A few days ago, I was at the car dealership having some routine service done on my car. I was sitting in the waiting area quietly reading. Five other people joined me in the room, some reading, some chatting, you get the idea – they were all generally self-entertained and seemed comfortable.
A pudgy gentleman comes into the waiting area to partake on the coffee machine. Coffee in hand, turns to everyone and asks, “Any decisions been made on the television?” A closer look at the gentleman revealed a name tag for the car dealership. Most people didn’t really understand what he meant about the television. “Would you like the television on?” Again, most people there were quietly reading, only two were talking amongst themselves, and all of us just looked at him and shrugged, not really offering a solid decision either way. “Any arguments to not turn it on?” Some gentle mumbles of, “not really” were revealed from the group. So he walks over and turns on the news. With a new look of accomplishment he looks back to all of us and inquires, “So who here is interested in looking at some new cars while you wait?” Most people didn’t really take it seriously. One person did explain, “my car is pretty old, but it has low mileage.” She talked briefly to him about her car, but said she wasn’t really interested. “We have some great deals”, he offered. To which she gently nodded and declined.
As he turns back to refill his coffee another woman announced, “what a salesman!”, in a similar tone as if she was using it as a synonym for “gentleman”.
I looked at him and teased, “perhaps offering to refill her coffee and at least introducing yourself could have helped?” (as I noticed the woman he was speaking with had an almost empty cup of coffee next to her). “Time is money”, he said. To which I argued back, “looking at things that way will likely assist you in losing more then just that sale.” He nodded, and walked off.
He seemed to be completely disconnected from the people he was trying to sell on something. Starting with the television, if he was paying attention he would have seen that most of us were wrapped up in other things. Saying, “anyone NOT want me to turn on the television” seems almost humorous. Rarely would anyone speak up at that, in my opinion anyway… I mean who am I to tell someone that they can’t watch television? But no one was saying they wanted it on, he turned it on anyway. Then he immediately jumped on us about wanting to buy something. I didn’t even know this guy’s name yet. He didn’t earn my trust yet so what makes him think I would want to talk with him about buying something? It is no wonder why car salesman get such a bum rap.
These people weren’t cattle, and he wasn’t offering anything we needed. We all had cars. A coffee refill, and introduction with a kind smile, and a business card had a better chance at closing that sale, it would have just taken a little time.
Building a Relationship
I guess I’m a little old-school when it comes to these things. I believe business relationships are built on trust, and trust is built through reputation and word of mouth. I might not know this guy now, but I bet if he made it a habit of introducing himself to the waiting area and passing out some cards it would have been a step closer. Additionally learning peoples names that come in often for oil changes and whatnot tells me that he enjoys talking to me (even if he might not) and isn’t just trying to sell me something (even if he really is). If I just learned from the Service Manager that I was going to have to pay for a new transmission, the last thing on my mind in the waiting area might have been how much money a new car would have cost me (or hey, maybe it would have been the first).
About 6 years ago I was doing some freelance web development work. I had about 15 clients that I worked with somewhat often. I was the type that took impeccable notes about each client and kept the information in my address book about them. Everything down to the names of their children, spouse’s name, sports their kinds played, conflicts they were having… anything and everything. When I saw them I would ask about them, or just send them a quick note via email, “I hope the issue with (blank) worked out, you seemed pretty stressed.” I built a relationship with my clients. When I saw something in an article online that I thought would interest them, I would send it over. If it was in the paper – I would fax it. Not everyday, nor every week. But when I saw something that I knew would be genuinely helpful, I would send it. The trust grew. When I was then starting to work in other areas of development, they were interested in hearing what I had to say and how it might help them. I would tell them straight up if I thought something would help or not. They trusted me to help them make the right decision because they knew I valued their success in business just as much as they did, and it was true, because I honestly did.
I still do this today with business contacts using Highrise. All of my notes about my contacts go in there. Anytime I’m about to email or meet with them about something I look at my notes to see what they were up to the last time we chatted. A solid connection is made, and people typically prefer to do business with people they like and trust, rather then someone just trying to get something out of them or sell them something. The experience a client or prospect has with you is a big deal, in every interaction they have with your company, so don’t let it be the last thing you think about.
I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the general tone of this blog. I don’t really like it anymore. My mental perspective of how I communicate with the people around me has greatly changed over the years and I want this blog to reflect that. Historically, I’ve always approached the topics I’ve talked about as something well researched or planned out. This can be fun and it’s informative for some, but I’m not writing a tutorial site.
As I’ve been working on the Living Zero posts I’ve realized that the amount of information I’m wanting to talk about far exceeds what I think my average reader will be wanting to spend in front of my blog. I hope to continue to work on the Living Zero concept, perhaps in a different medium, an ebook perhaps. My hope is instead to spend this blog talking about ideas. Things I’m considering, working on, or even just reading about. My plan with that is to post 3-5 times a week instead of my once a month posting now. I’ll still be offering my ideas on how things could be done to solve problems, but they will be more open ideas. Thoughts about business philosophy, productivity, empathy, user experience, design, development, management… whatever is crossing my brain that week.
I hope you’ll stick with me and enjoy it. Let me know if I’m writing about things you like to hear about, and I’ll do my best to keep those in mind. I hope I didn’t heavily disappoint anyone in the delay of pushing out Living Zero. I’ll still be working on it, it’s just not going to be my big priority for the blog.
It’s been a long time since I originally announced my Living Zero series. My goal was to originally release a new item in the series once a week. But as it does life comes up, clients need help, and presentations must be given. I’ve had to delay the series a little more then I’ve wanted to. I think for the second item in the series I really tried to bite off a big piece all at once by addressing dealing with incoming email as a whole. I will likely be breaking the series up even further to really help me in getting things written up and making them available to my readers.
I other news too, I’m currently setting things up for the future site of Innovative Thought. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really looking forward to seeing not only the site launch, but having more time to maintain and write for the blog.
The most important thing about following an Inbox Zero practice is understanding the underlying motivation for doing so. Maintaining an inbox that contains no mail in it to distract you provides a significant change in mental stress. You’ll notice almost immediately a new feeling about the work you are currently doing. You’ll begin to feel more on top of things, and you’ll start to realize that the new feeling you have is the realization of “done”.
When we continue to maintain an inbox with hundreds, thousands, or even fifty messages we are telling our brain, “this is material I still need to review”. In most cases however this is material that we have long read and dealt with, yet we continue to maintain them in our inbox with the hope that if something happens we will have covered ourselves. When we follow an Inbox Zero methodology, and remove all of the clutter from the inbox we also remove the little voice constantly nagging away at us asking, “have I taken care of everything I need to take care of?” With the inbox completely empty there holds little doubt as to what remains to be addressed.
In many cases, some people I’ve talked to use their inbox as a way of controlling their task list. Active tasks remain unread until they are completed, and completed tasks are sorted into a project folder. This of course causes new junk messages, meeting reminders, and new tasks to get tied up with current tasks you are working on and your brain has to stress over what tasks are actually started, which aren’t, and what priority they should be in. The fact is, your email inbox should not be used to maintain your task list (more on this in the next post).
Just as with a post office mailbox, the purpose of it is to act as a temporary storage facility for you to come and get your mail. Once you have received the mail you sort them into junk mail, personal, bills, and the like. But never do you walk back outside to your mailbox and put the items back in for storage. The same rule should apply to your email inbox and it just takes a little mental retraining to get into the habit of keeping this empty.
In part two of this series I’m really going to get things rolling by talking about dealing with incoming email. I’ll be covering prioritization and concepts of how to quickly move through your inbox and get things cleared out. This is the foundation of maintaining a empty inbox, and the way you adapt these upcoming suggestions into your day will dramatically effect how you get work done.
I’ve been hearing from a lot of friends lately that are just now beginning to look at maintaining an empty inbox throughout their day to day work. Over the last year I have successfully implemented the concept of “Inbox Zero”, and additionally came up with a pretty good organizational plan, some email best practices, and tips to really sticking with maintaining an empty inbox which I have shared to great success with other programmers, designers, and business executives alike. So in an effort to assist all of the recent converts to the “Inbox Zero” concept I will be writing a five part series over the next few weeks covering many of the concepts and daily practices of maintaining an empty, productive, and organized inbox that I have found to be so successful not only for myself but many others as well.
As the sections are released I will continue to append them to this entry to give you a single location you may go to reference in the future. Depending on the demand, I may consider releasing the information in ebook format, with additional tips in the near future. Stay tuned, the first post will be online within a few days.
This series is still under development, and links will be added to the table of contents as the sections are completed. Stay Tuned!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What It Feels Like
- Dealing with Incoming Email
- Styles for Organization
- Sending Effective Email
- Sticking with It (no such thing as partially done)
Like a lot of other web developers, clients provide me content for their sites/applications in all sorts of formats, and it can get a little crazy. But it turns out that a little terminal utility on the Mac can help the stress of text file conversion.
The utility is called textutil and you can access it by going into your Applications > Utilities > Terminal, running Terminal, and then typing textutil. If you type the command without any arguments you’ll see a fairly strong list of options. Textutil supports conversion of txt, rtf, rtfd, html, doc, docx, odt, wordml, and webarchive formats.
Running textutil isn’t as hard as it looks. For example, I have a lot of clients that send me material in .docx or .odt format. I like to convert them over to .rtf files for quicker review (so Word or OpenOffice doesn’t have to load up). I make sure I’m in the same directory as the file I’m working with of course, and I execute:
textutil -convert rtf -output introduction.rtf introduction.docx
Once that’s done, you’ll notice an .rtf file is now in the same directory containing the original material.
Now the power of textutil doesn’t end there. Sometimes I want to convert a bunch of files and combine them into a single file. To do that I do something like:
textutil -cat rtf -output combined_project.rtf *.docx
Doing this takes all the .docx files in the current directory and combines them into a single .rtf file called combined_project.
If you have to deal with client provided text a lot, take a serious look at textutil – it has some great features hidden within it’s depths (like font resizing).
So back in July 2007 I posted a blog on making configuration files with YAML, and I’ve been noticing a lot of readership on the old article. Because it seems that a lot of people are reading it I felt it was important to show how I apply this nowadays.
First I put my config.yml file within the /config/ directory within my Rails application. It looks something like this:
development: &non_production_settings :google_analytics: :api_key: "[Enter Google ID]" :site: :title: "[Title]" :address: "http://localhost:3000/" test: <<: *non_production_settings production: :google_analytics: :api_key: "[Enter Google ID]" :site: :title: "[Title]" :address: "[Address]"
Then, I create a new file called load_config.rb within the /config/initializers directory. You can name the file whatever you want – that’s just what I call it. This is where the actually YAML loading is going to happen – and this is what it looks like:
raw_config = File.read(RAILS_ROOT + "/config/config.yml") APP_CONFIG = YAML.load(raw_config)[RAILS_ENV]
Now any time I want to all one of these variables I just call it like:
<%= APP_CONFIG[:site][:title] %>