PreneurCast is a marketing + business podcast. Author and marketer Pete Williams and digital media producer Dom Goucher discuss entrepreneurship, business, internet marketing and productivity.
Pete Williams and Dom Goucher discuss Information Overload, and some techniques and tools for handling it.
Information Overload – Email a Go-Go
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Information Overload – Email A-Go-Go
Dom Goucher: Hey, Pete.
Pete Williams: Hey, dude. How are you?
Dom: Pretty good, pretty good. A little bit busy this week, but hey, busy is good.
Pete: Busy is very good. It’s better than the alternative.
Pete: What’s been going on? You’re going off on vacation, I hear.
Dom: Yeah, yeah. I think it’d really be a vacation. My sister is getting married in the UK, so I’m heading over there. But as always, it’s last minute. We’re flying in the night before.
Dom: Go do the family things. I’m staying for a couple of days. Just trying to clear the decks before I go. I don’t want to let anybody down because I’m going to be pretty much offline, which for me is very unusual.
Pete: Fair enough. So, yeah. How do you think you’ll cope?
Dom: I think I’ll be fine. I’ve been really trying to work on that. I’m really trying to work on the amount of time that I’m connected and how much information I consume when I consume it — stuff like that, which is really actually what I thought we could talk about this week. Maybe we’re going to have like a swear box or something for when somebody blows smoke up the other one because this week, I got this really great thing from you. I didn’t know you were going to do this. I got this email in my inbox with this great title. You sent this email out to your list and you titled this email ‘Noise Reduction.’
Dom: It was just a list of things that you thought were worth paying attention to this week, with a bunch of links in it. And I just thought, wow, that’s really useful. Because I know you’re a great consumer of all things, and we’ll talk one time about how you manage that because you are just phenomenal — the amount of information you consume whether it’s podcast, videos, audios, books, articles. I mean, you just devour this stuff and I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t do it. But I know that you’re interested in a lot of things that I’m interested in.
So I get this email through and it’s like a list of maybe six links, and they’re all absolutely spot on. They’re all like, “Oh yeah, that’s really interesting.” And it was stuff I haven’t actually seen that week. I thought that was great and I really love the title. That’s a bit of a theme, Noise Reduction.
Pete: That is the key that stood out for me. There’s so much crap on the web, in Twitter, Facebook and everything else. There’s just so much noise is what it’s all about. There’s just so much noise and it’s really hard to cut through all that noise and work out which is actually newsworthy or noteworthy, so I think it was just a great way. I consume a lot of stuff and a lot of it is noise. I bookmark, tag or delicious my favorite noteworthy things. I thought, well, let’s put it into a weekly email that I could send out to everyone who’s on the list that could be helpful for them. It’s just a quick email with six or seven links with sort of a long diatribe of why they’re good, why they’re bad or why I like this. “Here are some cool stuff I found this week, check it out.” So hopefully, it’s going to be a weekly thing.
Dom: Slightly embarrassingly, I can’t remember how I got on that list. I get various emails from you from various accounts from your various businesses because we work together. But where did I get on those? Is that on the main website?
Pete: Basically, I send it out to everyone in all my sub-lists as well. I think it’s relevant to everybody who’s kind of in my world, so to speak. The easiest place is if you head over to PreneurMaketing.com or PeteWilliams.com.au, on both those places, there are options to actually jump up onto my list, put your email address in there and get free bonuses. I hate that sort of term ‘free bonuses for signing up.’
But I got the audio version. Actually, I got the full rights back to my first book from the publishers a few months back. The original deal that I negotiated with the publishers for the first book included a clause where I got the rights back, which I was able to invoke a few months ago. And off the back of that, I went and got an audio version of my first book created that I’m just giving away for free now because the book’s done its job for me. It was a great door-opener, business card, sales tool for me, as well as an educational tool for the readers. So it’s done that sort of job, so to speak, and I’m just giving it away now. If you head over to either of those two sites, you’d be able to grab a copy of that, get in the list, and get Noise Reduction on a hopefully, weekly basis.
Dom: Excellent, excellent. Now that kind of brings me to the two sides of this. There’s my side. One of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast in the first place was actually just because I wanted to learn how you do what you do. And then we both thought it would be interesting for other people who are interested in being efficient and also growing a business and things like that. To me, right now, the topic is efficiency and dealing with this information overload and it just, I’m going to use one of your words, it sounds wonky.
If I read another article about, “Ooh, information overload, blah, blah, blah,” and there are very few people who are helpful on this topic. But it is true. If you do the kind of things that we do, you’re in information marketing, if you’re in any field really these days, you can easily overload yourself. But in the information marketing internet-internet marketing space, certainly, because there are so many people being told to publish information. They’re all doing it, whether it’s got any value or not.
Pete: It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, I guess, is what you’re saying as well. Because everyone now has a voice and some people shouldn’t be heard, as bad as that sounds. Look, I really encourage you to post and write stuff because as I said, you’ll remember or you’ll learn the topic by actually re-communicating it out there, whether it’s by teaching, writing, or blog posting is probably the tactic version of that. So it’s important people do that. But at the same time, it’s just causing more and more noise which is not necessarily a good thing.
Dom: Now, here’s a word of warning to the internet marketing community. I think I’m going to start mean with this. I’m going to try and go though Inbox Zero because I know you did it, you believe in it, and it works. I’m a big fan of Merlin Mann myself as well. Before I met you, I’ve been following Merlin since I don’t know when, and the Inbox Zero is a constant battle for me. And one of the things that really causes me grief is of course the whole internet marketing that comes in.
So here’s my attack, and you can check on me when I get back from my week off, anybody that says ‘my friend’ as the opening line of their email, they’re off. I’m just unsubscribing from their list. “My friend Nagin has got this deal. It’s…” No. Off. Bye. That’s not their friend, I’m sorry. I know it’s not your friend, so let’s get real. It’s just a standard bit of boilerplate. Get rid of it, bye.
But definitely, the whole information overload thing, it’s also really pushed me back because I’m trying to close down my stuff this week. I’m trying to say, right, make sure you’re clear. Make sure you’ve done everything that’s important. Make sure you’ve delivered to all the clients etc., etc. I’m wading through the inbox and going, “Right, that’s important. I need to pay attention to that. I need to track that. No, that’s rubbish, get rid of it.” It just really hit me this week. I actually stopped reading a lot on my feeds. So when you’re Noise Reduction came in, I thought, well, it’s Pete. As you say, you don’t say, “I think this is cool because,” you just say, “I think this is interesting.” It’s just a really useful thing for people. Ed Dale talks about it. What’s the word he uses?
Pete: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Dom: Oh, he talks about it with Twitter lists, but it’s a bit everything: curation. That’s what you’re doing, curation. You’re sorting through this stuff for other people. That’s one of the most valuable things people can do these days, and that’s what that is to me. I think it’s going to become a big thing.
Pete: Hopefully, people enjoy it. For people to find it and read it is fantastic. There could be some gold in there for some people. I can say it in circles, but yeah, hopefully it’s helpful.
Dom: So I’ve allowed you a 10-minute respite. There’s your digression. You know what’s coming next because in the last call we talked about the book you’re writing now, and we talked about accountability.
Pete: Oh, here we go.
Dom: I’m outing you. I am not chasing you with emails; there are no Skype chat messages.
Pete: Just going directly to the jugular on air, nice work.
Dom: How’s it going, dude?
Pete: It’s been an interesting weekend. I did make a promise to you to get some stuff done, which I didn’t deliver on. That’s me. I think it’s everyone. It’s a constant battle against resistance. I had an interesting morning on Saturday morning. I got locked out of the house, which was a whole another half-hour story about how that went down, which snowballed into few other bits and pieces, but that’s no excuse. It’s a reason but it’s not an excuse. So look, I’ll be getting back onto it in the next 24 hours.
Dom: Cool. On the accountability thing, just talking about that in general for people, and again back then you said, “Yeah, I committed to give you something over the weekend,” what I’ve tried to get you to do is tell me what it is that you’re working towards, however big or however small, realistic or otherwise. I’ve tried to get you to tell me what it is because the nebulous idea of ‘I’ll give you something,’ which is what a lot of people do. You have, by the way. You told me what it was you’re going to give me, but a lot of people just go, “Oh, yeah. No, we’ll meet again on Wednesday. I’ll show you something.”
Pete: Yes, make it measurable.
Dom: Exactly, make it measurable. Make it concrete, make it measurable. And that’s one of those, you get any book on my bookshelf about goal setting, one of the key things about goal setting is making it measurable.
Pete: I think it’s also about making it objective as opposed to subjective. Because subjective in a lot of different areas not alone goal setting or accountability, is very, very vague. Whereas if it’s objective, it’s black or white, that’s it. You delivered or you didn’t deliver. You achieved or you didn’t achieve. It’s right or it’s wrong. I think a lot of people give themselves loopholes and exits with subjectiveness. Does that make sense at all?
Dom: Yeah, I’m just double-checking in my brain, objective versus subjective. I think we’ll just let that one go. I know what you mean and you’re probably right.
Pete: I think when it comes down to English language, mate, don’t trust me at all.
Dom: Yeah, let’s change the subject quickly. I’m about to go into a week of information fasting, let’s use another fancy term, and I’m going to try my access to the information and the internet, if I do it at all, is going to be to sort out my systems and go for the Inbox Zero. Now I know you’re a bit of an email ninja. You spend a lot of time thinking about this. Can you talk a little bit about how you handle just the email side of things? I mean if we did everything, it’ll take us days because your systems are amazing.
Pete: Well, my system actually has kind of changed in the last two or three business days. We finally made the shift in the office. We’re going from POP3 mail to be on the cloud. So we only just moved all mail to Google Apps for the entire company. Historically, with all my Gmail accounts, they were actually just permanently forwarded to my POP account in the office. So down the line, platform has had a big change to it in the last 24 or 48 hours. But fundamentally, the systems and the processes around that haven’t really changed.
I’m now using Mailplane inside my Mac to actually manage my emails. I historically used Mac Mail, which I thought was more than adequate for the workflow that I had. I was using a really cool add-on called MailTags, which allowed you to actually tag and manipulate the emails you receive in your inbox. So you can add certain categories, colorize them, do follow-ups, and bits and pieces of that which was really, really cool. But now we’re going to Mailplane, you can do a very similar thing with that.
The Inbox Zero thing, this is what I tried to really push through as many of the team members in the office as possible, is that your inbox, at a minimum level, I guess you’d call it, is only for stuff you still have to action. There are so many people, they have their emails in one location and it’s just in their inbox. It’s just full of stuff they’ve read, they haven’t read, they’ve done, they haven’t done. Well, how do you know what’s in there to actually do? And if you get busy and behind, the inbox can be a very, very scary monster in that you go, “I’ve got so much in here, I don’t know where to start.”
So really the first thing is making sure your inbox is only used for actionable things. That should just be a minimum, in my opinion. And then if you want to get into a next level and play that Inbox Zero game, so to speak, where you want to try and empty out your inbox as much as possible, that’s where I try and live now because my rule when it comes to adaptation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero is that when you dedicate some time and sit down and do email, as in read and reply to emails, you make a commitment.
If there’s an item to an email you read, either you action it straightaway or you do something with it. If it’s an action I have to do later on, then I’ll put it into my OmniFocus, which is my Getting Things Done task management application. The inbox of OmniFocus is where they go. So it gets moved from my email inbox into my to-do inbox which is inside OmniFocus. And then from there, I’d go and dissect and push it through different categories and all that sort of stuff, and then live that Getting Things Done-type of mentality that David Allen talks about. That’s sort of the high-level kind of process or flow to try and get on top of this sort of stuff.
A lot of filters and emails get moved automatically. In terms of some of those mailing list stuff that you spoke about before, I’m on probably as many if not more mailing lists than you as well, I just got them filtered to go to a special folder inside, well now, Gmail. They just get filtered straight through and I see them in my inbox. So when I have some time I’m like, “Alright. I want to actually go and check out what’s going on in the internet marketing world, or the business information product world.” I’d go and jump into that folder and I’ll go through and just skim what’s going on, what launch is happening at the moment, what are people giving out, and do it that way because that is consumption stuff, it’s not action stuff.
I really try and make sure that that consumption stuff gets automatically moved out of my inbox and actually see it, and I can just do it when I’m in consumption mode, which might be sitting on the couch at home, waiting in line at the bank, or when I’m in that five-minute break between my Critical Focus Time. I’d have that five-minute break, and in that five-minute break is when I’d jump into my consumption stuff and email. I’ll consume that and I’ll go through the news, and try to follow or go through the noise and try to find some news that way. But my inbox only has the stuff that I know I have to action, and I really make sure there are flags and filters to make that happen automatically without me.
Dom: In about five minutes there, you’ve really described quite a complex system. It is simple now and it works really well for you, I know. But having tried to put these things together — and bear in mind, ironically, I come from a more technical background than you. It can be quite a challenge, not from the technology point of view, but from the chronological flow point of view. We’ll skip over the fact that you offhandedly mentioned Mailplane, which is kind of a Gmail aggregation tool, isn’t it? It’s like the mail application but it reads your Gmail directly, if I understand it.
Pete: Yeah. It’s basically like a nice little wrapper for Gmail. So rather than actually using Gmail inside your web browser like Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, it’s a standalone application that has some funky add-ons to give a little bit more functionality out of Gmail. And particularly, if you’ve got lots of Gmail accounts, it works really, really easily. But Mailplane is not really the thing, it’s the process. I really think just the actual thing that people should take away from this little rant is to use filters at least to divide the consumption stuff versus their action stuff.
So things like when you register a new domain with Go Daddy, and you get the five different emails that you get confirmation and your PayPal receipt. Stuff like that, you don’t even need to see them. Even seeing them in your inbox and then manually dragging them into a different folder still takes time. You know what you bought, you don’t need to see it. Just set some filters up. It can be a little bit of a pain upfront. You’d go, “I’ve got to do another filter. Oh no, I’ve got to do another filter,” but it takes all but three seconds and it’s going to save you not only the time in the future, but also it’s that mental space.
When you see your inbox, you’ll be amazed at how empty your inbox will become just by getting out all your consumption stuff. You can even have Level I consumption, Level II consumption, if you want to get really anal about that stuff that you want to read every day as a consumption thing. Maybe you’re on Help a Reporter Out or HARO, a great service where you can actually get sent publicity opportunities for free. Every day, journalists are actually putting on HARO, “I want this person to be featured in my article.” Great tool to get exposure for yourself and your business, but that’s a consumption thing still.
You can make it Level I consumption as opposed to Level II consumption, which might be an email from a marketing guy trying to sell you stuff. So it’s really important that you have those filters just to isolate consumption from action, and the action stuff tends to be creation stuff. It’s almost consumption versus creation — whether you’re creating a spreadsheet for your boss, or you’re creating a product, or whatever. Actions are your tools to get you to creation no matter whatever you’re creating. It’s creation versus consumption filters.
Dom: You’ve really touched on a massive issue there. It’s something, I think, the people don’t really think about, aren’t really aware of it. And again, because the guy produces so much content in his space, he is the guy I go back to all the time, but Ed Dale talks about consumption versus creation. It’s one of his big things this year. He’s the one who got me really thinking about my processes. And you’re absolutely right. I have filters, I really do have filters like your suppliers. All my suppliers have a filter, my Skype credit allocation, automated messages. I can find anything from Skype very quickly. I can find anything from any supplier very quickly. I don’t need to see those. I don’t need to see those except for every now and then, but I don’t need to see them when I’m allocating time to check my email.
I need to see what’s important. It reminds me of years and years ago when I got my first mobile phone. This was a long time ago. I gave the number to about maybe three or four people. Can you remember those days? They were like my family and my closest friends. Basically, I could leave the telephone on 24 hours a day, seven days a week because if it rang, the person that was calling had something important to say. Yeah?
Dom: People knew that. If that phone rang at 5am, I would wake up, I would answer it. I would also be half-dressed by the time I pressed the GO button because I figured it would be important enough. They want something, they want me or want some help on something. I think you should kind just treat your inbox like that. If something pops up in your inbox, if you can make sure that what pops up in front of you, especially if you have a ‘job’ job and your job means that you need to have your Email Notifications on, because that’s something that I stopped a long time ago, my email’s off. I’m like you. I allocate time during the day that I read it and I switched it off because the distraction is just too much, these things dinging up all the time.
Dom: You know I hide on Skype. Even when I’m on Skype, I hide. Because just the note of just people going, “Oh hey, hi! How’s the weather?” Go away.
Dom: So the two big things that I got from what you do and the things I’ve got to really go back and have another run-around because I’ve let my filters go is what’s happened to my inbox. I’ve kind of got a bit lazy with adding the new subscriptions to a filter, and that’s what’s filling my inbox at the moment. It’s just noise. So I need to get on top of that. I’m OK with consumption versus creation. I’ve locked myself out of the mail and I don’t read it, I don’t have it open all day and let the notifications distract me. Otherwise, I’d never get anything done. So do you actually allocate like set times during the day, or as you mentioned that you do it sometimes in between your 25-minute creation blocks, that you check your mail? Do you have fixed times as well?
Pete: No, I don’t do the whole Tim Ferriss, “I only check it on Wednesdays at 11:35 when it’s over 28 degrees and the sun’s risen from the South.” It’s just my email management. In terms of email viewing, it’s just like, “OK, I want to check my emails now. I want to see what’s going on. I need to feed my ADD.” So it’s not really a set thing. But when I’m in there, I have some positive constraints, so to speak.
Dom: Yeah, David Allen talks about that. If you pick something up like if you open your email, you’re doing it with a commitment to yourself that you are going to action what’s in there. You’re not just going to scan it and go, “nah.”
Pete: Exactly. I’ll go in there at random times. I might be in one of those moods one day when I’ll actually check my email three times in an hour. But every time I check it, I’ll still go and follow my rules, my own guidelines of what I need to do when I’m actually in that space. I don’t think it’s necessarily about when you get in that space or how often you get into that space. It’s just that when you’re in there, you’ve got some rules to follow.
Dm: Yeah, and that is actually probably the most important thing. You have kind of said this in what you’re saying, “Oh, I use Mailplane and I use Gmail, I use these tools.” But let’s not get hung up on the tools. You and I, I think, share a deep affection for all things Mac. But as I say, especially in my job with media production, my Mac is my tool. It does the job, it’s the best tool for the job. But saying you’ve got to use a Mac to do something just because they look nice or whatever, is like getting excited about a hammer.
Pete: Absolutely. There are different types of hammers and some hammers will work better. But it’s getting the hammer and start banging at the right time.
Dom: Exactly. And what you’re saying is these techniques, it comes down to whatever tool you’re using, it matters how you use it — the rules, the techniques or whatever, that’s the core thing. I think the big thing for me, filters — because I’m falling foul of not having enough filters. To get stuff that you don’t need to view immediately, filter it out. And put it somewhere, and usually you can have different levels. Ed Dale talks about his RSS feeds and his Urgent Reads folder in his RSS feeds. You could have things filtered to those different levels, if you want to get all complicated.
But just getting the stuff that isn’t clients, or product creation, or that kind of thing out of your inbox is a good start. And after that, having a commitment that when you go in that inbox, you’re going to clear it out. You’re going to go through a set process, you’re going to do series of things. But there’s one thing, I think, is kind of like bringing a little bit of the GTD stuff back in, whether it’s GTD or whether it’s just common sense, there’s one thing you didn’t really mention and what a lot of people fall foul of, and that is having that commitment to do that review. You’d say, OK, I take an action now of my inbox and my email and I put it in my OmniFocus,” which we’ll gloss over for now because that’s another week’s worth of content. I put it in my task manager, whether it’s whiteboard or Post-it note on your screen, whatever it is, but do you have a commitment then to yourself to review that list of to-dos?
Pete: Absolutely. It’s a similar sort of thing that I think is a bit more structured, a bit more Tim Ferriss-structured in that I’ll do my OmniFocus probably three times a day, morning, noon and night, that’s roughly the timeframe, and it’s then that I’ll actually sit down and go, “OK, I’ll do this three times a day,” or plan the night before what I’m going to do tomorrow to make sure I move everything out and allocate it correctly. Morning of review to make sure I know what to do during the day, lunchtime just check to make sure there’s nothing urgent I’m going to forget about. The only stuff that I move out of my inbox into that is the stuff that doesn’t need to be actioned that day. Otherwise, I’ll just do it at the time of actually seeing the email. So it can be done a little bit more loose in that it can be checked every 12 hours or so, as opposed to email that I do check a little bit more often..
Dom: Cool. Because I think that, as well as having a process, it’s having that commitment to go back and review whatever, wherever you put the things, whether it’s once a week you review your kind of internet marketing noise emails. Once a day, you review your vital reads and whatever. Auto-filtering those things is fine, but they can build up.
Dom: And you need to go and tidy it up or have a look, or a radical concept that I’m going to do — if you’re not going to read them, bin them.
Pete: Yes, circle of file.
Dom: You know, get yourself off the list. That’s it.
Pete: Well, I think you’re right. No matter what, if you sort of break down success in any field, by definition really, it’s just a formula — it’s commitment and consistency of doing the right stuff. If you’re going to be a success at your emails, it’s just working out what the right stuff is and having a commitment to do it consistently. The people that are best at soccer, the best at doing tax returns, the best at whatever it might be, if you break it down, the top one percent of every field, the only reason they got there is from commitment and consistency.
What breaks up the one percent, pardon me, then comes down to skill. But realistically, if it all comes down to one percent of what we want to do, we’ll be doing far better than what any of our already set expectations and goals are. So I think it’s just about consistency to get you here to start with.
Dom: And that’s just a wrap-up because we’re getting close to time. That is it, absolutely. That’s kind of the cool concept of what’s his name, Gladwin [sic]?
Dom: No, Gladwin. The guy…
Pete: Gladwell. Malcolm Gladwell.
Dome: Gladwell. Malcolm Gladwell.
Pete: Sorry, yes.
Dom: Yep, Gladwell. There you go, me and my memory.
Dom: Outliers. The 10,000 hours.
Pete: Awesome, awesome book. If you do the same thing for 10,000 hours you’ll become an expert at it. It’s basically what the whole premise of that book is. It’s a fantastic read, or a fantastic listen for those of you who are like and prefer to devour stuff in audio format. Absolutely.
Dom: Secret tip there, folks. I think what you just said is probably a better takeaway from that book than what a lot of people takeaway from that book. A lot of people come away from that book and go, “If you want to be an expert, you need to put 10,000 hours in,” because it’s an easy sound bite from the book. He gives a lot of examples where he tracked people who have been successful and says, “You may not know this and may not be aware of this history behind their success,” people like Bill Gates, people like the Beatles.
He talks about these really well-known people, and he talks about before they even started to become well-known, they’d been grafting for ages and ages and ages. And so some people take away this 10,000 hours thing. But what you said I think is a more important way to look at it, a more applicable way. When somebody looks at anything and says, “Oh crap, 10,000 hours? Nope. Sorry.” But commitment and consistency, everybody can do that.
Pete: I’m reading or listening to a very interesting book at the moment called Moonwalking with Einstein by Josh Foer, and it’s about memory. He’s a journalist who covered a story about memory championship and went on to win the American Memory Championships the following year. One of things that his mentor or coach said is, “You’ll be able to win this on an hour a day.” Just do one hour a day of training your memory. In 12 months’ time, you’ll be America’s memory champion; and he was. Commitment and consistency.
Dom: That’s absolutely right. It sounds flipping and there are so many people out there including myself, one of my worst habits is saying, “I don’t have time”, yeah?
Dom: But that’s absolute trash.
Dom: I read an article by the most random, random of people, just completely left field, irrelevant to the whole space that we’re in. This guy wrote this article and basically said pretty much like you, commitment and consistency. But he said, “Don’t tell me you haven’t got time. How much time do you spend playing PlayStation? How much time do you spend watching TV shows?” Just take one unit of that one hour each day, as you said. Out of those hours, seven days a week, that’s seven hours. That’s almost a working day. Look at how much you can get done in a working day on your day job, get it done.
Dom: Commitment and consistency, absolutely. So on that really motivational note, we’re out of time. That was really good actually. I have been dying to get you talking about your workflows. Gmail is the one that’s most important to me and most significant, but let’s come back to this and talk about it some more about how you handle your day-to-day stuff. Definitely OmniFocus.
Pete: I think it’s all about consumption and creation, and the sort of stuff I use, sounds like fun.
Dom: Cool. Excellent.
Pete: See you next time.
Dom: Bye, mate. See you next time.
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