Be Smart With Your Out Of Office Assistant

Here's a nice quick piece of advice for you that I picked up from Michael Hyatt that you are going to love. 

When you are heading off on holiday, or on a prolonged absence from the office, take great care in how you set your Out Of Office. Use this as a tool to give yourself a little more time to respond to the inevitable influx of mail that is going to be collected in your absence. 

If you are due to arrive back from leave on a Monday after a week away, set your Out Of Office auto reply to say that you're not returning until Tuesday. If it's a longer absence away, you may wish to say Wednesday, or even further ahead. 

Why stop at altering your return date? If your last day of work is a Friday, declare yourself unavailable from this day on rather than the coming Monday. This gives you a great opportunity to tie up your affairs and prepare for your holiday without the worry of people expecting responses from you all day long. 

Clearly, this isn't going to be suitable for all jobs, but if this is something that you feel you can leverage, it can be a real game changer when you need it most. 

Schedule a Quick Wins Day

Sometimes, when you are carrying out your Weekly Review, or pouring over your To-Do list, it can get disheartening. The list of things you would love to get done seems to be growing!! Yes, you are able to get your Flagged tasks, or 'Most Important Tasks' completed but what about those small jobs, the ones that you know would only take you ten or fifteen minutes to complete, never to be seen again?

I try to counter this by having what I call a *Quick Wins Day*. This is essentially a day that is dedicated solely to those small tasks. The only tasks that end up on my To-Do list that I wouldn't ordinarily consider to be a 'Quick Win' are tasks that *have* to be completed on that particular day otherwise my life, as we know it, will not be worth living!

As for the frequency of this 'Quick Wins Day', well I currently aim for one every couple of weeks. I've got things setup to the point that there is minimal impact to my core projects by having it fortnightly. Your situation will of course be different. You may not be able to have them as often as that, which is of course fine - it's all relative to how comfortable you are with the idea. We put systems in place to ensure we have that element of control over the tasks that we do, so having a 'Quick Wins Day' more often than we should taks that comfort away and leads to anxiety, which leads to procrastination and that whole shame cycle we all find ourselves going through!

I always feel like I've made real progress with my life after a 'Quick Wins Day" and i strongly encourage you to consider the idea and let me know how it works for you. 

Security Audits with 1Password

1Password from AgileBits Software is the only tool I use for managing my online credentials. In fact, I use it to store anything that I consider to be sensitive or mission critical in my life. This can be passport numbers, certificate IDs, software licences, secure network information - it’s all contained within this secure database, accessible on any device that I choose. 

If that was all that 1Password did, then I’d be happy and ask them to take my money. This isn’t the case. One other feature that I urge all 1Password users to look at is Security Audit

If you open 1Password on macOS and look in the left hand pane, you’ll see the Security Audit section. You can hide this if you wish, by hovering over the heading and choosing Hide. I wouldn’t recommend this as the Security Audit is a great addition, helping you to keep on top of any web vulnerabilities via the excellent Watchtower integration as well as identifying, at a glance, any weak, duplicate or old passwords. 

Watchtower - Watchtower will identify any website vulnerabilites and alert you when found. This information is refreshed daily in order to verify items contained within your vault. 1Password then downloads this information and runs a local check against your logins. 

Please note the use of the word local here. AgileBits assure us that no data is ever sent to them.

Watchtower is enabled within Preferences.

Weak Passwords - 1Password runs an algorithm that assesses the strength of your passwords within your vault. A password that may seem complex to you may not be complex to software designed to crack your credentials. If you see an item count badge here (you’ll see I have 4), then it’s recommended to run the Strong Password Generator and change these passwords immediately. 

Duplicate Passwords - We’ve all used duplicate passwords from time to time (easier to remember, am I right?!). The issue we have here is that not all websites have the same level of security. If you have the same passwords on multiple sites and one of those is compromised, then the attackers have the keys to your castle on the others. Here you can quickly find duplicate passwords and replace them with strong, unique ones. 

Old Passwords - It’s always good security practice to change your passwords from time to time. 1Password makes it easy. 

Short and sweet, but I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the Security Audit feature within 1Password. It’s there, use it!

The Art Of Communication

Communication is a vital part of our day-to-day lives. It is a skill that we regularly exercise, yet rarely practice or have a desire to perfect. The ability for us to be able to communicate effectively has a significant bearing on the things that we do, the lives of the people around us and on our own lives as a whole. 

Think back to a time when you were last reprimanded by your boss, or, for some of us, your spouse! How did you feel? Did you come out of the discussion feeling positive and ready to put right the situation that got you there? More often than not the answer is a resounding no. This could have been a different answer if the communication channel had adopted a more positive stance. 

There are lots of situations where ineffective communication can cause unwanted results, far too many to list here. However we can solve this problem, at least from our end, by looking at the steps required for effective communication and transferring them seamlessly into our daily lives. 

Back when I started out in the world of Management, I was an Assistant Manager with a branch of McDonalds in Kent and communication was a key part of that role. It was due to these communication skills that I was able to be promoted and become the Restaurant Manager for one of these stores at the tender age of 23. You see, there are lots of people working as part of a team in a fast-paced environment trying to deliver a fast, efficient level of service to the customer. There is communication with the people working the different stations, communication with the customer by way of the counter person serving. There is also communication via the in-store marketing that is all around. Internally, you have communication with your employees who come from various walks of life and have very different needs and desires. Communication with your vertical hierarchy is very important as well, to ensure you have a good relationship with your line managers and boost your promotion chances. 

Messages need conveying all the time and what follows are the key components that I was taught to use. 

The Communication Model

There are four components to the Communication Model. 

The message that is being sent needs to come from somewhere, so we have a **Sender**. The person, machine, device that starts the communication process. For every person that sends a message, there needs to be one or more people to receive the message. These are the Receivers. If you don’t have anybody getting the message, you don’t have communication The Sender conveys to the Receiver a Message. This is the whole point of communication in the first place, a message needs to be sent! The most important part and that part that is oft forgotten. Feedback. If there is no feedback, you cannot guarantee that the message has been received properly, so the Communication Model has not been effectively completed. We’ve all seen the programs on TV which are set in a professional kitchen. The orders come into the Head Chef who looks at each individual sheet and shouts (usually!) in a loud, clear voice one part of the order. He is the sender, sending a message to a receiver, who in this case is the person who is responsible for preparing that part of the order. The receiver will shout an acknowledgement, usually “Yes Chef”, which gives us our feedback.

A perfect communication model in action. 

Barriers to Communication

The situation above is fairly utopian in that there are lots of assumptions being made with regards to the message being sent and the environment in place. There are many barriers to communication that you should be aware of and always try to avoid whenever possible, or mitigate against. 

Noise/Filters

The kitchen could be extremely noisy. There is a lot of equipment on, people bustling around. The chef will mitigate against this by shouting the order to ensure that the receiver is able to receive the message clearly. You need to be aware of the environment you are in before sending a message out. For example, if you are upstairs in your house, bathing your children and your spouse shouts a message to you, there is a very good chance you are not going to receive that message. There is the immediate noise of the children laughing, splashing, playing. Your concentration acts as a filter because you are not listening for a message but playing with your children. The distance between the room your spouse is in and your current location will also act as a filter. The easier option is for the sender to come up the stairs and convey the message. 

Yes, this is from personal experience!

Another example of a filter includes communicating with people who don’t have English as a native language. They are able to receive the message but it may not be received in the way that the sender intended. In this situation, it is crucial that the feedback is received in a more detailed manner. I find myself in this situation quite often when consulting with clients and, dependant on the level of importance of the message, as well as the medium used, I will ask for the message to be repeated back to me to ensure it has been understood. Obviously this is isn’t required if it’s an email communication because there is no variance on what is seen on the screen, however, my dialect may not be as easy for my client to understand as a written word, so confirmation that the message has been understood clearly is vital. 

Listening

Communication isn’t all about talking or writing emails. One of the main skills you can develop, particularly if you are in a management role, is the art of listening. When you listen, you are putting yourself in a position whereby you can gain knowledge about a particular person, subject or situation. By not listening, you are closing yourself off and we’ve all felt that frustration of trying to talk to someone who clearly isn’t giving you their full attention. 

There are some distinct listening skills you can adopt to help you with your communication and I try to use all of these daily. I learnt them nearly twenty years ago and they still ring true today. They will never go out of date because we will be communicating with each other until the day we die. 

Reflection - this is simply repeating exactly what has been said to you. Employee - “I need the day off tomorrow” You - “You need the day off tomorrow?”

This is a good technique because your response is always phrased as a question, which will encourage the sender to volunteer more information. 

Paraphrase - this is similar to Reflection, however you are repeating what has been said, yet in your own words. Employee - “I’m not going to be able to meet that deadline” You - “You’re saying that you are having difficulty meeting the deadline? Why’s that?”

Ask Open-Ended Questions - where possible, you should always ask questions that will require an answer that isn’t only Yes/No. This means that the person you are talking to has to think about the answer and you get a response that is based on their own opinion, giving you more knowledge about the situation than a simple Yes/No answer provides. 

Listening Posture and Concentration - have you ever had a conversation with someone whilst checking your mobile phone? Do you think that the person talking to you was impressed with that? If you look disinterested in the conversation then the person talking to you is going to be reluctant to talk. Always give people your full attention. If it’s a particularly important conversation, put your phone away and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. We’ve all been in the situation where you are in a meeting with someone, their phone goes and they decide that answering that call is more important than speaking with you.

Don’t be that person.

Body Language - people don’t always communicate with their mouths. When you are talking to someone, look at their body language as it can give us more information than the person is willing to give. In general, the body doesn’t lie. Are their signs of nervousness? Tiredness? What about other more obvious things, like the person talking to you is coming down with a cold but refuses to say they are ill, yet the signs are all there. Always be aware of the signs that the person you are communicating with is giving across through their body rather than verbally. When you pick up on something and tell them, they will really think that you care because you are paying attention to them. This can make all the difference. 

Silence - I love this one, it’s a doozy! Nobody likes a silence. It’s so uncomfortable and is the easiest way to be able to get information from somebody. When interviewing people, either for a disciplinary or for recruitment, silence is a superb technique for getting people to follow up on something they have already said. 

You - “Tell me about what you saw happening on that shift last Monday”

Employee - “Oh, nothing really, I just saw Jim and Bob arguing”

You nod your head, smiling…….

Employee - “……….yeah, their voices were raised and I heard Jim accuse Bob of being a thief”

You nod again, smiling….

Employee - “……apparently he stole something from Jim’s locker”

When you talk with someone, you expect them to tell you when they are ready to move on to another subject or line of questioning, so using silence to extract more information from the subject line you are currently discussing is an awesome way of listening.

There is a lot more detail that we can explore, but that is for another day. For now, please take note of the above when you are having difficulties getting messages through to people. If you are in a position of management, the listening skills will help elevate you from a position of authority to a position of respect. 

Opening Chrome Bookmarks with Alfred

Alfred is a fantastic launcher utility for macOS and I couldn’t tell you how many times I use it during a typical working day. Whether it’s performing basic web searches, opening applications or even converting currency, Alfred is my go-to tool. 

Another use that I have for it is opening bookmarks. Configuring Alfred to open bookmarks within Safari is an easy process, which I will outline shortly, however opening them from within Chrome is a different prospect. If this is something you need - I’ve got you covered. 

Opening Safari Bookmarks in Alfred

It would be remiss of me to get to the nuts and bolts of launching Chrome bookmarks without briefly showing you how easy it is to tweak Alfred to open Safari bookmarks. 

1) Open Alfred Preferences - if you launch Alfred and start typing Alfred, you will see the option to launch Alfred preferences at the bottom

2) Select Default Results and ensure you have Bookmarks - Safari ticked. 

When you start typing any letters contained within a Safari bookmark, it will now appear as a launchable item in Alfred.

Opening Chrome Bookmarks in Alfred

If, like me, you use Chrome for the majority of your web browsing, then you are going to need to leverage the Alfred Powerpack to open a workflow for this. 

The Powerpack pricing is displayed below.

Once installed, follow the instructions below:

1) Find the Chrome Bookmarks workflow - If you visit the following page at Packal, the home of Alfred workflows, you will see the workflow you need. Click the Download button. 

2) Install - once downloaded, double-click the file and follow the prompts to import the workflow into Alfred. You can assign the workflow a categoryif you so wish from the drop down box. Click Import.

3) Specify the Keyword - there are three components to the workflow. If you double-click on the Script Filter block, you will see that the default keyword is ,b. This means that when you invoke Alfred, typing ,b will tell Alfred that any following text will represent a bookmark within Chrome that you wish to open. I have changed this keyword to cb (Chrome Bookmark) as I find this easier to remember. This is key when you start adding workflows to Alfred, all requiring a new keyword.

Click Save and you are good to go! Open Alfred, type your keyword and start opening any saved bookmarks within Chrome quickly and easily.

Using OmniFocus Notes and Airmail together

The Notes field in OmniFocus 2 is amazing. It can be used for so many purposes, however in this post, I’m going to outline just one. Automatically referencing emails in my email application of choice, Airmail

I frequently record actions in OmniFocus that require either a follow-up to an email I’ve archived. Sometimes, I just need to quickly pull up the email to grab some key information. In order to do this, I drag a copy of the email into the Notes field of my OmniFocus action. 

Here’s how. 

As you can see below, we have a project in OmniFocus to organise a seminar. I’ve sent an email out already, however I need a task in place to followup on a given date. If I’ve had no response, it would be great to just open the email directly from within OmniFocus rather than find the email within Airmail.

The only available action is Receive confirmation of booking request so I highlight this action and press  and  together to bring up the Notes field. I use a TextExpander abbreviation to enter a date and time stamp, so I have a clear indication as to when I performed the action. 

Next, I open Airmail and find the email that is associated with the task. Once found, I left click the email to select and then, with my thumb still ‘left-clicking’ on the trackpad, I use the Application Switcher ( and TAB) to switch views to OmniFocus. The email is still on screen, waiting to be dropped somewhere. I move to the open Notes field, just after my date stamp and drop it in.

When the Defer date passes and the action is available to me, I don’t need to open Airmail to find the email I sent a week ago, I can reference it directly from within the OmniFocus action itself. 

This is one of those small workflows that I use every single day without fail and is one of the reasons why I only really process email when I’m on my laptop, as I find this process a lot easier on macOS, rather than iOS. That’s not to say there isn’t a way of doing it quickly on iOS, I just haven’t taken the time to look, as this works so well. 

This doesn’t,  of course refer only to emails. This is great for embedding files, maps, shortcuts to web content - you name it!

As ever, I hope this helps some of you!

Find Out More About Minimalism

Over the course of the last three months, I have been reading a lot about minimalism. It's a subject that has fascinated for me a while now as last year, one of my three words that function as waypoints for the year was, in 2016, simplify. I was driven by a belief that the two of these could live together, hand-in-hand, thereby learning more about the art of minimalism could help with my drive to simplify my life.

It turns out that the subject of minimalism has been a little bit of a rabbit hole for me and it's slowly becoming an increasingly important part of my lifestyle.

The first thing I learnt is that minimalism is not all about getting rid of your material possessions, disconnecting yourself from your family and friends and living in a 6 x 4 room with no furniture or connection to the outside world! Far from it, minimalism is about fostering a feeling of freedom and helping to focus on the things that are truly important in your life.

I'lll give one such example, which is common amongst people who start looking at adopting a minimalist lifestyle in some form. A visit into my loft/attic last year quickly showed me that there were a lot of items sitting idle that were not serving a purpose. Two of these had a reasonable monetary value that could be assigned to them. One was an Xbox 360 with all of the add-ons you would expect - a large number of games, extra controller, Kinect sensor etc. The second was a Nintendo Wii, again, with a host of extra peripherals and games.

My first thought upon seeing them was financial. How much can I get for them? So I looked on some local marketing sites, as well as the standards (Ebay etc) and saw that there wasn't much of a resale value. As well as this, there was certainly a lot of effort involved in getting them boxed, photos taken, listed, posted etc. So I did what the majority of fairly well-to-do people would do in that situation.

I left them where they were.

Then I read The More Of Less by Joshua Becker and I quickly realised my perception of the situation was wrong. My first thought was to assign a monetary value to the two consoles, yet this was wrong and against my core values in life. I've always considered myself to be a kind and generous person, however my desire to ensure that I am a good role model for my wife and children has been driven by money. I have to make money and provide for them in order to earn their respect.

I took some of Joshua's advice and detached the monetary value from them (which to be fair, wasn't much now). Instead, I looked at the joy and pleasure that others may derive from using them.

It didn't take me long to find a fantastic British charity (I'm in the UK after all) called GetWellGamers. They receive donations of video games and equipment and distribute them amongst over 65 childrens hospitals in the UK. One quick communication to them on their site resulted in a volunteer collecting the consoles and games and they are now providing far more joy to people that need it than they were collecting dust in my loft.

How did this make me feel? Pretty good, I can tell you.

When I told my wife about this, I was so pleased to see that it had an effect. Again, it's only a small thing, yet we had a large pile of old blankets and pillows that my wife was organising ready for selling. Now, they are going to be heading towards a local charity for young families that are in desperate need of food and warmth.

A soft minimalist approach to household possessions was able to give us the freedom to do something we always thought we weren't financially able to do - help people. That, in a nutshell, is one of the core fundamentals of minimalism - allowing you the freedom to focus on the things that truly matter to you.

Do you feel like you have too much 'stuff'? Do you find yourself spending more time working and tidying yet not enough time with your family? (if you have children, I'm sure you relate to that!) Do you frequently find yourself overwhelmed? So much to do, yet you can't fit the time in?

If so, I recommend these resources - give them a try:

If you have found that minimalism has affected your life, I'd love for you to share your tips and advice.

4 Ways to Avoid Distractions When it Matters Most

Deadlines, by their very nature, suck.

 

When you have a deadline approaching, you just have to sit down and get work done whether you want to or not. You’re used to deadlines from back in your school days, and have learned by now that they’re just a part of life.

 

Now, you can either hate and fear them, or you can use them to your advantage to get focused. As the saying goes:

 

“Nothing ever gets done without a deadline”

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