The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now

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This is how the world felt before Crackberries. (LeoLuigi)

“Not-to-do” lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance.

The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.

Here are nine stressful and common habits that entrepreneurs and office workers should strive to eliminate. The bullets are followed by more detailed descriptions. Focus on one or two at a time, just as you would with high-priority to-do items. I’ve worded them in no-to-do action form:

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
Feel free to surprise others, but don’t be surprised. It just results in unwanted interruption and poor negotiating position. Let it go to voicemail, and consider using a service like GrandCentral (you can listen to people leaving voicemail) or Simulscribe (receive voicemails as e-mail).

2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
The former scrambles your priorities and plans for the day, and the latter just gives you insomnia. E-mail can wait until 10am, after you’ve completed at least one of your critical to-do items… Read More

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How to Do The Impossible: Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail Again, Never Return Another Phone Call…

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“I must create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s.”
-William Blake

Forget the paperless office — it’s aiming too low.

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture: a paperless life. While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate three other nuisances: answering the phone, checking voicemail, and returning phone calls.

Is this possible? It is. The key to finding means to accomplish the “impossible” is asking the right question: “How would you do ____ for a week if your life depended on it?” Most things considered impossible just haven’t been looked at through the “how” lens of lateral thinking. Here are a few exercise questions for Paperless Life 101:

What would you have to do to never again touch mail?
What would you have to do to never touch another check?
What would you have to do to never touch another dollar?

Consider these questions as real questions. If I offered you a million dollars to do each of these things for a month, could you do it? Here are a just a few potential strategies for doing all three, then we’ll move on to phone games:

1. No more mail:
First, we need to cut out the crap — reduce volume. To begin, get removed from junk mail lists and common commercial mailing lists. There are a few ways to do this: 1) Get remove from the most common junkmail lists (this costs a few dollars in some cases) and check alternative strategies at www.stopjunkmail.org, 2) Use LifeLock, or another identity protection service, which automatically removes you from large mailing lists, one of the most common vehicle for identity theft. Last, we’ll have your mail forwarded to special processing centers, where it is all scanned and emailed to you. One popular service is called Remote Control Mail, and there are two big benefits to the time-focused and mobile-minded: relevant postal mail is funneled into e-mail, so you can check both email and postal mail at once (“batching” both at the same time); you can travel freely whenever and wherever without ever missing a letter.

2. No more checks — this is the easiest and most familiar:
-Set up online banking so you can issue checks directly from your bank, and set up automatic recurring payments
-Give your accountant power of attorney to sign specific checks (for tax documents, etc.) on your behalf. Power of attorney is no joke, so do your homework, but it can be used — as I do — with little risk. This approach not only cuts down on checks but also finance-related mail, which you can then forward to your accountant for handling start-to-finish.

3. No more cash — easier than you think:
I hate cash, and I hate coins even more. Why don’t men’s wallets have pockets? In all cases, getting rid of physical wampum is more about breaking personal habit than overcoming external resistance. For the last several months, I’ve replaced a brick of a wallet with a razor-thin money clip holding four credit cards (Business Platinum AMEX, business Chase Continental Mastercard, personal AMEX, personal Mastercard), one debit card for emergencies, and health/car insurance. I haven’t had a single problem. Some smaller shops will prefer that you cover coffee with cash, for example, but credit is accepted.

Paper cuts fingers and kills forests, but what of the damn 9-to-5 headaches? How can you eliminate the need to answer the phone, check voicemail, or return phone calls? Here are a few quick fixes:

1. No more answering the phone:
Use a service like GrandCentral to listen to voicemail as they’re being left. Each caller is required to announce their name before the call is dialed, and you are able to preview the name and send them to voicemail, where you can listen to their message as they leave it. If you want to speak with them, you can jump in. If not, let them leave a voicemail and — at the set times when you batch — go to step 2.

2. No more voicemail:
Get your voicemail delivered to your e-mail inbox, which then serves as your single communications “funnel”. This would be our single “bucket” in the parlance of David Allen, and our remote control postal mail joins the voicemail here: e-mail, postal mail, and voicemail all in one place. GrandCentral can e-mail audio files, but for those who want text, Simulscribe is a popular option with near 90% transcription accuracy. Stop managing separate inputs from office phone voicemail, cell phone voicemail, and multiple email accounts. Consolidate. To further encourage all people to communicate with you via e-mail, there are two approaches that I’ve used effectively: indicate in your voicemail greeting that people must leave their e-mail address, and respond to them via e-mail; use Jott to send a voice message to them as an e-mail.

3. No more returning calls:
Pinger enables you to send voicemail to people without calling them. Why would you want to do that? From their website:

We’ve all been there-you make a call and think to yourself, “please don’t pick up”, or you call and think “I hope I’m not interrupting…” With Pinger you leave the message at your convenience, and they get it at their convenience. Unlike voicemail, there is no ringing, no annoying prompts, no lengthy greetings — just your message.

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None of these strategies are perfect, but they do demonstrate that none of our impossible questions are impossible to answer. Once you frame the question in terms of “how would I…?”, it is entirely possible to stop tolerating most of life’s annoyances and eliminate them altogether.

Did you like this? Please take a second to Digg it here and I’ll focus on more of doing the impossible, tech lifehacks, etc.

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Robert Scoble Interviews Tim Ferriss: Productivity, E-mail Fasts, GTD, and More…

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I spend a good amount of time at the offices of Podtech, usually stealing their Diet Dr. Pepper and hanging out on their bean bags. A few weeks ago, however, I managed to do something resembling “work”: an interview with uberblogger Robert Scoble. This time, I was the interviewee! The camera work is much better than my Blair Witch Project attempts in previous posts.

The first interview below is 50 minutes in length and my favorite version by far — lots of goodies from both me and Robert, including everything from e-mail and personal outsourcing to the book launch and how to combine 4HWW with Getting Things Done (GTD). It’s a very fun conversation. The second version is just an 8-minute appetizer but still a fun diversion. Here are both options, the longer version first, and you might need to turn up your computer volume, as we had no lavalier mics:

Work only four hours a week with Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss wrote a New York Times best seller. Why is it so hot? Because it lays out how you can work less and enjoy life more. Here, I sit down with Tim and talk about some of the ideas he discusses in his book.

Editor’s Choice: Some insightful highlights of Tim Ferriss’ interview

If you’re really following Tim’s plan, you’ll just watch the highlights of the interview I did with this New York Times’ best selling author. He wrote the book on the 4-hour Workweek, and here you get the highlights of an interview I did with him recently.

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How Scoble Absorbs 10,000+ E-mail

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I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.
-Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes”

Last week, we covered how celebrity tech-blogger Robert Scoble reads 622 RSS feeds each morning. In Part II, we answer the question:

How does he manage to read and organize tens of thousands of e-mail?

This exclusive 5-minute interview provides some great tips for avoiding e-mail overload, including:

The companies he recommends for e-mail systems
Definitions: are you a “piler” or a “filer”?
How to use reverse spam filtering to save time
The GTD rule he violates in favor of filing
Folder structure: how many does he use?
Why Robert doesn’t store all e-mail
Innovative use of a “Done” folder to prevent rereading

The interview cuts off at 5 minutes because my memory card reached capacity. What are a few of the things we discussed after the camera stopped rolling? See below the video for some great tips that weren’t caught on film.

What did you miss afterwards? Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Keep all Outlook .PST files under 2GB in size to optimize speed and prevent crashes:
Creating a new .PST file is not intuitive. Here’s the menu flow to get it done: Tools –> Options –> Mail Setup –> Data Files –> Add. Robert has three separate .PST files as folders in his left-hand Outlook view, which are essentially “Old”, “Middle/Someday”, and “Hot”. These are in addition to his “Inbox”, which he considers his “working set”.

2. Remove infrequently used .PST files:
Right-click and “close” infrequently used .PST folders and other folders. This does not delete them, thus Google Desktop can still be used to search for these messages. I suggest you double-check this before doing anything resembling deleting/removing.

3. Rename or append frequently-used folders to appear at the top of the list:
This one is from me. Robert has 20+ folders, as do millions of us. Once you identify the most frequently used folders, add “A-…”, “B-…”, “C-…”, etc. as prefixes (in descending order of frequency) on the folder names to reorder the folders alphabetically and bring the most useful to the top. Cut down on mouse travel time and eliminate wasted visual scanning.

4. Responding to fewer e-mail is the holy grail:
Robert told me that, based on his analytics over time, each e-mail he replies to produces between 1.5 and 2 additional e-mail in return. Sending e-mail multiplies the e-mail you receive. Replying to more people more often — the goal of most people — actually creates more work instead of cutting it down.

For more strategies, including template e-mails, that can be used to cut e-mail volume in half and cut frequency to once per day or once per week, see “The Low-Information Diet” and “Interrupting Interruption” in The 4-Hour Workweek.

Did you enjoy this topic and behind-the-scenes look? Please take a second to Digg it here and I’ll do more!

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How Scoble Reads 622 RSS Feeds Each Morning

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Uberblogger Robert Scoble is truly one-of-a-kind. For those who don’t know, he became famous as a technical evangelist at Microsoft and quickly became their most outspoken and influential blogger. He now interviews people like Bill Gates, and the worldwide media reports on his every move. One of his most mindboggling skills is information management. He currently reads 622 RSS feeds a day — it used to be 1,400 feeds a day!

How the hell does he do it?

I dropped by the Podtech offices and hung out with Robert to find out. How does he avoid overload and process so much information? In this exclusive 11-minute interview, we answer quite a few burning questions I’ve wanted to ask since first meeting Robert:

Which RSS reader does he use and why?
How does he configure it to save time?
What are simple keyboard shortcuts anyone can use?
How does he find and pick feeds?
How can you catch his eye with your posts?
How does he use RSS feeds for building relationships?
How does he use sites like Techmeme/DIGG vs. niche blogs?

One thing impresses me about Robert more than all of his credentials: he smiles more than almost anyone I know. All the time! There is much to be learned from the Scobleizer. The ending of the interview — Robert’s last line — is also not to be missed.

My apologies for the hyperactive camera work, but the whole thing was quite impromptu, and I’m no Spielberg. Just close your eyes and listen if I make you seasick.

[UPDATE: Sorry, but the below video has been removed. Not sure why. Apologies!]

Stay tuned for part II, coming in the next week, which will answer the question: How does Robert Scoble read and organize e-mail? From speeding up Outlook’s performance to reverse spam filtering, it’s all covered. In the meantime, for a solid overview of how I cut e-mail time by about 90%, see my new manifesto at Seth Godin’s ChangeThis.

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Outsourcing Life and How to Eliminate E-mail Overload

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The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

Tao Te Ching
Chapter 38

Is it possible to outsource your life to other countries? By now, you know that I believe it is. But is it necessary to outsource overseas? Can you outsource in languages other than English? What is geoarbitrage really about?

These were some of the topics I covered in “Die 4-Stunden Arbeitswoche” (The 4-Hour Workweek) with Patrick Price for his Swiss-German podcast, NetzNews. The first 30 seconds are in Swiss German, a very cool dialect that sounds nothing like Berlin German, and the rest is in English.

In other news, my first “manifesto” on Seth Godin’s ChangeThis was published this week. The title? The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate E-Mail Overload & Triple Productivity in 24 Hours. This free and easy-to-read PDF contains some popular content from the book, but also a ton of template e-mails and bonus tips found nowhere else. Learn to read 3 times faster and cut your volume of e-mail in half. This manifesto is designed to get you there in 24 hours.

Download it here, and pass it on to those who need it!

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How to Eliminate Junk Mail and E-mail in 30 Minutes… and Red Bull Book Party!

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For those of you interested in the tech tools I use abroad, or how some case studies have negotiated remote work, there is a short interview with me called “Workin’ 9 to…9:48?” in this month’s issue of Outside magazine, which focuses on dream jobs. It’s a very cool issue guaranteed to get you thinking about escape.

Before you can escape, however, you need to stop crap information from invading your life. It finds us through two channels that we’ll crush today: SPAM (which actually stands for “Sh*t Posing As Mail) and junk postal mail. Here are the quick 30-minute fixes for both:

1. Put yourself on the postal “do not call” list by sending a letter to the following address and asking to be removed from all mass and junk mailings:

DMA Mail Preference Service
Post Office Box 603
Carmel, NY 10512-0643

Big thanks to corporate pranking genius John Hargrave, who introduced me to this through his bible of sticking it to the man, Prank the Monkey, one of the most empowering and hysterical books I’ve ever read.

2. Sign up for SpamArrest. I’ve tried several spam filtering programs, and most have been either too lenient or excessively strict. SpamArrest, which I can use for Outlook without installing it on the server (key for many employees who don’t have administrator rights), used in combination with Gmail, has reduced my spam count to 2-4 message per week.

Keep it simple. Good barriers needn’t be complicated and seldom are. Take 30 minutes to trial the above and treat your brain to something like Discovery Channel instead of penis enlargement spam and credit card offers. Stop sorting and start eliminating.

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Free Red Bull book launch party tonight in San Francisco!

For those readers in the bay area, come party with me tonight!

Forget cover charges. From 9-11pm tonight (Friday), get into this exclusive party with a proof of purchase of The 4-Hour Workweek! Jam to one of the hottest superstar DJs in CA, David Carvalho, and The Red Bull Energy Team will be there to fuel you all night long: free Red Bull!

It’ll be a wild evening of drinks and dancing with SF’s finest. Just bring your receipt from a local bookstore or Amazon (or a page from the book) and you’re in!

Address and details can be found at www.upcoming.org here.

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