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New Tools for a New Year: Communication

New Tools for a New Year: Communication

    Communication is an essential part of being productive in work and life. We talk about communication quite a bit here at Lifehack and think that you should be ready to communicate effectively and efficiently in the upcoming year. Here are a few new tools that you may need to add to your arsenal in 2012.

    Skype

    Skype isn’t a “new” tool by any means, but if you still aren’t using Skype to get things done during your workday as well as communicating with friends and family, we highly recommend installing it, getting a decent webcam, and using it in 2012. Most of my communication online is done through Skype by IM-ing, voice, or even video. It allows me to quickly have a conversation with someone or be able to see someone across the country in a matter of seconds.

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    Something that people don’t realize is that talking over Skype is a highly effective way to communicate complicated ideas or to make sure that your message isn’t taken the wrong way. Text messaging and IM is great for sending concrete information or just chatting, but if you want to get serious about your message, talking to someone voice-to-voice or face-to-face can’t be beat.

    What else is awesome about Skype is that it can be used on any Android or iOS device. That means if you have a nice 3G or WiFi connection you can communicate with another Skype user from anywhere for free.

    Twitter

    In the last couple of years Twitter has increased in popularity so much that it’s hard to find any “brand” or celebrity that doesn’t have an account or doesn’t want you to use some hashtag. But, just because Twitter has changed from it’s original incantation, to allow users to send 140 character messages to a group of followers, doesn’t mean that you can’t use it for that.

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    Twitter is great for sending one off messages to friends and colleagues as well as fostering a “community” feel with “at-replies.” Lately, I’ve heard it refered to as a type of digital “water-cooler.” It is a little hard to reduce the noise of Twitter as well as keep track of conversations in an ordered fashion, but for back and forth conversations it does pretty well. One of the best ways to communicate with Twitter is by direct message. It’s fast, simple, and private. Mike and I both use it quite a bit to get stuff done here at Lifehack.

    I’ve found to get the best use out of Twitter you need to use a seperate client to do it. Some of the best are:

    This allows you the control you want without the annoyingness of Twitter forcing things on you like recommendations of people you should follow or the inevitable inclusion of sponsored tweets and hashtags.

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    Path

    I guess Path is more of a social networking type of application than a communication one, but it just feels a little different (and beautiful, to boot). Path is an app that allows you to follow and be followed by only 150 people (based on Professor Robin Dunbar’s research regarding the number of trusted relationships somone can maintain) making it more of an intimate type of sharing and communication application. With Path you can share your location, thoughts, what you are listening to, images and video, when you are asleep and when you awake.

    I consider Path a communication app because as long as I update things that I am doing, places that I am going and my friends see it, they don’t really need to ask, “hey, where are you at?” You can let them know through Path. It may sound a little cold and inhuman to reduce some of this type of conversation in our lives, especially with our friends, but it really could end up saving a bunch of time for you, your co-workers, and friends.

    The only serious downfall that I see about Path right now is that there is no user interface for being able to export your data. You can contact Path via the their support site, but to do this everyday or week (depending what you deem as acceptable for a backup schedule) will get annoying for you and them.

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    Email Tools

    We can’t recommend email as a great communication tool for the new year, but what we can recommend are a few services that keep you out of the mound of email that you probably receive on a daily (or hourly) basis.

    One of our favorites that we took a look at a few months ago is AwayFind which allows you to filter all of your incoming email and create alerts for the ones that you deem important. AwayFind’s interface is awesome and you can come up with some pretty unique rules for qualifying email. You can be notified via SMS, IM, or even the dedicated iPhone or Android app.

    If you are a Gmail user, another tool you may want to check out is Boomerang for Gmail. Boomerang is an addon for Gmail that allows you send email at a later time or set up reminders of emails that need replied to by a certain time and aren’t. It’s another great way to keep up with your email while keeping you out of your inbox as much as possible.

    Boomerang’s creators, Baydin Inc., also offer Boomerang as a plugin for Outlook as well as The Email Game, which challenges you to deal with as much of your overflowing inbox as you can in 15 minutes or less.

    Conclusion

    Communicating effectively is vital for being productive so it is important that you find the best tools to enable you to keep in touch while keeping you sane. Hopefully, with the use of these tools this new year you can get more done both efficiently and effectively while communicating with co-workers, friends, and family.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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