Organising my email

turn to clear vision
I receive a lot of email. I’m often asked about managing email. So, I thought I’d share my approach and some interesting things I’ve come across in the past that you might like to try (or not).

DisclaimerI don’t class this as best or good practice, it just works for me.

My approach

  1. I have a folder dedicated to every project I’m working on. When a new project comes on board a new folder gets created. I’m very organised and find it very easy to place messages using this approach.
    1. My naming convention is simple—the official project title. No acronyms or any of that crap which reminds me to use the full title when speaking about them publicly.
    2. To help with ordering and being able to quickly find things I usually prefix the project title with the lead organisation’s name e.g. infoNet A, infoNet B, Jisc A, Jisc B, UCISA A, UCISA B, etc.
  2. I commute to work, which takes between 30-60mins. I spend five minutes deleting rubbish and skimming my messages on my way in. Important messages remain in my inbox. Other emails are stored in an appropriate folder.
  3. I take another look at the important messages I’ve received when I arrive at work. Anything that requires further action is added to my to-do list (I use Wunderlist). The majority of emails can then be stored, I’m sometimes left with messages that are a bit left-field.
  4. With regards to point 3, I have three obscure folders for storing information:
    1. Queries. I work for an advisory service and so receive various queries from across the UK education space;
    2. For information. Where I store useful information received relating to my role/areas of interest;
    3. and Appraisal. I store feedback here which I use to shape up my appraisal documentation.
  5. I archive my email about once a year by saving my inbox (and sub-folders) as a .pst file. Then I start my folders afresh.

Instant messaging

I would also strongly urge anyone to think seriously about what they use to communicate with others. At the time of writing Skype is my preferred instant messaging tool and I use that for quick questions I know won’t take up too much of someone’s time. I also prefer using it to make calls because it gives me the freedom to make notes. I do think that my use of Skype reduces the amount of emails I receive. I make myself available via Skype because I prefer to solve something there and then rather than having to manage an email so to speak.

Of interest

Some of the following have worked for me, some haven’t but you might find them interesting!

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Managing interruptions

Burned-out car
We live in a fast-paced multi-channel world. Temptation to procrastinate is bad enough; interruptions are downright obtrusive. It’s an issue that often crops up in conversation with colleagues and peers so I decided to pull together some hints and tips based upon my own experience and common suggestions across a range of productivity websites. In no particular order:

  • Limit your availability through certain communication channels and make sure your team/peers and others are aware of this.
  • Let people know when you’re free and when you’re not by sharing your calendar—“Busy” is not really an appropriate entry ;)
  • Set constraints where you can’t avoid interruptions i.e. warn the person you only have five minutes to discuss something because you have a key deadline to meet.
  • Choose your time wisely—work on important pieces of work when you’re least likely to be interrupted.
  • Plan for the interruptions—give yourself more time to achieve key tasks.
  • Lead by example. When interrupting others always start by asking whether or not they have time for a quick chat.
  • Automate your own systems to save time and make your life easier e.g. set rules within your email client to manage incoming mail.
  • Choose your location wisely—if you don’t need to work at your desk then don’t especially if it minimises the risk of interruption.

Avoid burning yourself out, and look after yourself! I hope you find this list useful, please share your tips via the comments :)

Coaching and mentoring within an organisation

So, I’m currently undertaking a coaching course. We’ve been set our first assignment to start looking at some of the basics. The first sub-section of that report is:

Define what coaching and mentoring is within the context of an organisation and explain the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring (approx. 250 words).

So I thought I’d share my current thinking…

One challenge that remains consistent for organisations from across the world is their ability to manage–and cope–with change. It is relentless, affects everyone within the organisation and ultimately determines whether an organisation thrives or crumbles (Drucker, 1994, p.98). Zues and Skiffington (2008, p.37) note that “many current business strategies and competencies are inadequate to meet the rapidly changing global marketplace” which has led to the popularity of coaching and mentoring in the workplace. The key difference between personal and organisational coaching/mentoring is a focus on business performance and operation effectiveness (Association for Coaching, no date).

There is a range of types of coach/mentor e.g. sports coach, counselor, and executive coach/mentor. Whitmore (2009, p.12) describes how his own career in coaching/mentoring blossomed when his (amateur) sporting clients saw the potential for its application within their own organisations. Coaching/mentoring within an organisation does add an extra dimension in that the coach or mentor has to manage a three-way relationship between him/herself, the organisation and the coachee/mentee.

Coaching and mentoring are techniques used to develop an individual’s skills, knowledge or work performance (CIPD, 2013). Good coaching and mentoring has the potential to take the learner beyond the limitations of the coach or mentor’s own knowledge (Whitmore, 2009, p.13). The terms ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ can be difficult to explain because of an overlap in the skills they require i.e. listening, questioning, clarifying and reframing (CIPD, 2013). See Table 1 for an overview of the key differences between coaching and mentoring.

Table 1 Key differences between coaching and mentoring. Information presented in this table has been taken from definitions developed by Megginson and Clutterbuck (2012, p.4); and Whitmore (2009, p.14).

Coaching Mentoring
Relates primarily to performance improvement Relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential
Typically short-term in its nature Typically a long-term relationship
Goals agreed with or at the suggestion of the coach Goals may change and are always set by the learner
Coach primarily owns the process Learner primarily owns the process
Does not require knowledge/experience of the subject being addressed Requires knowledge/experience of the subject being addressed

References

Association for Coaching (no date) Coaching defined. Available at: http://www.associationforcoaching.com/pages/about/coaching-defined (Accessed: 13 June 2014).

CIPD (2013) Coaching and mentoring. Available at: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/coaching-mentoring.aspx (Accessed: 5 June 2014).

Drucker, P. F. (1994) ‘The theory of the business. (cover story)’, Harvard Business Review, 72 (5), pp. 95-104, EBSCOhost [Online]. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=9409230321&site=ehost-live&scope=site (Accessed: 12 June 2014).

Megginson, D. and Clutterbuck, D. (2012) Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring. 2nd Edn. Oxon: Routledge.

Whitmore, J. (2009) Coaching for Performance. GROWing human potential and purpose. The principles and practice of coaching and leadership. 4th Edn. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Zeus, P. and Skiffington, S. (2008) The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work. Australia: McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia Pty Limited.

Other thoughts

In their book “Coaching and Mentoring: Theory and Practice” Garvey, Stokes, and Megginson (2012) make a very compelling argument, or seem to be–I’m struggling to interpret it, that their is no difference and that any difference is fundamentally determined by the social context. That is perhaps a bit deep for me to really get my head around at this stage but it’s nagging me.

Garvey, R., Stokes, P. and Megginson, D. (2012) Coaching and Mentoring: Theory and Practice. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.