stories of how well this method paid off. One of my favorite anecdotes on note-taking actually arose recently at, another great productivity blog.
Turns out one of America's greatest inventors wrote over 5 million pages of notes in his lifetime. Thomas Edison took incredibly detailed and organized notes, yet had a powerful memory with which to recall them all. Edison is proof that taking detailed and action-oriented notes, and cataloging them for easy retrieval can greatly improve your business strength and flexibility.
Now, I understand we can't spend all day slaving over pen and paper (and a lot of meetings just aren't noteworthy!), but choosing the right time to jot a few things down can really pay off. Even if you don't send the notes around, having them on hand for future reference can really save you from looking foolish or unprepared.
If you haven't had the chance to read the original post yet, Quick Tip: Meeting Notes, please do! And be sure to give us your thoughts as well - we enjoy the dialog! In the meantime, here are some other recent posts from The Hack we think you might find interesting...
Recent Posts...
GTD 101: A Brief Overview Of Getting Things Done
Action Oriented: Create Meaningful To-Do Items
Pushing Decision Making Down
Quick Tip: Subdivide Tasks For better GTD

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Getting Things Done Is Hard When You've Completely Forgotten Everything

Now, I definitely remember this. We take the left one... I think.

By Jon:

Here's yet another look into the world of
GTD in relation to being proactive. I've got a really bad habit of using some parts of GTD and ignoring others. After all, the whole point is to be more productive and effective, but I've only been trying to make my job easier and free up more time.

Lately I've had a nasty problem of checking off a task and letting it leave my mind. Don't get me wrong, that's certainly an aspect of GTD -- getting your tasks out of your brain and into an organized list -- but I'm implementing it wrong.

Normally when I finish a task I just let it go and my mind moves onto something else. Weeks or months later, details about a task might be needed; instead of recalling the situation, I'll make some incorrect assumption and look foolish.

It became obvious that in order to cover my bases, I needed to become more proactive. Here's what I'm doing:

  • Keeping detailed handwritten meeting notes (in a Moleskine, of course)
  • Creating a folder of organized text docs of unique situations that come up in my somewhat repetitive work
  • Send myself or others reminder emails for upcoming to-dos
  • Set far-off and distant reminder tasks in my GTD app of choice
  • Adding a "notes" column to an Excel spreadsheet I frequently work out of to help maintain my projects

  • Obviously there's a lot of failsafes there -- I'm pretty forgetful. I've considered memory aid apps like
    Mental Case, but I'm not so sure I'm ready to subject myself to flash cards yet. On the bright side, there's something really inviting about the smile on that suitcase, don't you think?

    Quick Tip: Subdivide Tasks For Better GTD

    By Jon:

    If you're like me, GTD doesn't stand for "Getting Things Done", it stands for "Getting Too Much Done". Many of my daily tasks have sat on my list for weeks, and every time my eyes roll over them I just leave them be. I had to take a step back and evaluate why this was happening.

    Result? My to-do list wasn't good enough.

    Looking at the things I've left on the list, I realize that many of them aren't individual tasks, but rather smaller projects. The reason I've ignored them is because multiple things have to happen in order to cross them off.

    For each task, GTD'ers have GOT to try and break them down to the simplest forms, which are simple
    action-oriented tasks. Take a minute to review your task list and try and break down some of those nagging overdue items. Look for the simplest next action that will move you along towards completing the project. Often I've found that breaking something up and doing a small, easy chunk of it has dramatically improved productivity and help me finish the task.

    Check out our other
    posts on GTD for more details on how we get things done.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2008

    Restructuring Drama

    By Matt:

    My company is going through a reorganization this week, and it has been pretty difficult. They kicked it off about five weeks ago when they told us, and announced to the press, that there would be a 15% reduction in workforce within the next 4-6 weeks. Since then we've all been anxiously waiting for the proverbial "hammer" to fall, and now the time is upon us. So far the week has been filled with a lot of closed door meetings, hushed hallway conversations, a general sense of foreboding, and the occasional awkward joke in attempts to lighten the mood.

    This is the second restructure I have experienced in the corporate world, the first being last winter. Last year the slash-and-burn happened quickly and abruptly - an email was sent on a Friday morning, and throughout the day, one-by-one, each individual was called into their manager's office... some did not return to their desks.

    This year, in attempts to be more considerate to employees, they gave us a long advance warning, and to their credit are doing their best to communicate issues delicately. But I'm not sure there is a way to do these things that isn't messy.

    I'm curious to hear about reorganizations you have been through... is there a good way to do these things? Is it possible to witness 15% of your company being let-go and in the end say, "You know, that was a really positive experience"? I know we have some Human Resources readers out there, and would be interested to hear your take as well.