Some thoughts on better contact management…

I recently came across this post from my Internet buddy Brandon Henak and I’ve been thinking about it all week. It was about using Plaxo for unified contact management and it went like this…

“The people in your network and the relationships you develop with them are some of your most valuable assets as a young professional. You look to them first for advice, job opportunities or just to discuss the latest events in your life. How you keep track of all the contact information you have collected in your personal and professional life is crucial to your success.

Contacts Everywhere!

In the poll we took earlier today we saw an interesting breakdown of contact management solutions, from relying on a cell phone to store contact information to using Microsoft Outlook, Facebook and other online sites. Each one of the solutions have their advantages and disadvantages. I have tried every one of the solutions listed with various degrees of success but, what if you could use each of them where they work the best, Outlook at the office, Mac Address Book at home and Plaxo online, without having to manually update each? I recently found a way to centralize and standardize all my contact and calendar information across all the services I use, automatically!

Sync them up!

Enter Plaxo 3.0 beta with Sync Points. After setting up an account, all I had to do was click on the “Add Sync Point” link for each of the programs I wanted to use (in my case Google, Mac Address Book, Outlook, and AIM) and it walks you through the process of putting in your login information for Google and downloading small add-ins for Outlook and Mac Address Book. Now, all of my sources sync together and I can sync all my contacts to my phone through Address Book. Any addition anywhere flows across the systems and is easily accessible.”

This was particularly interesting to me because I’m a Plaxo subscriber, but I’ve experienced a lot of problems with contact management. So what’s the problem?

A little background info…

I’ve been in marketing, sales, and technology for 25 years now and I have collect over 5,000 vcards and thousands more business cards that aren’t documented. I use 7 computers spanning three platforms and I want to access my contacts on all of them.

The answer?

The answer for me, like Brandon, starts with Plaxo for the following reasons:

  1. It’s platform and browser independent.
  2. It offers ‘sync points’ for the tools I use or have access to; Outlook, Thunderbird, a Treo 700wx running Windows Mobile 5. [Many more are available…]
  3. Members can choose to link to give one another the latest contact information as soon as it changes.
  4. The duplicate merger/remover is among the best I’ve used.
  5. There is a growing social network component which is a cross between Facebook and LinkedIn.

So if Plaxo is the answer, what’s MY problem? In a nutshell, using Plaxo was causing, not eliminating duplicates. Or, better said, using Plaxo with ActiveSync was causing duplicates. When I made the decision to stop using two synchronization tools simultaneously, my problems went away and I got closer to the promised land that Brandon was describing…

More background. I’m currently in the process of moving to Linux; I don’t want to pay ransom to Microsoft anymore and although I’m a former Apple account executive, I don’t want to pay for Apple’s industrial design when I can have the benefits of a Linux based operating system on inexpensive Intel hardware. The answer for me is Linux.

For now, however, my solution set consists of Plaxo, Microsoft Outlook 2003 [I only said I didn’t want to pay anymore – I’ll still use what I have], Gmail, Google Calendar and a Treo 700wx. I see myself moving off Outlook to Thunderbird/Lightning [Mozilla’s answer to contact and calendar management – Mozilla is only going to get better at this!] and off the Treo onto either a Blackberry or the Google Android platform. Thankfully [?], Sprint is forcing me to keep my current phone until September when the outlook on Google’s approach to cellphones should be known…

A big part of solving my problem was also to realize [thanks to David Allen] that some contacts are context sensitive, namely, that I don’t need to be able to call all 5,000 people from my cellphone – some I only need to be able to access when I’m sitting at a computer. I was actually synchronizing contacts for which I didn’t have a telephone number to my phone! Why? Because I was going to send them an email from the phone? Unlikely. In reality, I have found that after careful analysis, I actually need to synchronize less than 200 contacts between my phone and my computer and if I really were honest with myself, there are probably less than a hundred people that I call on a regular basis. So, I copied all my contacts to a folder called ‘Master’ in Outlook and deleted all contacts that I either hadn’t called or didn’t anticipate calling this quarter [there’s a copy of the deleted contacts in Master, remember?] As a result, I’m only synchronizing what I have to now. This is a HUGE savings of time and energy and silly as it may seem, actually represents a massive epiphany for me. Call me Captain Obvious?

The underlying idea here is getting closer to a world where it doesn’t matter what computer or platform you’re using – your information is accessible from anywhere! Plaxo can get you a good part of the way there…

By the way, if you’re not using Google Desktop, start! It can unify all the computers you’re using and allow you to search your Gmail and your computers in the same way you search the internet now…

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Why email won’t die anytime soon

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If you follow the tech media, you’ll know that every few months, some journalist or blogger will start speculating about the imminent demise of email. Headlines along the lines of “Email is Dying” or “The Death of Email” show up in RSS feeds all over the place. You know the drill. This has been going on for years and we’re surprised this argument hasn’t (pardon the pun) died out by now.

Here are some of the points that tend to be be raised:

* People today, especially young people, prefer the immediacy of IM and SMS. So email is dying.

* A variation on the above is that email is old technology (it dates back to the early 1970s) based on the concept of traditional postal mail and doesn’t suit our current needs very well. So email is dying.

* The amount of spam is huge. So email is dying.

One of the more recent claims that email will soon be a thing of the past came from none other than Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Incidentally, he said this while launching Facebook’s new messaging system…

Email, however, is most definitely not dying, and here’s why.

via Royal Pingdom » Why email won’t die anytime soon. You can follow the ‘via’ link to go to the source and read the rest of the article if you’d like to dig a little deeper but in the meantime, if you have to use email, use Gmail or Google Apps for Business. Comment, call or use the contact form to connect so we can talk about how this applies to your business…

Email Overload: Download a Free Copy of David Allen's Email Rules

Getting Things Done

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Having problems managing email?

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and inspiration for a lot of posts ’round these parts, gives away a free four-page PDF at his website that covers his basic principals for keeping email organized. Getting specific without going too in-depth, he explains the ‘two minute rule,’ why action-able emails should be kept separate from others, and why creating your own system—such as Gina’s [Trapani’s] modified ‘Trusted Trio‘. Great reading for GTD neophytes, and a good brush-up for the rest of us.”

Click here to get your copy! If you’re a Gmail user [and I hope you are] there’s more information here on how to use Gina’s system with Gmail or Google Apps mail.

Me personally? I use Gmail and Google Apps mail in conjunction with Remember The Milk [RTM]– the powerful task manager with the equally funny name. RTM gives me special tools to use within Gmail that allows me to convert an email to a task. In all fairness, Google now includes this feature in their task management system, however, it was not available when I built my approach to task management…

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Are You A Slave to Your Email?

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When did you last check your email?

I’d bet it was within the last hour. Quite possibly within the last ten minutes. You might well have your inbox open right now, with message alerts jumping up at you.

Almost everyone I talk to feels that email takes up too much of their time. If you work for an employer, in a traditional office environment, you might have your email open from the moment you get into the office until the moment you shut down your computer at the end of the day.

(And you’ve probably checked email after hours or on the weekends, too.)

If you’re self-employed or work from yourself, it’s probably even worse. You might find yourself worrying about emails during dinner, or when you’re supposed to be having some family time.

The problem isn’t knowing what to do. You’ve read plenty of advice telling you to close the inbox, to avoid checking emails first thing in the day, and to get on with your key tasks first. But are you doing it?

If not, you’re probably making one (or more) of the following excuses

There’s this and there’s the tool that you’re using to manage email. Have you looked into Google Apps for your business? I guarantee you it will make you more productive if you take the time to learn the paradigm! Comment, call or use the contact form to discuss how this applies to your organization…

Handling Email; 5+ emails you should filter

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Email is such a simple tool but it makes or breaks so many people’s productivity and it breaks my heart to see how many people struggle with handling it…

“How many emails do you have in your inbox right now? Are you an inbox zero freak like me? Or do you have emails piled up and unread that you’re hoping you’ll get time to get to?

I’m not judging – I used to have as messy an inbox as anyone. And even now, if I go on vacation or don’t check my email for too long, I can get in a heap of trouble: the email piles up, and it can be a real chore getting back to my empty inbox.

I’ve got a few tips up my sleeve though to make dealing with email a little less painful – and I’ve found the best defense is a strong offense. In this article, I’m going to give you some concrete tips and examples to reduce the number of emails in your inbox instantly – and help you keep it that way long term with the use of filters.” Source: 5 Types of Emails You Should be Automatically Filtering – Stepcase Lifehack

Here are the 5 types:

  • Newsletters
  • Forwarded articles
  • Comments and pings from my blog
  • Facebook/Twitter/Social Media Notifications
  • Store Promotions
  • cc:’s [This one is my own — and I’ll explain later]

You’ll have to go to the source if you’re interested in the full rationale behind these statements. #6 [the one I added] comes from seeing how email is used as a CYA tool in large corporations. I have a friend — let’s call her Sue — Sue is an important mucky-muck at a large manufacturing organization and she’s stuck in email hell. She’s a slave to Outlook and her BlackBerry. I would venture to say that 70% or more of the email she receives is CYA. How much easier Sue’s life would be if she’d only use Outlook to put all the emails where her name appears on the cc: line in a special folder to read later when she had more time. Or used the filter on her BlackBerry Enterprise Server to only send her the emails where her name appeared on the to: line. Sigh!

As the author says, these filters work particularly well with Gmail or Google Apps [both of which I use] to manage mail effectively.

“Once you’ve created some of these filters, GMail (what I use) has an option to immediately run them on whatever you’ve got in your inbox. Use this to instantly filter low priority items away so you can focus on what’s important.

Going forward, your filters will be applied to any new email that comes in. This will keep your inbox clean so you can read the relevant, important emails first, before you head to your folders to deal with these low priority emails that may still be important to you – but don’t require as quick a response.” Source: 5 Types of Emails You Should be Automatically Filtering – Stepcase Lifehack

One more thought for those of you unlucky enough to be on MY emailing target list. I send ‘just in case’ info from my personal gmail account and important ‘just in time’ email from my e1evation account. If you’re smart, you’ll filter emails from toddlohenry@gmail.com and make sure emails from todd@e1evation.com are granted the HIGHEST priority! Those of you who are prolific emailers may want to grant your frequent recipients a similar escape hatch…

As always, I invite readers to comment, call or contact me and let me know what YOU think [or ask for help if they’re caught in email hell!]…

Blogging is actually very EFFICIENT!

Logo of Posterous
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In many ways, blogging is no more difficult than sending an email and much more effective in the long run…

“If you’re a great baker or known for your mad IT skills, chances are you get asked the same things over and over again. You probably also end up fielding distress calls from frantic friends struggling with a pie gone awry or a blue screen of death. Instead of typing out the same email responses repeatedly or talking yet another person through a troubleshooting process, slap up a web page with your own personal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) and answers.

Next time you’re tapping out 2 single-spaced pages to Aunt Gertrude describing photosynthesis in all its glory and splendor, consider emailing it to something like Posterous instead; then, fire Aunt Gertrude a link to the page. Now, not only will Trudy have all the chlorophyll-related knowledge [she] can tolerate, but Google will probably stop by and maybe send some other interested parties your way. And the next time somebody hits you up about it, you need only send them a link to that thing you already wrote instead of rehashing the same crap all over again!

We think that’s a pretty ingenious approach to helping people out with a minimum of impact on your valuable time. Of course, there will always be times when you’ll want to help someone directly instead of pushing them off to a web site, but building a personal FAQ is still a smart idea. Your friends and family will probably appreciate it, too, since they might feel weird about bothering you during the dinner hour to help them solve a problem. This way, they don’t have to.” Source: Create a Personal FAQ for Friends Who Want Your Advice – Troubleshooting – Lifehacker

I originally started blogging when I became chairman of a local volunteer organization. I didn’t want to spam members with every great article I found so I posted the ‘just in case’ info on a blog so I could save ‘just in time’ info for emails — that way I didn’t offend members with too much information and they actually kinda paid attention when I sent an email because they knew it wasn’t just another good website I found. A year later, I was stunned to see that my posts had attracted 25,000 pageviews from 93 countries and I was hooked on blogging forever…

This blog has evolved from the simple strategy outlined in the source. In many ways, the blog is little more than a repository for all the cool stuff I find every morning in my ‘virtual newspaper’. Like the source author, if I have something brilliant to say in email or a resource to share, I post it first and then send it based on the principle that if it’s worth sharing with one person, it’s worth sharing with billions. Maybe YOU should have a blog — comment, call or contact me and let me know what YOU think…

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Google Reader and Feedly

John Jantsch is validating what I’ve been telling you for months

“If you use an RSS reader to subscribe to and read blogs (and you should) then you know what a great tool it can be to keep you up to date, well-read and inspired.

I’ve used the free Google Reader tool for a long time and love it’s simplicity. However, a reader of this blog (Rob Kirby) pointed out a very cool tool called Feedly that takes my subscriptions and creates a much better looking magazine like interface. To me better looking translates into more useful when it comes to scanning a hundred blogs or so. Feedly immediately brought all of my feeds and organization folders over from Google so set-up was instantaneous.

But that’s just the beginning. Feedly is a Firefox add-on that functions using my Google Reader account so all my Feedly activity is still saved to Google Reader. Adding blog subscriptions as simple as a click, but I can also pages I find, video, images, anything I want to bookmark and organize. I can share and email articles I find and the tool analyzes the content I seem to like and gently suggests where I might find more.” Source: A Beautiful Way to Read More Blogs | Small Business Marketing Blog from Duct Tape Marketing

Go to the source for the rest of the article! Perhaps you’ll like his version better… 😉

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