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November Black Swan Newsletter

In this months' newsletter we tackle probably the most serious pain in your working life: the unmanageable inbox. We also cover how an early economist called Pareto can teach you a thing or two about efficiency... and finally we talk about 'Cloud Computing' and suggest some great services you can use today.

Run Your Inbox, Or it Will Be the Ruin of You

There's nothing worse than having an inbox that drives you to distraction. Full of emails, many of which are irrelevant, it hangs over you like a dark thunder cloud. However, you don't need to despair, we've got seven foolproof ways in which you can take charge of your inbox (you can read the full 'how to' on our website):

  1. Action, File or Delete every message
  2. Make a folder for every email you want to save
  3. Make your folder categorisation consistent
  4. Schedule your time to manage your inbox
  5. Be methodical: start from the top and work down
  6. Use rules to file less important emails automatically
  7. How to clear the post-holiday blues

If you want to know exactly what to do in each of these cases, then read our full article which provides more detail on each tip.

What Can You See In the Cloud?

As the digital world becomes increasingly connected by wireless, 3G or cable, so the need to store everything on devices has diminished. 'Internet everywhere' has brought a new range of web-based services to the mainstream. Called 'Cloud Computing', these services use the web to supply on demand services to you wherever you are, whatever device you're using, anywhere in the world.

The first successful cloud service was Hotmail, launched in 1996. It revolutionised email by making it accessible from any connected PC or Laptop, anywhere in the world. It was so successful that about a year after it launched it was acquired by Microsoft for about $400m. However, at that time, it still required internet cafes or early laptops to access your email. It was only when mobile connectivity got up to speed with 3G and smartphones that Cloud became a serious proposition.

Today there are many cloud services that you can replace everything from email servers to CRM packages, design tools to backup and storage. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Dropbox: load it on your computer and then share specific files and folders shared from your computer, all synchronised online
  • Aviary: a suite to rival Photoshop and beyond. Upload your file / image / mp3 and then get to work
  • Remember the Milk: a task manager you can access from just about any computer or smartphone
  • Xero: A great software package for SMEs that will make invoicing, bookkeeping and general accounting a breeze
  • Google Apps: not just a very cheap Exchange server alternative, but also great at file, spreadsheet and project collaboration
  • Cloudomatic: a site that helps you find the most suitable cloud applications for your needs

In most instances Cloud services are cheaper to operate, simpler to upgrade (much happens automatically), more secure and more efficient. So, go ahead, jump in and enjoy what cloud computing has to offer. We predict that your future digital world is likely to be cloud shaped.

Increase Your Producivity by Learning from Pareto

Pareto Principle Applied to TrainingHave you heard of an Italian called 'Vilfredo Pareto'? Or even the Pareto Principle? You may not know the name, but you might know the principle.

Pareto was the first economist to discover (in the late 19th century) that many countries in the world operate on an economic 80/20 scale where 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population. This perceived imbalance seemed to exist across borders and cultures.

In about 1950 it was discovered that Pareto's Principle was not only applicable to wealth, but also applicable to resources: time, knowledge, physical assets or anything else that can be made more productive. Including staff.

This makes sense, backing up the oft-used business strategy of giving the busiest person more work because they can handle it.

However, we also know in many cases, it's not a question of competent and incompetent, it's more about how staff are managed, motivated and trained. More importantly, you need to drill into the detail, comparing individual performance of people and processes.
Used in this way, and already expecting an imbalance, you can then apply the Pareto Principle to your existing working environment.

Use it to highlight areas for improvement. Here are some illustrations:

  • If staff have paperwork issues for the job that they do because this occupies a disproportionate amount of time, then structure the paperwork to be dealt with at a certain time during the day, rather than breaking up the rest of their workflow
  • If your sales team has one individual outperforming others by a substantial margin, then use that persons' performance as a benchmark for the others and learn how excellence is achieved. If it is by hard work, then the rest of the team need to know this
  • If you have several products and one in particular is generating all the profit for the business then ditch the loss-making ones and focus on the 'star performer'. Understand why it is successful and learn from it
  • In the online shopping behemoth Amazon, they focus on the top customer complaint every month and aim to eliminate it. Once they achieve this, their customer service improves, satisfaction goes up and staff time is freed up

You need to pick apart your people and processes and work out where the successess and failures are. Focus on the things that work, eliminate non-productive efforts, reject mediocrity and unbundle the detail to expose failings.

As Drucker put it: "What makes one company stand out and lead in any one industry is that it operates at about twice the average productivity of its industry..."

Could you safely say that your business is outperforming the competition? If not, then the answers are to be discovered. You need to find them!

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