Blog Posts

Tame the Email Monster With These 3 Easy Tips

Sharing a few tips on email management that help take back control of the wild time-eating beast that it has become.

Email is one of those things that has gone from a communication tool to a time wasting overlord that takes us away from doing real work. Here are a few tips pulled from from the GTD and Inbox Zero Jedi Masters of David Allen and Merlin Mann.

Turn Off Alerts

The first basic new rule of email to embrace is that you are the master of it, not the other way around. To get started on that path of taking back your time and attention, turn off all alerts, pings, buzzes, badge icons and sounds when you get or send email. Email clients were built back in the days when we might get one or two emails a day, so knowing that a new one came in was important. Now if you are like most, there is always new email waiting for you in your inbox so no need to be told. All those buzzes, vibrations and tray icons have done is to train us, the humans, to constantly be ready to break from our real work and rush over to see the latest piece of spam. Don't stop at your Outlook and desktop email client, make sure to turn off all the alerts on your mobile device as well.

Pull vs Push

Now that you are alert free, take a huge leap of faith and turn off automatic checking of email. No, I am not crazy. It goes to reason that if you are no longer waiting for pings and beeps to tell you when you get mail, you can decide when to have your email client pull down messages from the server. Not only will this start to ease up your dependency on the next greatest email, but will save a ton of battery life on your mobile devices. Now when you want to see and do email, just click the button to check for new ones. Simple.

Sprint Into Email

The last big tip for breaking your dependency and reclaiming much needed email productivity falls right in line after the first two. Since you are no longer automatically checking and getting alerted to emails, it is now time to reign email back to what it is meant to be, which is a communication tool. Email isn't your job or what you do, it is a tool that helps communicate as you do your job. Pick a schedule throughout the day and turn "doing email" into a task, something like a sprint of 5 minutes every hour or two half hour sprints a day. Set that standard with everyone that you communicate with that you won't be answering emails in seconds anymore and that it might take, GASP, up to a full business day to get a thoughtful, researched and helpful response.

To make those email sprints successful, turn off all other distractions and actually get into the task of doing email. Now it has dedicated time and will probably end up being handled better. Go through new emails quickly answering, flagging, deleting or delegating whatever you just pulled down. If the emails are complex and deserve more attention flag them for a period of time later but keep going through your inbox. When done, close down email and get back to work.

Now comes the hard part which is to shift your energy, your attention from the binging, buzzing, vibrating distraction that was email and put it towards actually doing work.

If you are looking for more email tips and tricks be sure to check out my other blog post titled Avoiding Email Bankruptcy with Mail.app Smart Folders & Flags. Feel fre to drop me your hints and tips on email on Twitter @JasonMAtwood

My Five Favorite Summer '11 Features

Salesforce.com Summer '11 has been released into all instances for at least one full week now, it's time to list off my five favorite new features.
My Five Favorite Summer '11 Features

My Five Favorite Summer '11 Features

With every Salesforce.com instance being upraded seamlessly to Summer '11 last weekend it's about time to list off the features that I have found most useful and interesting. As always there are quite a few features that have been released that I haven't even found yet. I figured I would spend some time on the ones that really jump off the page and stand out as being productivity boosters for both users and admins.

Lists Just Got a Whole Lot Better

If you are like me you use List Views all the time to view/get to data based on filtered criteria. In the Arkus org we use Chatter to keep eachother abreast of updates on Projects, Opportunities, and Invoices (among other things). When the Chatter Central tab came around a few releases ago it made it easier to see updates on an object by object basis using the filters on the left but with the release of Chatter on List Views in Summer '11 viewing updates on the things I care about most on one screen just got a whole lot easier. As an example, I have a list for all Opportunities in proposal stage closing this quarter, when anyone updates one of the Opportunities that fit within those parameters I can easily see them from the Chatter screen on the List View.

Report Builder Gets Mass Actions

When the new report builder came out about a year ago it drove me crazy that you couldn't drag and drop more then one field at a time onto my report pallate. Finally with Summer '11 you can add/remove multiple fields from the report that you are building as well as drag multiple columns into a different order within the report. This comes in particularly handy when you are using a "standard" report like Accounts & Contacts where Salesforce automatically puts in a bunch of fields on the report like Mailing Address and you want to get rid of only three of them. A great enhancement that makes me much faster at building reports and getting to my data faster.

Text Area Limitations Made Better

This one is for the admins and users alike. I can't tell you how often I have been asked to put more then five Long Text areas on an object only to have to tell the customer that I can't do it because of Salesforce limitations. As someone who always talks about how great Salesforce is as a platform it's disheartening to have to tell people about limitations of a system - particularly one such as this where all they want are seven Long Text fields. These limits are gone as far as number of fields, it's now a limit on total number of characters per record. Next time you build a Long Text field notice how the limit of characters within the field is no longer 32k. UPDATE - while the limits described above have done away whereby you can build more then five long text fields the limit of characters per field still does exist. 

Quick Find in Setup = #Awesome4Admins

Some love shown to the admins on this feature. I personally have the entire left hand setup navigation tree memorized at this point but if you aren't a super Salesforce geek like me then you have probably found yourself digging into the Customize menu when really you were looking for something in the Create menu and visa versa. Worse even is when you are looking for something that you rarely use like Delegated Administration or Email Log Files. Quick Find to the rescue! Just type into a box what you are looking for and just like Google real-time search results the setup area starts shrinking until it gets down to directly what you are looking for. This feature is a massive productivity boost for all admins.

Chatter Favorites = #Awesome4Everyone

This is my personal favorite, not just because it has the word "favorite" in the name of the feature but because it's something that I have been wanting since Chatter Topics and Chatter Search has been released. I have always been a big fan of saved search and RSS (really simple syndication) feeds for Google News or tags so now I have one of my favorite web features right within Salesforce. Just click on a topic or search for something in the Chatter Feed results and you can make that search a favorite that shows up on your Chatter Central tab. Everytime you click on that favorite it re-runs the search for data in the system at that given point. I love being able to get to the things I care about most really fast and this feature certainly helps with that.

Like I mentioned, there are so many features released three times per year but the ones above seem to keep popping out at me as features that I have used over and over already. Some features are more geared towards me as the admin of the system like quick find in the setup area and others are just great as an end user of the system like Chatter on List Views and the Report Builder enhancements.

As always, if you want to discuss your favorite features of Salesforce.com Summer '11 feel free to comment on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/arkusinc or on my Twitter page at www.twitter.com/justedelstein.

Three Salesforce.com AppExchange Products We Cannot Live Without

Here is a quick look at three Salesforce.com AppExchange products Arkus loves and uses on a daily basis.
Three Salesforce.com AppExchange Products We Cannot Live Without

3 Apps We Can't Live Without

Like the Apple App Store, Salesforce.com has an AppExchange with over 1,000 installable applications for your Salesforce instance. The apps range from small utilities like prebuilt sales dashboards to full blown custom applications like the recruiting application from Jobscience. Like most app stores, some are paid and some are free. Here are three of them that Arkus uses heavily and cannot live without.

Appirio Calendar Sync for Salesforce and Google Apps by Appirio

This is an oldie but a must have. It's free, simple to install, and you can set it up to have one way or two way sync between your Salesforce calendar and your Google Apps calendar. It works flawlessly and throw in that you can add a Google calendar to your iCal or Outlook and you now have your business and personal calendars in one simple spot. You also save time on your Mobile Devices since you do not have to log into the Salesforce.com App to see your calendar. The only concern about this application is that Appirio has hidden the App on the AppExchange. Is that a sign that they are no longer supporting it? I don't know. You can still find it via a browser search so enjoy it while you can.

Super follow Buttons for Chatter by Force.com Labs

As a huge adopter of Chatter, this Force.com Labs Free application is a huge time saver. This lets you follow Accounts, Contacts, Cases, or any custom object from list views or search results. You just click the ones you want to follow and hit the Follow button. This is a great example of Salesforce adding useful features outside of their regular release schedule via the Force.com Labs program.

Conga Composer by AppExtremes

This is the mother of all add-on applications. It isn't free but it is worth every penny if you have any need to customize outputs from Salesforce data. It allows you to gather any data from multiple objects and or related lists and generate sophisticated documents using Word, Excel, PDF and PowerPoint. As mentioned in one of our previous blogs, we use Conga Composer to generate our proposals and it works seamlessly. In addition we have now added Project Status and Project Plan reports. It saves our team many hours and we look forward to working with it even more. It's also great for those who need mail merge and cannot use the Salesforce feature because of its limitations (IE only as the biggest). We highly recommend Conga and give their support team five stars.

The AppExchange has many applications doing many things ranging from simple enhancements to complex document generation. As mentioned above, these are three that everyone at Arkus finds extremely useful. Whether you may find them useful or not, we suggest you go to the AppExchange and look around. I am certain there is something out there that could help your organization in some way. The last thing we wanted to point out is make sure you do your homework before you install something in production. It's best to test something out in your sandbox as you never know how it might impact your users. Just because it is listed on the Appexchange doesnt make it good or a right fit.

How Apple Helps and Hurts with iCloud

Terminology for Cloud Computing has been getting used and overused in the last decade so how does Apple's new iCloud help or hurt the movement.
How Apple Helps and Hurts with iCloud

How Apple Helps and Hurts with iCloud

Cloud Computing is a term used for everything from a true virtualized, multi-tenant internet hosted environment to a server accessed over the internet. Add to that all of the branches to the terminology tree like Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and private clouds and the simple explanation gets very muddied for most consumers.

Jobs Does Clouds

At Apple's 2011 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) yesterday, Apple released a host of new software including iOS 5 and OSX Lion but those didn't shake the cloud computing world like iCloud. The new iCloud service is a replacement of MobileMe which which starts with ad-free email and syncing of contacts and calendar. The new features include syncing and full back up of all applications, documents and books across all iOS and OSX devices such as the Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Call it drop box for Apple devices. Photo Stream does the same for photos making them available instantly from one device to another automatically. Last but certainly not least is iTunes in the Cloud that will push purchases down to all devices while also scanning, matching and hosting all songs in your library for $24.99 a year. All in all an incredible bundled set of features and software that made a few waves with consumers and competitors alike.

How It Hurts

While most cloud computing platforms are open to anyone with a web browser Apple has once again created a pretty closed environment. All the syncing back and forth is really based on having an iOS 5 device which is a big revenue stream to Apple. A lot of what Apple is doing with its cloud platform is very Apple specific which goes against some of the pillars of the public cloud. Imagine if Google suddenly made Google Apps only work on Android devices.

Also, while the name iCloud does highlight the cloud it also makes it seem like another Apple creation like the iPod and iMac. While Apple has been in the computing and specifically cloud computing space for awhile with MobileMe, they didn't invent it or haven't really done a great job at it. Even Steve Jobs made fun of MobileMe on stage at the event yesterday.

The last negative to the iCloud is the functionality itself. While all the documents, music, contacts and applications are syncing through a multi-tenant internet based platform, the actual work being done on these items is dependant on devices. Unlike Google and Salesforce.com who house the actual applications and provide access via the internet browser, Apple is just propagating data across from device to device.

How It Helps

While cloud computing has lots of name recognition thanks to companies like Salesforce.com, Amazon, and Google, it is still not very main stream. Most people understand it means something about the internet, but not really sure how it all works or what benefits it has. Apple has always been the master of taking a difficult concept and packaging it into a consumable product. Everyone can describe an iPod and iPhone or how the iPad is cool while the MP3 music player, smart phone and tablet computer might not get the same excitement or understanding. The new iCloud product will have lots of consumers of all ages asking about this "cloud thing" and how it could benefit them. They will likely get to know the cloud as something that syncs everything seemlessly to the internet and "just works", which are all positives.

Don't get me wrong in this article, I am very excited about all the new features and functions coming in iCloud and love the raising of the bar when it comes to cloud computing. Syncing is one of the hardest things to do and probably why most companies stay away from trying to tackle it. If Apple can provide all of the features in iCloud that "just work" the consumers are the winners in the end.

Hurt or help? Tweet me your thoughts @JasonMAtwood.

Social Circles

How I use different personas on social networks to reach and satisfy different audiences.
Social Circles

Social Circles

I have been using social media for a long while now and since starting Arkus I have had to augment my usage of certain platforms. Whenever I post something on a social media site I have to think to myself, as a Founder and C-level executive of a company would the content of this post be ok for anyone who could possibly see it to see actually see it? While I am thinking through the lense of an owner of a company these concepts and strategies described within this post can be used by anyone. With the aforementioned question in mind, I have created a matrix or rules for myself as I continue to use social media to interact with friends, family, customers, fellow community advocates, and business contacts - I call these rules the Inner and Outer Circles. Below I will outline my strategy for how I use different social media outlets to connect with people and extend my personal brand while maintaining my awareness of how anything I say can impact my company.

The Inner Circle and Outer Circle

I created two concepts for myself, the inner circle and the outer circle. By defining which social media outlets belong in which circles I can then force my behavior to follow the rules for each circle. The inner circle are people that are close friends, family, and my fellow Arkus partners. The inner circle gets to hear about what I ate for breakfast, how the Yankees or New York Jets are playing, and see pictures of my favorite food and beverage spots. The outer circle consists of former co-workers, people who have common interests out there on the internet, people who work in my industry, and sometimes random people who I only know through association with other outer circle people.


Where Do I Post That?

For the inner circle I use Facebook and Foursquare. The inner circle group are friends with me on these platforms because they are more personal. Facebook for example has information about who I am dating, pictures of my family, and random posts about my mood at any given point. I would only want my closest of my inner circle to actually be my friend on Facebook because I wouldn't want anything I said there to be too public and potentially harm my image with customers or partners. Foursquare is even more personal so I am even more picky about who I connect with because at any given point my friends on Foursquare know exactly where I am. While I enjoy the game aspect of Foursquare with friends, I wouldn't want everyone in the world to know that I just checked in at my apartment (sad but true fact - I am the mayor of my apartment building).

 

For the outer circle I use LinkedIn and Twitter. For my loosely affiliated networking contacts that I want to keep in touch with I prefer to connect with them on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is perfect for keeping connections with co-workers, former co-workers, and people who work in my similar field. They only get to see information about me that I post on my profile which is all about my career. I want to know that I can quickly touch base with a former colleague or peer if I have to. As for Twitter I have multiple identities and I do this for a reason. I have my professional persona that uses my real picture, my real name, and my work email address. I also have separate personas for different things that I want to talk about in a more niche environment like my favorite sports team. Twitter is extremely public so everything I say on Twitter goes through the outer circle concept. Mind you, the outer circle does get real updates about real things that I care about, they just don't get to see where I am at every moment of the day and with whom I am eating dinner. It just isn't relevant for the people in the outer circle to see those types of updates.

 

Why All These Circles?

The notion of my professional outward facing persona is one that I am very careful with. I don't want one of my largest customers seeing pictures of my cat or pictures of me pigging out on some delicious BBQ because it's not relevant to those people. I want the ability to reach those customers in an appropriate way, hence the inner circle and outer circle rules. It's very simple to create your own inner and outer circles and then stick to them while being extremely social on the web. Just think about who the audience is for each platform that you want to participate on and then stick the rules of the inner and outer circle.


If you want to get social with me about this post feel free to comment via Twitter at www.twitter.com/justedelstein or on Arkus' Facebook page at www.facebook.com/arkusinc.